Seeing “Double DB” in Your Future?

Seeing “Double DB” in Your Future?

The latest KCS Fireside Chat is attached for your review. This edition is the 24th Fireside Chat in our monthly series. This one addresses the development of a new hybrid plan called the Double DB. KCS is pleased to be involved in bringing this new pension plan design to the marketplace. We believe that sharing risk among both the plan sponsor and the participant is the better approach than one entity bearing all the risk. This exciting new pension plan design accomplishes this objective, while also bringing many additional attributes to the marketplace.

Please don’t hesitate to call on us if we can answer any questions that you might have about this exciting development.

Rethink the Use of Fixed Income in a Defined Benefit Plan

With the closure of the first quarter, we’d like to remind you of a blog post that we first published in early January.  Our thoughts are still relevant, especially given the market action within fixed income during the quarter and what is transpiring in US fixed income today.  The 10-year Treasury has rallied 2% today, and we think that it may continue to move lower.  The following paragraphs are what we originally posted.

What I’d like to highlight today is a new use for a plan’s current fixed income exposure. In day two of the conference, I attended a panel discussion titled, “Opportunities in Fixed Income and Credit Markets”.  The panel was occupied by 4 senior investment pros (plan sponsor, consultant, and investment managers).  They generally discussed the likelihood that interest rates were going to rise (I’m beginning to wonder if there is anyone out their who doesn’t think that rates will rise), and the implications of that movement on traditional fixed income portfolios.  Most of the panelists talked about various sub-sectors (mortgages, asset backs, bank loans, etc) and which ones might hold up better. There was discussion about shortening duration, etc. They also talked about fixed income’s traditional role as an anchor to windward, a risk reducer, and a provider of liquidity.

However, only one individual mentioned taking a step back to truly contemplate the “role” of fixed income.  He didn’t provide any further perspective, which is why I’m addressing the issue here and today.  I believe (as do my partners at KCS) that a plan’s liabilities should be the focal point of any pension discussion.  As such, they need to be the primary objective for the plan, the driver of asset allocation decisions and investment / portfolio structure.  The asset class most similar in characteristic to liabilities is fixed income.  As such, fixed income needs to play a prominent role in a defined benefit plan.

Instead of worrying about the implications from a rising interest rate environment on an LDI strategy that currently consists of long duration corporates, change the emphasis to matching near-term liabilities, by converting your current fixed income portfolio into a Treasury STRIP portfolio that matches cash flows with projected benefits (Beta portfolio).  First, you are improving liquidity.  Second, duration is shortened in an environment that may not be conducive to long bonds.  Third, you are lengthening the investing time horizon for the balance of the corpus, which will allow asset classes / products with a liquidity premium a chance to capture that performance increment (Alpha portfolio). Finally, the funded status and contribution costs should begin to stabilize.  As the Alpha portfolio outperforms liability growth (hopefully), siphon excess profits and extend the beta portfolio.

This is a proactive move to restructure the fixed income portfolio in an environment of uncertainty.

Lastly, I am not of the general school of thought that interest rates are definitely going to rise, and soon.  I believe that we still have slack demand in our economy, brought on by underemployment, which will keep inflation in check and provide room for stable to slightly lower rates.

Retire the US Treasury debt on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet

An interesting idea floating around, most recently heard through Mark Grant, is that the US Treasury should retire the Treasury debt currently held on the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.  Mark believes that the retirement of $1 trillion of the slightly more than $2 trillion in Treasury notes and Bonds on the balance sheet would eliminate near-term debt ceiling discussions and potentially reduce rates in the short-term.  We at Kamp Consulting Solutions like this idea very much.  Chuck DuBois, a former partner of mine while we were both at Invesco, has been touting this idea for a while, too.  We believe that the entire debt could be retired at once, but there are many investors who like the idea of holding US Treasury bonds and notes for investment purposes.

There are many market participants who fear that the retirement of the US debt would be inflationary, but in reality the swap of bonds with reserves actually reduces liquidity because the bonds are higher yielding.  Furthermore, many of the bonds are being used as longer-term investments, and it is likely that the reserves received in the swap would be reinvested in longer-dated securities and not used for short-term economic activity.

I’m tired of hearing about the debt ceiling, and the debates in DC as to whether this artificial ceiling should be raised.  I suspect that you may be, too.  Let’s retire some of the debt today, and eliminate this conversation from happening for a while.

Paradigm Shift or Back to the Future?

Paradigm Shift or Back to the Future?

Is the sun setting on the traditional advisory asset consulting with the dawn of the Outsourced Chief Investment Officer (OCIO)?  As biased advisory asset consultants, we really don’t believe that the day of reckoning is upon us! There remains a role for traditional asset consultants, but certainly an asset consultant’s role is evolving, and it is likely to continue.  Consultant specialist roles have been around since the early to mid 80’s, when both venture and real estate consultants first emerged, followed by consultants focusing on the broader alternative landscape.   KCS’s focus as the liability aware consultant is a unique specialty, too.  However, in most cases, the plan sponsor or asset owner retains day-to-day discretion over the asset base. With plan and fund sponsors outsourcing discretionary responsibility, the specialist role has been taken to a new level.