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GSAM’s Third Annual Insurance Survey Shows Insurers Are Going On The Offense To Combat Low Yields

Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GSAM) has released its third annual insurance survey with results indicating that insurers are looking to increase risk to combat low yields. This bellwether poll of 233 Chief Investment Officers (CIOs) and Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) represents insurers with over $6 trillion in global balance sheet assets.

“Insurers remain focused on the search for return, but view corporate bonds and public equities as either overvalued or fairly valued. This is driving CIOs to explore non-traditional asset classes that can offer higher total return potential and compensation for illiquidity,” said Michael Siegel, GSAM’s Global Head of Insurance Asset Management. “Against a backdrop of low yields and growing concern about monetary tightening, CIOs are planning to increase allocations to less liquid assets, alternatives and equities – rather than increase credit risk or lengthen duration – to bolster potential investment yields and returns.”

In a notable change from last year’s GSAM survey, which indicated that CIOs planned to make substantial allocations to floating-rate bank loans, it appears that the insurance industry now intends to make the greatest allocation increases to less liquid assets including infrastructure debt, private equity, commercial mortgage loans, and real estate equity.

As CIOs plan to allocate more to non-core asset classes, the survey indicates that CFOs are demonstrating significantly greater comfort with investment risk. CFOs believe the industry is well capitalized, and recognize the need to bolster returns amidst increasing competition from alternative capital providers, particularly in the Property & Casualty (P&C)/Reinsurance space.

Key findings of this year’s survey, entitled “Risk On…Reluctantly,” include 1 :

  • Alternatives and equities grow more attractive. More than one-quarter of the CIOs surveyed believe private equity will be the best performing asset class in 2014. Insurers also expect US equities and European equities to deliver strong relative returns.
  • Portfolio allocations are shifting. CIOs plan to increase allocations to asset classes that can offer higher total return potential, an illiquidity premium, and protection against rising rates and inflation. They plan to decrease allocations to cash, short-term instruments, and government and agency debt, for which they have the lowest near-term return expectations.
  • CFOs are more optimistic than CIOs about the investment environment. Roughly one-third of the CFOs surveyed believe investment opportunities are improving, compared to one-quarter of CIOs. Additionally, only 29% of CFOs believe investment opportunities are getting worse, compared to more than 40% of CIOs.
  • CFOs are more comfortable with investment risk. Only 6% of the CFOs surveyed believe their peer group is taking on too much investment risk, compared to roughly 30% in 2013. Approximately 20% of CFOs believe their peer group is taking insufficient investment risk.
  • Concern about market volatility is elevated. Globally, both CIOs and CFOs consider credit and equity market volatility the greatest near-term risk. Monetary tightening is also considered a top macroeconomic risk.
  • Deflation is a nearer-term concern. More than 20% of the CIOs surveyed indicated that deflation is a risk in the next year, double the percentage for 2013. Inflation remains a medium term concern, with roughly 80% of CIOs viewing it as a risk in the next two to five years.
  • Third party capital inflows are a growing concern. Half of the P&C insurers surveyed believe that alternative capital inflows will have negative implications for pricing, compared to only 13% of Life insurers. Nearly half of EMEA-based CFOs expect alternative capital to negatively affect pricing this year.

Methodology

Independent third party research firm KRC Research fielded the 2014 GSAM Insurance Asset Management Survey between mid-February and early March 2014. The global online survey received responses from 233 senior insurance professionals, including 185 CIOs, 41 CFOs and 7 individuals who serve as both CIO and CFO. The respondent base represents insurers across the globe and across sectors, including Life, Property & Casualty, Multi-Line, Reinsurance, and Health. This study represents insurers with over $6 trillion in global balance sheet assets.

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