Insurers continue to reduce hedge fund exposures

For a fourth straight year, the US insurance industry has reduced its hedge fund investments, by USD2.6 billion in 2019 to USD11.9 billion, with the property/casualty segment reporting a year-over-year reduction of 22 per cent, the largest among the major industry segments, according to a new AM Best special report.

The Best’s Special Report, titled “Insurers Continue to Reduce Hedge Fund Exposures,” states that the continued pullback leaves the property/casualty segment with USD6.3 billion of hedge fund investments. The life/annuity segment (L/A) saw a fourth straight year of reductions of more than 10 per cent (11.9 per cent in 2019 to USD5.1 billion). The health segment’s holdings also ticked down by roughly USD100 million to approximately USD490 million; however, hedge fund holdings are concentrated, as fewer than a dozen health insurers invest in this asset class. The report notes that the 2019 declines occurred despite the hedge fund industry posting a return of more than 11 per cent, just the second time industry returns have exceeded double digits in the last six years.

Insurers’ hedge fund investment trends have followed the broader market, according to the report, as more than USD97 billion in total hedge fund asset flows were pulled back in 2019. Companies rated by AM Best account for nearly 96 per cent of the U.S. insurance industry’s total hedge fund holdings. Additionally, hedge funds are held predominantly by larger organisations, with more than 85 per cent of holding held by companies with USD1.25 billion or more in capital and surplus. 

“Overall, rating units that reduced their holdings did so by almost USD2.9 billion, while those that increased did so by USD1.0 million,” says Jason Hopper, associate director, industry research and analytics, AM Best Rating Services. “Many insurers continue to say they are not getting the returns needed for the fees and capital requirements costing them in the current environment.”

Insurers continue to modify their hedge fund investment strategies, with some notable changes in 2019. They substantially pulled back from long/short equity hedge funds, with book-adjusted carrying value declining by nearly USD2 billion, the largest pullback. The health segment all but eliminated its exposure, while the life/annuity segment reduced its exposure by 56 per cent, and the property/casualty segment by 36 per cent. Multi-strategy also saw a decline of over USD600 million, though it remains one of the two top options for all segments.

Higher-rated insurers generally have the capital and expertise to better absorb risk. AM Best will continue to monitor trends in hedge funds, as well as insurers’ alternative investments.