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Hedge fund performance has insurers reducing exposure, says AM Best

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With interest rates remaining persistently low NAIC Schedule BA assets, which include alternative investment securities, have generally provided insurers with the potential for higher risk-adjusted returns to help mitigate the decline in higher portfolio book yields, according to a AM Best report.

The report, “Hedge Fund Performance Has Insurers Reducing Exposure,” states that without a meaningful increase in interest rates, insurers have limited choices for investing new dollars from maturing securities and new business premiums to maintain targeted risk-adjusted returns. Therefore, the current industry trend toward modestly higher allocations to non-traditional asset classes is likely to continue.
Despite some public pullbacks by large life insurers, total insurance industry investments in hedge funds have continued to increase over the last two years.
Hedge fund holdings within the life/annuity (L/A) segment have grown from USD11.4 billion in 2013 to USD14.2 billion in 2015, while the property/casualty (P/C) segment has increased its holdings from USD8.9 billion to USD10.2 billion.
In light of these trends, L/A asset allocations to hedge funds have increased from 7.6 per cent to 8.5 per cent between 2013 and 2015—the largest allocation of the three segments. The P/C segment has increased its allocations from 7.1 per cent to 7.5 per cent, while the health segment has decreased its allocations from 8.4 per cent in 2013 to 7.4 per cent in 2015.
However, in the face of declining returns and potentially misaligned fee structures, investor capital has been decreasing dramatically over the last few quarters for the hedge fund industry. The industry as a whole saw net outflows of USD14.3 billion and USD19.9 billion in the first and second quarters of 2016, respectively. Outflows have varied by fund strategy, as multi-strategy funds saw net inflows of USD11.2 billion for the first half of 2016.
Given the disappointment in both returns and fees, the pessimism and outflows by investors and insurers is not surprising. For example, the top three hedge fund subcategories chosen by insurers, which account for 80.1 per cent of the insurance industry’s hedge fund holdings, have all seen a decline in their returns over the last few years. Additionally, their returns have been consistently outperformed. In light of this, just under half of the top 20 insurers investing in hedge funds, have reduced their hedge fund holdings from 2014 to 2015. It appears some of the outflow has remained in alternatives, whether through increased allocations to private equity or infrastructure exposures.

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