Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Returns 9.7% in 2017

C$189.5 billion plan reports being fully funded for fifth straight year.

The Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan earned a net return of 9.7% in 2017, and reported that it was 105%-funded as of the beginning of 2018, marking the fifth straight year that the pension has been fully funded.

The pension plan reported total net assets of C$189.5 billion ($148.1 billion) for the year ending Dec. 31, 2017, which is approximately a 10-fold increase since the plan’s inception in 1990.

“That we were able to achieve this funding surplus while using a prudent discount rate of 4.8%, one of the lowest in the pension industry, testifies to the financial health and sustainability of the Plan,” Ron Mock, CEO of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, said in a release. “Being in a surplus position in the plan is the true measure of success.”

The pension plan exceeded its total fund benchmark of 8.2% for the year, and net investment income was $17 billion. Equity assets returned 17.6%, outpacing the benchmark of 15.4%, and producing a $1.1 billion annual gain for the asset class. The fund’s private equity investments were its top performer, returning 18.8% for the year, well ahead of the benchmark’s return of 14.6%. The fund’s real assets returned 10.9%, compared to the benchmark of 7.1%, while its fixed-income holdings earned 2.6%, matching its benchmark.

“This year we lowered our exposure to passive investments and moved further into active strategies where we can add value by leveraging our experience as well as our capital,” said Mock. “Our investment strategy is built to last; it guides us through the changing markets landscape.”

The fund’s five- and 10-year total net returns are 9.6% and 7.6%, respectively, and it has an annualized net return of 9.9% since inception. More than 75% of the plan’s funding comes from investment returns, with the rest coming from member and government contributions.

The Ontario Teachers’ Federation, and the Ontario government, the plan’s sponsors, said they chose to file the Jan. 1, 2017, valuation restoring 100% inflation protection on all pensions, and reducing contribution rates by 1.1% for all active members, effective Jan. 1, 2018. The sponsors also allocated $10.3 billion in surplus to a contingency reserve that would help support the pension in the event of a severe market event.

Ontario Teachers’ asset classes were redefined in 2017 from five asset classes to six: equities, fixed income, credit, inflation sensitive, real assets, and absolute return strategies.

In local currencies, the return on investments was 11.9% for 2017, up from 7.2% in the year-ago period. Converting the return back into Canadian dollars had a negative impact of 1.8% on the plan’s total fund net return which, with administrative expenses, brought the net return to 9.7%. 

“Foreign currency exposure is part of our overall portfolio construction, and we take the risk associated with currency into consideration,” said the fund. “In certain circumstances, we will take hedging measures to reduce our exposure to the currency risks which come from investing globally.”

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