In our latest interview with pension funds’ directors, IJ spoke with Toyojiro Ueda, Asset Management Advisor of the Printing, Bookbinding, and Packaging Machinery Pension Fund, about investing and his career in asset management.
Thinking of Investment: Start with the numbers
I believe the proper use of data – really understanding the figures and what they mean -- leads to the right results. We try to achieve asset management that is objectively supported by the numbers and guided accordingly.
Our fund’s policy asset mix consists of stable assets and cash 55±5%, profit-seeking bonds 25±5%, and equities and real estate 20±5％. Our investment portfolio at the end of July 2022 looked pretty solid.
We incorporate alternatives while diversifying with a ratio of up to 40% of our investments, based on benefits management and the expected rates of decline. This initiative has been successful, resulting in last fiscal year's actual return of 5.12%, which is quite a bit higher than the average of 3.6%.
However, we have had to respond to the reduction in assumed interest rates for life insurance general accounts (see https://investmentjapan.jp/japans-basic/2773/ and CHART 2 & 3-3 of https://investmentjapan.jp/research/3446/) and the downward adjustment in stock prices. For US Treasury bonds, we considered adopting in-house management when the interest rate on the 10-year note exceeds 3%, in order to achieve a 2.5% return. In response to stock price declines, we considered adopting a double inverse approach to try to stem the losses. What holds us back from fully implementing these approaches is the possibility of losing potential gains if the yen appreciates, and the difficulty of making agile decisions among over 120 member companies.
Management History: Gather the facts and verify persistently
In college, I was used to working with numbers and data because I had been interested in astrophysics. After graduating, I joined one of Japan’s major electrical manufacturers because I wanted to learn about manufacturing firsthand instead of in theory and crunching numbers from behind a desk. I was assigned to both marketing and plant labor management, which was unusual. After the oil shock in the 1970s, the company set out to develop new products for alternative energy, and my job was to make sure any meetings about potential projects took marketing perspective into consideration. For example, in the case of wind turbine power generation, we examined whether the number and design of blades proposed by the research team could be produced at scale. With small- or micro-hydropower projects, the most effective design and production plan needed to include marketing perspective because construction costs were often bundled with products. Research and marketing teams produce solutions that are both numerical and theoretical, but you have to know what is going on in the field to understand their feasibility and impact.
The company sent me on many overseas assignments, and I spent more than 10 years abroad, including in the US, UK, and China. In China, especially, I noticed the social distortions created by government policy, e.g., the One-Child Policy that created a generation unable to afford or save for their own retirement from having to shoulder the full burden of caring for parents and grandparents. I became interested in ways to address and solve such a deficiency.
In my mid 50’s, I was transferred to the company’s corporate pension fund as a managing director when many corporate pensions were considering whether to continue their DB plans or transition to DC plans. I spearheaded the effort to keep our DB plan alive. In general, companies favored abandoning DB plans for DC plans to avoid retirement benefit obligations that might arise when International Finance Reporting Standards were applied. However, DB plans, which are believed to outperform employee-managed DC plans by about 2%, were more attractive to beneficiaries. After about 4 years, I left the corporate pension fund for a trust bank to pursue an opportunity to work in China. I proposed corporate pension plans to local companies there, mostly Japanese, and helped them introduce the plans in collaboration with local life insurance companies.
In my current position, as I am not obligated to follow previous practice or conventional industry wisdom, I look for areas that would benefit from reform -- such as asset allocation -- based on in-depth analysis of data, added meaning from figures, and practical viewpoints. While I still respect traditional pension theories and frameworks, my goal is to introduce new perspectives to asset management.
The Printing, Bookbinding, and Packaging Machinery Pension Fund was established in July 1982 as an Employees’ Pension Fund. Upon relinquishing its substitute social security program in May 2016, the Fund became a comprehensive (multi-employer) defined benefit plan. The Fund currently serves about 8,900 employees and 4,400 beneficiaries of 128 employers with assets of JPY 12.1 billion at the end of July 2022.
Asset Management Advisor
Printing, Bookbinding, and Packaging Machinery Pension Fund
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