What are the big funds doing about investments during the pandemic?

September 24, 2020
Photo credited to: Chris Liverani

The pension industry has a big footprint.

With the top 300 pension funds around the world managing an eye-popping $19.5 trillion (U.S.) in assets – and with quite a few of those funds being Canadian-based – Save with SPP decided to take a look around to see what our own country’s pension leaders are saying about investment markets.

With $409.6 billion in assets, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) is the nation’s largest pension fund. CPPIB has identified four sectors of the economy it thinks will grow in the near future – e-commerce, healthcare, logistics (aka shipping/receiving) and urban infrastructure.

CPPIB expects “massive changes” in those areas, CPPIB’s Leon Pederson tells Tech Crunch. And while CPPIB invests for the long-term, the four areas identified by their research might “indicate where the firm sees certain industries going, but it’s also a sign of where CPPIB might commit some investment capital,” the magazine reports.

The $205-billion Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan (OTPP) saw small losses in the first half of 2020, reports Bloomberg.

“Some of our hardest hit investments were among our private assets. Heavily-impacted segments were leisure and travel, including our five airports, and assets where consumer spending declined, which is our shopping malls and Cadillac Fairview,” OTPP’s CEO, Jo Taylor, states in the article.

However, losses were cushioned by the plan’s strong fixed-income returns, the article notes – in all, $7.9 million in income from its bond portfolio helped OTPP limit losses.

The $94.1 billion Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan’s (HOPP) CEO, Jeff Wendling, recently told Benefits Canada that the plan is considering looking at some new investment categories as it pursues its “liability driven investing” strategy. With a liability driven investing strategy, the investment target is not beating stock market indexes, but ensuring there is always enough money to cover every current and future dollar owed to pensioners.

“We’re very focused on liabilities, but what you do when interest rates are at really extreme lows, in our view, is different than what we did in the past,” he states in the article. HOOPP, he adds, is now looking at infrastructure investing, insurance-linked securities, and increased equity exposure to generate income traditionally provided by bonds.

Large pension plans like CPPIB, OTPP and HOOPP have enjoyed a lot of success over the years. The takeaway for the average investor is that the large scale of these plans allow them to do things the average person can’t – like directly owning businesses (private equity), or shopping centres and offices (real estate) in addition to traditional stock and fixed-income investments. The big guys are taking advantage of diversification in their holdings, and so perhaps should we all.

Individuals and workplaces can leverage the investment expertise of the Saskatchewan Pension Plan. Its Balanced Fund is invested in Canadian, U.S. and international equities, bonds, mortgages, and real estate, infrastructure and short-term investments. And the fund has averaged an eight* per cent rate of return since its inception in the mid-1980s. Check them out today.

*Past performance does not guarantee future results.

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Written by Martin Biefer

Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock, and playing guitar. Got a story idea? Let Martin know via LinkedIn.

Is low unemployment actually a sign that boomers aren’t retiring?

August 22, 2019

Politicians all over the continent like to point to our low levels of unemployment as a sign that our economy is booming and recovering.  And perhaps it is. A recent Bloomberg article notes that the Canadian labour market has seen “a decade-low unemployment rate” and “some of the fastest job gains on record.”

That high level of employment, the article adds, boosted “the average weekly earnings for Canadian workers… 3.4 per cent in May from a year earlier, to $1,031.” There were a whopping 32,600 jobs added that month, Bloomberg reports, citing Statistic Canada figures.

Reading these positive numbers, one might include that things look great for our younger workers – low unemployment and a high level of job creation.

Not so fast, reports Livio Di Matteo of the Fraser Institute, writing in the National Post. Sure, the story notes, we can expect that “in coming years employment and the labour force in Canada will continue growing,” but it will be “at a diminished rate, with employment growing slightly faster than the labour force.”

And the reason why, Di Matteo explains, is that low unemployment rates are “due largely to our aging population and the expected decline in labour force participation rates. Overall labour force participation in Canada has declined over the past decade in Canada, but interestingly has grown among people aged 55 and older.” In plainer terms, there are more older people in the workforce than before, meaning those at or nearing retirement age are continuing to work.

Di Matteo suggests that there will be more opportunities for younger workers when boomers begin to fully retire. In 2016, “people aged 55 and over accounted for 36 per cent of Canada’s working age population,” Di Matteo notes, adding that this figure should rise to 40 per cent by 2026. When the boomer cohort finally begins to retire, Di Matteo predicts higher demand for younger workers in “healthcare, computer system design… support services for mining, oil and gas extraction, social assistance, legal, accounting… and entertainment,” among others.

It’s a similar story south of the border, reports Market Watch. There, unemployment is “at a half-century low,” but a reason why is that there aren’t as many new entrants in the job market, the report notes.

“The U.S. doesn’t need to create as many new jobs to absorb a slower growing population of working-age Americans. Economists figure the U.S. needs to add less than 80,000 new jobs a month to hold the unemployment rate near its remarkably low rate,” the article states.

Experts are split on whether boomers are working late into life because they want to or because they have to. Sure, many love the social contacts and engagement of working – or want to travel more now that they are semi-retired. But those still saving for retirement may not be hitting their savings targets.

A report from RBC, covered in Yahoo! Finance Canada, says those boomers with “investable assets” of $100,000 or more planned on saving $949,000 for retirement, and “are falling $275,000 short.” Those with less than $100,000 saved have lesser goals, but are much farther away from them, the report states.

It will be interesting to see how the trend towards boomers hanging on to their jobs plays out, as it ultimately must.

For those of us who are still slogging away in the workforce, all these stats underline the importance of directing some of your income towards long-term savings for retirement. An excellent tool for this purpose is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan, which offers a flexible way for your savings to be invested, grown, and ultimately paid out to you as a lifetime pension in the future. It may be better to pay into your own retirement now, rather than having to work later in life to fund it.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. A veteran reporter, editor and pension communicator, he’s now a freelancer. Interests include golf, line dancing and classic rock. He and his wife live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Mar 11: Best from the blogosphere

March 11, 2019

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

House as bank machine – or, how to pay your mortgage forever

Our parents bought houses, paid off their mortgages (and had a mortgage-burning ceremony), and then retired.

Those of us who are not yet retired, on the other hand, seem to want to continue paying for our houses long into retirement. What’s going on?

An article by Bloomberg printed in the Financial Post lets us in on the dirty little secret most of us share – we are using the equity in our homes to pay for our lives.

The article warns that Canadians “are ramping up borrowing against their homes even as the real estate market slumps,” a practice that could put our financial system at risk.

According to rating company DBRS, the article notes, home equity lines of credit, or HELOCs, “reached a record $243 billion as of Oct. 31,” an astounding 11.3 per cent of all household debt.

“In the event of a correction, borrowers could find themselves with a debt load that exceeds the value of their home, which is often referred to as negative equity,” the article notes.

An obvious reason for this particular problem is the high cost of owning a home. Houses today can be 10 or 20 times more expensive that what our parents and grandparents paid back in the 1950s and 1960s.

So getting into the housing market is a difficult yet high priority for younger Canadians, reports Yahoo! Finance Canada. One in five younger Canucks admits to not saving for retirement, and instead saving “to afford their property,” the article reports, citing research by Sotheby’s International Realty Canada.

Another eye-opening stat from this story is that 31 per cent of those surveyed dipped into RRSPs for their down payments. That move, possible via the Home Buyers’ Plan, allows one to withdraw up to $25,000 to put towards a down payment if they are a first-time home buyer; the HBP expects the money to be repaid within 15 years. If the money withdrawn is not repaid, the borrower has to pay income tax on it – and the RRSP doesn’t grow back to where it was.

“The dream of home ownership remains compelling for today’s young families, but the reality is that many are facing serious obstacles to achieving this given rising costs of living, rising costs of housing, and other financial needs, such as saving for retirement,” states Brad Henderson, president and CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada, in the article. The piece goes on to report that the number of RRSP contributors “between 25 and 54 years old fell 16 per cent between 2000 and 2013.”

So, let’s arrange these three thoughts together. Those with homes are using them as bank machines. Those without them are making ownership a high priority, over paying off debt and saving for retirement. As a result, retirement savings rates are dipping, and the new home owners may also decide to dip into their home equity to help with cashflow.

Our grandparents succeeded because they kept the concepts of home ownership, debt repayment, and retirement savings separate. They paid off the mortgages, they paid down their debts, and they used the proceeds to save towards retirement.

If, as they say, everything old is new again, it is time these old school concepts were re-introduced.

If you lack a retirement plan at work, and are looking for a way to set aside some of your hard-earned dollars for your retirement future, the Saskatchewan Pension Plan offers all the tools you need to get the job done. Check them out today at

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Shelties, Duncan and Phoebe, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22

Jan 21: Best from the blogosphere

January 21, 2019

A look at the best of the Internet, from an SPP point of view

Level of debt restricting Canadians’ ability to save

Canadians, who have for decades enjoyed the low cost of borrowing, are about to face a big problem – rising interest rates.

According to an article in Maclean’s, the Bank of Canada recently raised its interest rate to 1.75 per cent, but has “mused about bringing interest rates back to normal levels, between 2.5 and 3.5 per cent,” the article notes.

The rates had been held “artificially low” by the Bank of Canada to “keep economic forces at bay” in the wake of the 2008 credit crunch. So during that period of super-low interest rates, Canadians had a debt party, the article notes. “Citizens were busy amassing debt for home renovations, new vehicles and eating out. In 2016, Canadians owed more than $142 billion in lines of credit, up from just over $35 billion in 1999—an increase of more than 400 per cent. Credit card debt and vehicle loans doubled over the same period. The total debt load of all Canadian households sits at over $2 trillion, an amount roughly equal to the country’s entire economic output,” the article notes.

What’s worse, the article notes, is that this is not a case of a few overspenders making things rough for the rest of us. “Approximately 70 per cent of Canadian households have debt, with the average indebtedness at 170 per cent of disposable income—meaning that for every dollar households earn after taxes, Canadians owe $1.70. The situation for some Canadians is even bleaker: approximately one in 10 Canadian households have debt levels of 350 per cent,” warns Maclean’s.

“It’s time for Canadians to recognize that the good times of cheap credit are coming to a close. It’s already begun—Canadian spending on renovations is down seven per cent, its lowest level in five years of explosive growth—but in 2019, Canadians are going to have to change their personal spending habits to reflect the trend toward fiscal conservatism, or risk feeling the inevitable financial burn,” advises Maclean’s.

We used to save more, years ago, when interest rates were much higher and levels of personal debts were lower. However, the twin realities of historically low interest rates – great for borrowing but less great for earning interest – and high debt levels are throttling our ability to save. According to an article in Bloomberg, Canadians’ savings rates are the lowest they have been in more than 10 years.

Canadians, on average, are saving just 1.4 per cent of their household income, Bloomberg notes, citing Statistics Canada figures. That’s the lowest rate we’ve seen since 2005, the article notes.

“It’s concerning that Canadians aren’t building up buffers and prepping for retirement like they used to,” states TD Bank’s Brian DePratto in the article.

As we begin 2019, we should definitely start getting serious about managing our debts – but we shouldn’t completely overlook saving for retirement. Are you putting away 1.4 per cent of your disposable income towards long-term saving? If not, maybe it’s time to start. Even a small start like that can add up over time, and a wonderful destination for those retirement savings dollars is the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

Written by Martin Biefer
Martin Biefer is Senior Pension Writer at Avery & Kerr Communications in Nepean, Ontario. After a 35-year career as a reporter, editor and pension communicator, Martin is enjoying life as a freelance writer. He’s a mediocre golfer, hopeful darts player and beginner line dancer who enjoys classic rock and sports, especially football. He and his wife Laura live with their Sheltie, Duncan, and their cat, Toobins. You can follow him on Twitter – his handle is @AveryKerr22