The Alberta teachers’ pension fund would be worth $1.3 billion less today if it had been managed by the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) rather than the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund (ATRF).
This information is contained in a recent letter from ATRF chair Sandra Johnston to ATA president Jason Schilling. The letter outlines ATRF fund performance compared to simulated earnings under AIMCo. It indicates that Alberta teachers’ pension assets would have been worth $17.5 billion at the end of last year if they had been managed by AIMCo since 2012, instead of the $18.9 billion the fund was worth on that date under ATRF management.
The data shows that ATRF outperformed AIMCo in each and every year from 2013 through 2019.
|ATRF actual total Fund net return
|Simulated ATRF total Fund net returns under AIMCo
|Calendar year-by-year comparison of ATRF actual total fund net returns with simulated ATRF total fund returns under AIMCo management.
The analysis is part of ongoing discontent over the UCP government’s Bill 22, which enabled the transfer of investment control of ATRF assets to AIMCo. The bill passed last November.
Based on this data and other reasons, the ATRF has also announced that its board of directors, “does not believe (Bill 22) is in the best interests of the ATRF plans and its members.” The ATRF board uses a shared-governance model, which means half of the board is appointed by government and the other half is appointed by the ATA. This statement was posted in an updated Bill 22 FAQ document that also states that ATRF will comply with the bill, as it has now been enacted into law.
In conducting the analysis, ATRF accounted for factors that were previously used by government as points of dispute, including common year-end, varying asset classes and investment costs. ATRF’s analysis was done by using the actual returns earned by various asset classes within the Local Authorities Pension Plan, AIMCo’s largest and most comparable client. Those return rates were applied to ATRF’s actual asset mix and data was compared with a common Dec. 31 year-end.
The letter states the comparison of net investment returns are returns realized after paying all investment-related expenses, which refutes the government’s ongoing claim that the management transfer to AIMCo will save money through reduced expenses.
“In short, net investment returns are what the investor earns after accounting for all costs incurred to create those returns,” Johnston writes in her letter.
She goes on to point out that, over this time period, teacher contribution rates have been reduced by 1.54 per cent of pay for teachers and 1.36 per cent of payroll for government as a result of these strong returns.
“Teachers and the government have a combined saving of around $2,500 per teacher per year as a result of reduced contributions,” Schilling said in response to the letter’s findings. “Despite the government claims, it is higher net returns that lead to these contribution savings, not reduced expenses alone.”
Johnston’s letter was written in response to a request for the data from Schilling. He requested the updated return comparisons now that year-end reports are readily available for 2019. He also asked for an analysis of how the recently reported volatility strategy losses of AIMCo might have affected ATRF assets, if they had been part of the plan at that point.
$300 million cost
ATRF staff estimated that teacher plan losses would have been in the range of $300 million due to the strategy if AIMCo was managing the investments. Johnston says in the letter that ATRF has explored the use of “short volatility” strategies, like the one employed by AIMCo that resulted in recent losses, “but, in the context of a market where conditions suggested that volatility was more likely to rise than fall, we have avoided them.”
AIMCo recently lost an estimated $2.1 billion as a result of a volatility-related investment strategy that lost money as a result of recent swings in the market. These losses are in addition to lower asset values as a result of general market declines.
NDP bill aims to reverse Bill 22
Schilling says this information provides another opportunity for teachers to contact MLAs and ask for the repeal of Bill 22. Updated text has been posted to the email-your-MLA tool at www.handsoffmypension.ca.
“Let’s keep the pressure on,” Schilling said. “Government MLAs need to know that teacher anger over this issue is not going away.”
Meanwhile, it is expected that Edmonton-Mill Woods MLA Christina Gray will introduce a private members bill on Thursday that will reverse the changes made to pensions by Bill 22.
“Your pension belongs to you,” says Gray. “That money is the retirement savings of hard-working Albertans, earned during a lifetime of building this province, and Jason Kenney should not have interfered.”
The NDP caucus has launched a website and petition in support of Gray’s bill at www.yourpensionisyours.ca.