In This List

ETFs in Insurance General Accounts – 2020

The S&P Composite 1500®: An Efficient Measure of the U.S. Equity Market

A Survey of Mexican Insurance Investment Officers

Profitability Screening in Australian Small Caps

Approaches to Benchmarking Listed Infrastructure

ETFs in Insurance General Accounts – 2020

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Raghu Ramachandran

Head of Insurance Asset Channel

INTRODUCTION

In our first report in 2015, we used historical trends to project that insurance companies would double their use of exchange-traded funds (ETFs) in five years. Now five years later, usage of ETFs in insurance general accounts has indeed doubled since 2015. In the one-year period ending Dec. 31, 2019, insurance companies increased their ETF assets under management (AUM) by 16% to reach USD 31.2 billion. We saw companies increase their use of Equity and Fixed Income ETFs. While the overall use of ETFs increased, we did observe some parts of the industry that had been active in using ETFs pull away. Although the use of Fixed Income ETFs increased, the use of Systematic Valuation (SV) declined.

OVERVIEW

As of year-end 2019, U.S. insurance companies had USD 31.2 billion invested in ETFs. This represents a tiny fraction of the USD 4.4 trillion of ETF AUM and an even smaller portion of the USD 6.7 trillion in admitted assets of U.S. insurance companies. Exhibit 1 shows the use of ETFs by U.S. insurance companies over the past 16 years.

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The S&P Composite 1500®: An Efficient Measure of the U.S. Equity Market

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Hamish Preston

Associate Director, U.S. Equity Indices

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Phillip Brzenk

Senior Director, Strategy Indices

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Aye Soe

Managing Director, Global Head of Product Management

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Launched in 1995, the S&P Composite 1500 (hereafter the "S&P 1500") serves as a benchmark indicator for U.S. equity market performance, aggregating price movements of S&P 500®, S&P MidCap 400®, and S&P SmallCap 600.

The S&P 1500 also increasingly serves as a basis for constructing portfolios designed to deliver a "market" return at lower cost than those active managers who offer to beat it. We shall examine the S&P 1500 from both perspectives, as well as examining its merits in comparison to popular alternatives. In particular, we observe that:

  • The sizeable representation of U.S. companies means tracking U.S. equity market performance may be relevant to investors, globally;
  • The S&P 1500 has outperformed the S&P 500, historically;
  • Incorporating smaller companies in a U.S. market benchmark provides a more holistic view of the U.S. economy (see Exhibit 7); and
  • Compared with other U.S. equity market indices, the S&P 1500 avoids relatively illiquid, lower priced, and lower quality stocks (see Exhibit 1).

MEASURING THE U.S. EQUITY MARKET

U.S. companies represented an average of 49.47% of the S&P Global BMI’s capitalization at each year-end between 1995 and 2019, more than five times the average weight of second-place Japan (9.39%). Given that U.S. companies also accounted for over 50% of the market capitalization in most global industries at the end of 2019, many investors may need to turn to the U.S. in order to obtain certain exposures.

The S&P 1500 is designed for investors seeking to replicate the performance of the U.S. equity market, or benchmark against a representative universe of tradable stocks. The S&P 1500 combines three widely followed indices—the S&P 500, S&P MidCap 400, and S&P SmallCap 600—in proportion to their free-float market capitalizations. Hence, the S&P 1500 uses the same inclusion criteria as its three component indices.

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A Survey of Mexican Insurance Investment Officers

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Raghu Ramachandran

Head of Insurance Asset Channel

In February 2020, S&P Dow Jones Indices and the Association of Mexican Insurance Companies (AMIS) conducted our second annual survey of insurance investment officers in Mexico about the state of the local insurance industry.

The objective of the annual survey is to better understand how Mexican insurers invest and allocate their excess capital and how they view issues such as regulation, passive strategies, and the implementation of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investment criteria. With each annual survey, it is our aim to reflect the current state of the insurance investment landscape from the perspective of the investment decisionmakers.

We administered the survey between Feb. 4 and Feb. 28, 2020, prior to the aggressive spread of COVID-19 in North America and the declaration of the virus as a global pandemic by the World Health Organization. As such, the coronavirus and its potential implications for the financial markets may not have been as top of mind for respondents as they likely would be today. Answers to questions regarding expected returns, adjustments in allocations, concerns, and economic projections represent the respondents' perspectives pre-crisis, under comparatively "normal" market conditions. This report summarizes respondents' perspectives on the following themes:

  • Investments and asset allocation, with a focus on excess capital;
  • Sensitivity to and potential impacts of regulation;
  • The implementation of ESG criteria within the investment process;
  • Indexing and the use of passive strategies and instruments; and
  • 2020 economic indicators.

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Profitability Screening in Australian Small Caps

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Priscilla Luk

Managing Director, Global Research & Design, APAC

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Akash Jain

Associate Director, Global Research & Design

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This paper examines the effectiveness of a profitability screen on improving return and reducing volatility and drawdown for Australian small-cap stocks. 

We also demonstrate the benefit of applying a profitability screen to the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries, the benchmark for small-cap stocks in Australia.

  • On average, 28% of companies in the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries were unprofitable over the period studied, in contrast to 9% in the S&P/ASX 50. Small-cap companies with positive earnings per share (EPS) historically outperformed the unprofitable companies on both absolute and risk-adjusted bases.
  • The S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Select is designed to track profitable small-cap companies in Australia. The index’s addition of a profitability screen helped it to outperform its benchmark by 1.2% per year from Sept. 20, 2002, to Dec. 31, 2019.
  • Sector allocation and stock selection effects both contributed to the excess return of the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Select, with the sector allocation effect explaining a larger part of it.
  • The S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries Select had higher dividend yield and active profitability factor exposures compared with the S&P/ASX Small Ordinaries.

SMALL-CAP BEHAVIOR IN AUSTRALIA

In 1992, the capital asset pricing model (CAPM) evolved into the Fama & French three-factor model to include size and value as risk factors in addition to market risk, with the aim to help better explain a portfolio’s risk/return characteristics. Inclusion of small-cap companies offers diversification and potential for higher returns.

Exhibit 2 shows the return correlation of various common Australian investment classes.  Australian small caps had return correlations of 0.83 and 0.91 with large and mid caps, respectively.  Among the three size categories in Australian equities, small caps had the lowest correlation with Australian bonds, Australian REITs, and international equities.

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Approaches to Benchmarking Listed Infrastructure

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Tianyin Cheng

Senior Director, Strategy Indices

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Izzy Wang

Analyst, Strategy Indices

Investing in infrastructure has become popular among institutional and private investors in recent years. Investors could be attracted to the potentially long-term, low-risk, and inflation-linked profile that can come with infrastructure assets, and they may find that it is an alternative asset class that could provide new sources of return and diversification of risk.

WHY CONSIDER INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE?

Infrastructure assets provide essential services that are necessary for populations and economies to function, prosper, and grow. They include a variety of assets divided into five general sectors: transportation (e.g., toll roads, airports, seaports, and rail); energy (e.g., gas and electricity transmission, distribution, and generation); water (e.g., pipelines and treatment plants); communications (e.g., broadcast, satellite, and cable); and social (e.g., hospitals, schools, and prisons). Infrastructure assets operate in an environment of limited competition as a result of natural monopolies, government regulations, or concessions. The stylized economic characteristics of this asset class include the following.

Relatively steady cash flows with a strong yield component:

Infrastructure assets are generally long lived. Most companies have long-term regulatory contracts or concessions to operate the assets, which can provide a predictable return over time. As a result, infrastructure assets have the potential to generate consistent, stable cash flow streams, usually with lower volatility than other traditional asset classes.

High barriers to entry:

Due to significant economies of scale, infrastructure assets are often regulated in such a way that discourages competition. The high barriers to entry often result in a monopoly for existing owners and operators.

Inflation protection:

Revenues from infrastructure assets are typically linked to inflation and are often supported by regulation. In certain instances, revenue increases linked to inflation are embedded in concession agreements, licenses, and regulatory frameworks. In other cases, owners of infrastructure assets are able to pass inflation on to consumers via price increases, due to the essential nature of the assets and their inelastic demand.

Consequently, the infrastructure asset class may provide investors with a degree of protection from the business and economic cycles, as well as attractive income yields and an inflation hedge. It could be expected to offer long-term, low-risk, non-correlated, inflation-protected, and acyclical returns.

It is also generally believed that infrastructure is, as an asset class, poised for strong growth. As the global population continues to expand and standards of living around the world become higher, there is a vast demand for improved infrastructure. This demand includes the refurbishment and replacement of existing infrastructure worldwide and new infrastructure development in emerging markets.

Financing public infrastructure has traditionally been the responsibility of the state. However, fiscally constrained governments are increasingly turning to the private sector to provide funding for new projects. As a result, the investment opportunities in this sector continue to grow.

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