How is portfolio construction changing in today’s market?

Mike Chappell, Head of Illiquid Asset Portfolio, Phoenix, discusses portfolio construction and what this can offer investors.

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Mike Chappell, Head of Illiquid Asset Portfolio, Phoenix.

Andrew Putwain: How is portfolio construction changing in the current market?

Mike Chappell: My role centres on the private markets, and, from that perspective, we’ve seen a lot of growth, especially in terms of assets that are positive from an ESG perspective.

We’re keen to see this trend continue as we feel it has contributed to the social fabric of the UK.

Other reasons to invest in the private markets are as follows:

  • Improved risk adjusted yield
  • Improved portfolio diversification
  • Better duration matching for our annuity business
  • Control over asset terms
  • Improved capital efficiency
  • Better inflation matching
"On the real estate side, we are expanding into longer tenor assets to
complement long term infrastructure."

Andrew: Can you give examples of where you see opportunities – and why?

Mike: Both in terms of asset classes and geography, we historically tended to invest in the UK because the assets and opportunities were there. We're seeing a lot of opportunities in mainland Europe at the moment. Within the assets that we’ve originated in 2023 here c.50% are domiciled in Europe – so we’re really seeing a geographical shift.

In terms of new assets, the duration angle is key. We’re looking into assets that give us the duration to match the liabilities we’re acquiring.

On the real estate side, for example, we are expanding into longer tenor assets via commercial ground rents, credit tenant leases, to complement long term infrastructure.

Andrew: Has diversification taken on new importance with market volatility and with what happened during the LDI crisis last year?

Mike: From the perspective of private markets, the LDI crisis was an interesting time for insurance institutions. Liquidity, especially, was an issue for a lot of institutions. Our team did very well and came together internally to work on our liquidity book, and we didn't have any problems.

"The assets we own will be held through at least one or two recessions."

That short-term liquidity issue did cause a blip in terms of institutional players making sure that they had enough firepower to pay any liability. To me, this was a short-term issue. Did it make any sort of significant difference? I don’t think so.

I say that because we're buying assets not as a trading book, but as private assets, and we have a buy-and-maintain portfolio – so, we buy it, we live with it, we look after it, and it sits with us for 20 to 40 years. Given what markets are like, the assets we own will be held through at least one or two recessions, or we'll have a number of other significant market movements such as the current situation with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When these events happen, we’ve seen that private market portfolios tend to stay reasonably robust. Taking a long-time horizon allows you to flatten the volatility.

Mike will be speaking at Insurance Investor Live | Europe 2023 in London on September 20 on the topic of "Portfolio Construction and exploring asset price opportunities – diversification in the asset mix, new access and exit to private markets, and future of ALM".

For more information, including how to register to attend, please click here.