Japan’s Chikyoren to hire private debt managers for the first time

The $217bn public pension fund is adding private corporate debt to its portfolio as part of a five percent allocation to global alternatives.

Japan’s Pension Fund Association for Local Government Officials, known locally as Chikyoren, has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) as it searches for private debt, infrastructure, real estate, and private equity investment managers in Japan and overseas, according to its latest announcement. The RFP includes the first mandate dedicated to private debt investments.

Chikyoren is looking to invest in both domestic and offshore private debt via asset managers. Qualifying managers should have assets under management of over 100 billion yen ($885 million; €762 million) as of end-March, including the amount managed via trust accounts, the announcement states.

A senior investment officer overseeing the hiring process told PDI that Chikyoren is looking for private corporate debt opportunities both in the US and Europe.

Its prospective total commitment to alternatives will be made from one of two accounts being managed by the association. “The size of this capital pool accounts for five percent of our total assets under management,” the officer noted.

Its current exposure to alternatives stands at 0.4 percent, while the maximum allocation for alternatives is set at five percent of total assets – representing about 1.2 trillion yen ($10.7 billion; €9.1 billion) of its 23 trillion yen in total assets under management, as of end-March (the fiscal year 2017 ends on 27 March).

Further details regarding selection process and return expectations were not disclosed. There is no set deadline for submission of proposals nor a pre-determined commitment size for each mandate.

Chikyoren’s manager registration system operates on a rolling basis, similar to that of its larger peer, the Government Pension Investment Fund (GPIF) of Japan, which accepts proposals all year round and makes investment decisions accordingly.

It has gained exposure to illiquid credit via infrastructure debt and real estate debt investments.

Between June 2016 and March 2018, Chikyoren invested a total of 18.3 billion yen through four overseas infrastructure mandates, according to its latest annual report available only in Japanese.

These include a 3.4 billion yen commitment to Mitsubishi UFJ Trust Bank targeting European regulated assets, which delivered an annualised return of five percent in the fiscal year 2017.

A 3.5 billion yen mandate with JPMorgan Asset Management to invest in core infrastructure in OECD countries delivered an annualised return of 10.3 percent, while a 1.5 billion yen investment with Tokio Marine Asset Management targeting Australian assets, had generated a negative annualised return of 1.42 percent between July 2017 and March 2018.

The largest mandate of 9.9 billion yen landed with Mizuho Global Alternative Investments to invest in infrastructure debt globally. That had delivered a return of 0.77 percent during the last fiscal year.

The public pension has also awarded five real estate mandates for overseas and domestic investments and two domestic private equity mandates over the past two years.

Chikyoren manages the second largest pension pool in Japan after after the $1.4 trillion sized GPIF. Its assets come from pension reserves for members of local government organisations. It is the first among public pensions to issue an RFP for alternative investments in a bid to diversify its portfolio from a long-term investment perspective.

Additional reporting by Nia Tam