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Canada’s Top Pension Funds Pressured by CEOs to Invest More at Home

  • Pensions hold 4% of assets in Canada public stocks: letter
  • Signatories include current and former CEOs of large firms

Almost 100 top Canadian business leaders have signed an open letter to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and her provincial counterparts, urging them to change investment rules for pension funds to “encourage them to invest in Canada.”

The letter, published as an advertisement in major Canadian newspapers on Wednesday, included signatures from Rogers Communications Inc. CEO Tony Staffieri and Canaccord Genuity Group Inc. CEO Dan Daviau. Of the current CEOs of the country’s six largest banks, National Bank of Canada’s Laurent Ferreira was the only one to add his name to the letter.

“Canada has great companies, true global champions. These competitive businesses deserve our support and we must create many more,” said the letter. “Increasing investments in Canada should be a national priority.”

Canadian pension funds have cut their holdings of publicly traded companies to just 4% of assets, from 28% in 2000, according to the letter. The executives stopped short of making specific recommendations on how to change the rules by which pensions are governed.

Spokespeople from Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and several other large pension funds did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Canadian pension funds once faced strict limits on how much they could invest in foreign assets, but most of those restrictions were lifted nearly 20 years ago. Alongside that, most of the largest public pension managers have shifted more of their capital toward private equity, private credit and infrastructure and away from publicly traded stocks.

In the government’s economic statement in November, Freeland proposed measures to require large, federally-regulated pension plans to disclose more information about where they invest, and to consult with pensions “to create an environment that encourages and identifies more opportunities for investments in Canada by pension funds.”

Montreal-based investment management firm Letko Brosseau & Associates spearheaded the letter and has been behind a broader campaign for change on the issue for years.

The firm’s co-founder, Peter Letko, said support from government and the corporate community has been building after he and his partner Daniel Brosseau initially got almost no response to their concerns.

The pair are not suggesting the government impose mandatory requirements on Canadian investments, Letko said in an interview with Bloomberg, but rather put new policies in place to encourage such activity.

One suggestion would apply to pensions’ solvency calculations, Letko said. Pension funds could be required to apply a higher risk-weighting to investments outside of Canada and set aside capital reserves, depending on the nature of the risk. That might give a boost to Canadian stocks, which pose no currency risk to domestic pension funds and have an easily determined value, unlike many private assets.

“Pension fund savings are there for the long term. They can tolerate a lot of risk and they’re ideally suited for making equity-type investments,” Letko said. “Sadly, this big pool, most of it is being taken outside of the country. And this is the exact pool of capital that Canada needs to grow its economy.”


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