World Economy

Yield-Hungry Insurers Turn to Private Debt

Yield-Hungry Insurers Turn to Private DebtYield-Hungry Insurers Turn to Private Debt

While investors pulled funds from Pacific Investment Management Co. in the wake of co-founder Bill Gross’s departure, yield-hungry insurance companies kept faith with the company.

“Last year the biggest net flows to our business in Europe came from insurance companies,” said Matthieu Louanges, who heads Pimco’s business with financial institutions in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. “We expect insurance asset management to remain one of the main opportunities” in Europe, Bloomberg reported.

Pimco, owned by Europe’s biggest insurer Allianz SE, now manages three times more investments by value for other insurers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa than it did five years ago. Such investments amounted to about €31 billion ($35 billion) at the end of last year, or 3% of global third-party assets, from about €27 billion at the end of 2014, the year when Gross left the firm. In 2010 the figure stood at less than €10 billion, Louanges said.

Pimco, along with competitors such as units of BlackRock Inc. and Deutsche Bank AG, are vying for a greater share of the almost €10 trillion in investments that insurers oversee in Europe. Because insurers mostly invest in fixed-income products such as government, mortgage and corporate bonds, depressed interest rates are weighing on their returns.

The Newport Beach, California-based firm managed a total of €334 billion of investments for Allianz and €985 billion of third-party assets at the end of September, according to a presentation on the German insurer’s website.

“We expect the business to continue growing at that pace,” Louanges said. “The introduction of risk-based Solvency II regulation, as well as the low interest rate environment, makes diversification of asset classes in an insurer’s portfolio more important than ever.” Insurers are increasingly turning to private debt in an attempt to boost yields by investing in corporate loans and infrastructure financing, he said. Low interest rates are even more challenging in markets such as Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, where guaranteed returns used to be one of the biggest selling points for life-insurance products.

At the moment, Pimco’s four biggest countries in Europe in third-party insurance asset management are Switzerland, Italy, France and the UK, including overseas territories such as Bermuda, according to Louanges. “In Germany, our insurance business outside of Allianz also continued to see growth last year, with several hundred millions of net flows,” he said.