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World's biggest pension fund gains $21 billion as stocks rally

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 11/25/2016 Anna Kitanaka and Shigeki Nozawa

A man walks past the bull statue near the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. U.S. stocks slid after a gauge of American manufacturing trailed economists' forecasts, wiping out an early rally triggered by speculation lawmakers will vote in favor of a plan to raise the debt ceiling.© Jin Lee/Bloomberg A man walks past the bull statue near the New York Stock Exchange in New York, U.S., on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011. U.S. stocks slid after a gauge of American manufacturing trailed economists' forecasts, wiping out an early rally triggered by speculation lawmakers will vote in favor of a plan to raise the debt ceiling. The world’s biggest pension fund posted its first profit in four quarters as stocks rebounded, providing some respite for the Japanese state money manager after critics lambasted it for taking on too much risk.

The Government Pension Investment Fund returned 1.8 percent, or 2.4 trillion yen ($21 billion) in the three months ended Sept. 30, boosting assets to 132.1 trillion yen, it said in Tokyo on Friday. Domestic and foreign equities added 3.1 trillion yen as they recovered from their Brexit rout, outweighing a loss of 706.9 billion yen on bond holdings.

The profit comes after the fund lost more than 15 trillion yen over the previous three quarters, wiping out all investment gains since it overhauled its strategy in 2014 by boosting shares and cutting debt. As Japanese stocks extend their advance and U.S. equities climb to fresh records after Donald Trump’s election win, the prospect of further strong performance may help quash complaints at home that GPIF’s investing approach is too dangerous.

“It’ll take some pressure off,” said Naoki Fujiwara, chief fund manager at Shinkin Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “This quarter will probably be good too. But before we all get too excited, we need to be wary about whether this can continue for long.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in parliament in September that the fund’s short-term losses aren’t a problem for Japan’s pension finances. GPIF’s purchases of stocks are a “gamble,” opposition lawmaker Yuichiro Tamaki said in an interview that month, after an almost 20 percent drop in Japan’s Topix index in the first half of the year was followed by a 7.3 percent one-day plunge after Britain’s shock vote to leave the European Union.

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Domestic bonds, the only asset class to deliver a profit in the fiscal year ended March, posted a 1.3 percent loss in the three months through September after yields rebounded. That reduced Japanese debt to 36 percent of holdings, compared to a target allocation of 35 percent. Yields on 10-year bonds climbed to minus 0.085 percent at the end of September from negative 0.23 percent at the end of June.

Local stocks made up 22 percent of GPIF’s portfolio at the end of September, while foreign shares accounted for 21 percent. That compares with targets of 25 percent for each. GPIF delivered a 7.1 percent gain on domestic stocks, beating a 6.2 percent rebound in the Topix during the period.

Returns from overseas assets were muted by a stronger yen, which rose 1.8 percent against the dollar in the quarter. GPIF’s international stocks gained 3.7 percent, while foreign bonds lost 0.2 percent as yields rose amid speculation the U.S. will tighten borrowing costs.

Alternative assets accounted for 0.05 percent of GPIF’s holdings, well below the allowable limit of 5 percent. Toyota Motor Corp., Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. were the fund’s top stock investments at the end of March, while Japanese government bonds, U.S. Treasuries and Italian debt were the largest bond holdings, GPIF said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Anna Kitanaka in Tokyo at akitanaka@bloomberg.net, Shigeki Nozawa in Tokyo at snozawa1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeff Sutherland at jsutherlan13@bloomberg.net, Tom Redmond

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