Greece’s pension funds realize less than fair returns

Greek social insurance funds have among the lowest returns on investment in Europe, according to data presented to the Association of Institutional Investors. This came to an average of 4 percent last year, the lowest among 10 countries surveyed, with Ireland topping the list at 13.5 percent in the last four years. The low performance appears to be largely the result of restrictive rules. «Greek social insurance funds actually pay the cost of a bureaucratic and very detailed institutional framework governing their investments. Essentially, the funds cannot shape their own management policy, which is instead undertaken by the government. Good examples are the limitation that they may invest no more than 23 percent of their assets in non-fixed income securities, the red tape required for the sale of a single share and the strict rules governing the funds’ deposits at the Bank of Greece,» Nikolaos Tessaromatis, professor of finance at the Athens Laboratory of Business Administration (ALBA), told Kathimerini. As a result of the restrictive investment rules, Greek social insurance funds keep a large part of their assets in cash (43 percent) and bonds (33 percent). As bonds resulted in capital losses throughout Europe in 2006, their returns were marginal, just 0.4 percent. By contrast, in other European countries, where pension funds can invest, for instance, up to 80 percent of their assets in shares, their placements produced returns of up to 13 percent, and much higher in 2005. In Greece, equities and mutual funds generated returns of 6-7 percent but represented only a small part of the assets of pension funds. Their returns averaged 4 percent, which means that these were negative for many, given that two of the largest, the Social Security Foundation (IKA) and that of OTE telecom performed much better than the average.