New rules for social security fund investing

The government will try to avert the re-occurrence of excessive investment by social security funds in structured bonds by setting up an independent authority to control the funds’ investments decisions and by including structured bonds in the 23 percent rule for their investments. Currently, funds can invest up to 23 percent of their assets in shares, equity derivatives, mutual funds or real estate, and the rest in bonds. There was no provision for new, higher risk instruments, such as structured bonds, as opposed to traditional bonds which pay an annual coupon. Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis and Labor Minister Vassilis Magginas discussed yesterday the above measures that will be the cornerstone of the institutional framework for the investment activity of social security bodies. Economy Ministry sources suggest that the change in the selection process for the funds’ administration cannot by itself guarantee there will be no high-risk investments in the future. Therefore, it was deemed essential to set limitations on structured bond investments, too. The inclusion of structured bonds in the 23 percent of funds’ assets that can be invested effectively means that such investments are now forbidden, as most funds have already virtually exceeded that limit, mainly by investing in stocks. The two ministers also discussed the planned creation of a Social Cohesion Strengthening Fund, aimed at measures for the economic support of citizens living below the poverty line. According to Alogoskoufis, the fund will be financed by the state budget with -2 billion for the next five years starting from 2008 and will be under the control of his ministry. The ministries of Health and Labor as well as other bodies will also be able to finance some of their programs through this fund, provided they are targeted at citizens, not only of low income groups but also of sensitive social groups, such as the long-term unemployed or single-parent families. The fund will also finance only direct cash injections, so that this support has immediate, measurable effects on the poverty rate. Surveys show that about half of the 2 million «poor» Greeks live on incomes just under the poverty line, which they would surpass with a -1,000 injection.