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The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board said it lost 4.2 per cent in its most recent quarter, subtracting $23-billion from the fund’s assets.

It could have been worse: The three months ended June 30 were awful for most investors. According to Royal Bank of Canada’s RBC I&TS All Plan Universe, defined benefit pension plan assets decreased by 8.6 per cent, tied with the third quarter of 2008 for the biggest decline in the 28 years RBC has been tracking Canadian plan performance.

The S&P Global LargeMidCap index, a measure of stocks CPPIB uses as 85 per cent of its benchmark reference portfolio, fell almost 13.5 per cent in the quarter. The FTSE Canada Universe All Government Bond Index, the remaining 15 per cent of the benchmark, fell almost 6 per cent. Blended, that means CPPIB beat a benchmark of negative 12.4 per cent by more than eight percentage points.

CPPIB closed the quarter with assets of $523-billion, down from $539-billion at the end of the previous quarter, with the investment losses offset by $7-billion in contributions from the Canada Pension Plan.

In the early days of the pandemic, when global markets tumbled, CPPIB’s asset mix blunted the pain, and the pension fund manager lost much less money than an ordinary investor in the stock market. However, CPPIB often trails when public stock markets rise rapidly, as they did in several recent quarters when investors shook off their pandemic fears.

Now we have returned to falling markets, and CPPIB is outperforming them, despite the loss.

“Financial markets experienced the most challenging first six months of the year in the last half century, and the fund’s first fiscal quarter was not immune to such widespread decline,” John Graham, CPPIB chief executive officer, said in a statement accompanying the returns. “The uncertain business and investment conditions we noted in the previous quarter continue, and we expect to see this turbulence persist throughout the fiscal year.”

CPPIB said its loss was driven primarily by declines in public stock markets, but investments in private equity, credit and real estate also contributed “modestly.” CPPIB also lost money in fixed-income investments such as bonds due to higher interest rates imposed by central banks to fight inflation.

Gains by external portfolio managers, quantitative trading strategies and investments in energy and infrastructure contributed positively. CPPIB also recorded foreign-exchange gains of $3.1-billion as the Canadian dollar weakened against the U.S. dollar. (Most of CPPIB’s investments are held outside Canada, but it reports results in loonies.)

The Canada Pension Plan, launched in 1966, is the primary national retirement program for working Canadians. The government created CPPIB in 1999 to professionally manage the plan’s money. Over time, CPPIB has embraced active management, and its blend of stocks, bonds, real estate, infrastructure, private equity and other specialized investments has outperformed public markets and its reference portfolio.

While CPPIB reports quarterly, it points to its multigenerational mandate and likes to emphasize its long-term returns. The plan’s five-year net return, net of investment costs, was 8.7 per cent through June 30; the 10-year net return was 10.3 per cent.

In dollar terms, CPPIB says it has contributed $171-billion in cumulative net income in the past five years and $305-billion over a 10-year period. Those figures are after expenses.

CPPIB’s annualized return for the 10 years ended last Sept. 30 was, at 11.6 per cent, the highest 10-year performance figure in its history.

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