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Push to restrict pension investments to Canada risky and self-serving

A collective of close to 100 Canadian business figures is urging Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and provincial finance heads to revise pension fund regulations to promote investments within Canada.

The group's plea emphasizes that compelling major pension funds to allocate a larger segment of their substantial investment portfolios to Canadian enterprises would bolster the domestic economy, thereby enhancing the funds themselves.

However, this proposal, while framed as mutually advantageous, carries significant risks. Mandating a Canada-centric quota would confine pension plan managers' investments to less than three percent of global equities, primarily clustered in the financial and resource sectors. This narrow focus exposes investors to concentrated risks and limits their access to diverse opportunities globally.

In contrast, U.S.-listed equities constitute approximately half of the world's publicly traded stocks across various sectors, offering American investors a broad spectrum of options for diversified portfolios.

This push for Canadian pension funds to focus more heavily on domestic investments also exacerbates the issue of 'home bias' among Canadian investors. Despite the removal of a 30 percent cap on foreign holdings in 2005, Canadian investors tend to overweight their portfolios with Canadian equities. This bias can lead to missed opportunities and increased risks, as evidenced by the lackluster performance of Canadian equities compared to global benchmarks during certain market conditions, such as in 2023.

Indeed, in 2023, while the U.S. S&P 500 saw significant gains, the TSX Composite struggled, resulting in negative returns for Canadian utilities and real estate investment trusts (REITs), and marginal returns for major Canadian banks, insurance companies, and resource firms.

Recognizing the volatility of the Canadian equity market, seasoned investment advisors advocate for diversified portfolios that span geographic regions and industries to mitigate risks.

Jim Leech, former president and CEO of the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, underscores the importance of pension fund independence from government influence to secure optimal returns for investors.

Critics of the proposed Canada investment quota, like Dave O'Leary, founder of Kind Wealth Management, argue that it serves the interests of a select group of corporate leaders rather than the broader population. They contend that such a move would merely inflate stock prices of the favored companies, disproportionately benefiting the wealthiest individuals while failing to generate tangible economic impacts.

In essence, while the push to restrict pension investments to Canada may appear well-intentioned, its implementation could pose significant risks and favor narrow interests over the broader welfare of investors and the economy.



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