6 December 2021

Nick Page


Nick Page

Senior Investment Consultant – specialising in risk management strategies for LGPS

Email: nicholas.page@mercer.com

Equities are a key cornerstone for many Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) investment strategies. Over long-term history, the returns they have generated have saved local governments billions of pounds in pension contribution payments, enabling these savings to be directed into much-needed public services.


It is recognised that, over the long-term, returns from equities will likely make the cost of funding schemes more affordable for employers. However, employers also want stability of contributions for budget planning purposes and, as taxpayers, we want the costs to be equitable for all generations. Whilst schemes have clearly benefited from equity returns in the long-term, the path to get there has been anything but smooth. 

The bumpy road to prosperity

When equity markets fall, they tend to fall fast, without warning and often on the heels of a long steady rise. The falls can be so dramatic that some of the largest crashes are referred to as a single day in time. Crashes may happen quickly but the recovery can take many years. Whilst there has been several Black Mondays throughout history, you’ll find no Golden Friday in the history books.


The most recent equity market shock was different. In 2020, markets fell by 30% in 3 weeks as everyone grappled with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The difference here compared to other crashes was the rapid and unprecedented fiscal and monetary policy response from the world’s governments and central banks that provided the shot in the arm (pun intended) for the sharp reversal of the equity market falls. Markets reached new all-time highs a mere eight months on from the previous high, and have continued to break new ground since. 


Chart 1. MSCI World Price Index (GBP). Rebased to 100 on 31 October 1991.

It took over 10 years for markets to recover from the dotcom bubble that burst in 2000. It took less than eight months for markets to hit new highs following the Covid-19 crash.

It is too difficult to predict what might cause the next major repricing in equity markets, when this will happen and how long it will take for them to recover. There are clear risks; persistent inflation, rising interest rates, supply chain disruption, tapering of quantitative easing programs and fears of a new Covid-19 variant all pose the most obvious threats.


No one can say what will trigger it, but if history teaches us anything, it is a matter of when rather than if equity markets will tumble. The next time, governments may not be able to afford to pump trillions into economies to prop up equity markets, and we may enter another “lost decade” following the next sudden correction. If equity markets fell 30% and it took over a decade for markets to recover, how would this impact the affordability and stability of employer contributions for your fund?

Fix the roof while the sun is shining

This is a key concern of many LGPS clients who generally recognise that, despite associated volatility, equities must remain a part of long term portfolios to keep costs affordable, but don’t want to burden employers with nasty hikes in contributions rates if there is a material and sustained shock to markets.


At Mercer, we believe equity protection strategies can play a key role in helping LGPS funds on their journey.

These strategies maintain a fund’s exposure to equities but provide downside protection in the event of a severe market fall. These strategies enable funds to tailor their risk and return profile to equities with the aim of providing employers with increased certainty over their future contribution requirements.


Equity protection strategies can be characterised as being either “static” or “dynamic” in their implementation, with both approaches summarised in the table below.




  Summary Similar to an insurance policy to protect against losses over a certain amount over a fixed time period Similar to a static strategy but traded little and often so protection levels adapt continuously over time  
  Objective Preserve value over a defined period e.g. until the upcoming actuarial valuation A longer term approach to reducing equity market volatility over time 
  Term Fixed – decision required to renew at expiry Evergreen but can be switched off at any time
  Outcome Largely known for a given equity market move at expiry Less certain given no defined expiry and evolving nature of strategy 
  Protection level Fixed for the given term – risk is therefore increasing in rising markets  Evolves with markets over time 
  Governance     requirements Higher ongoing requirements due to periodic renewal or restructure Lower ongoing governance requirements as strategy continuously renews and adapts with markets 

LGPS funds we have worked with typically opt for a static strategy when they first implement equity protection with the main aim of ensuring the portfolio preserves value heading into an upcoming actuarial valuation.


With equity markets at all-time highs and the 2022 valuation cycle about to start, this would be an opportune time to consider implementing an equity protection strategy to reduce the impact of a material market fall and provide increased certainty for employers during this period.


As the concepts of the strategy become more familiar, when the static strategy reaches maturity, we are seeing more clients then switch to a dynamic strategy.


Dynamic strategies are a cutting-edge implementation solution that can reduce significantly the governance burden on funds compared to static strategies. Mercer have helped implement dynamic strategies for LGPS funds totalling more than £10bn in total assets.

Whilst not completely a set and forget approach, dynamic equity protection strategies automatically evolve with markets over time. This means less time is required from Officers and Committees in the ongoing management of the strategy. 


Chart 2. Change in the S&P 500 Price Index (USD) from 31 October 2018 with indicative protection levels for a static and dynamic equity protection strategy.

Static protection shown to be in place for 3 years at 90% of market levels at implementation on 31 October 2018. Dynamic protection implemented on a daily basis with a 1 year maturity at 90% of prevailing market levels.

With a dynamic strategy, there is no requirement for the fund to continually reaffirm whether to renew the protection after each expiry unlike with a static approach. The evergreen nature of a dynamic strategy means that protection continually renews until the fund decides otherwise. Crucially, the protection evolves with market conditions, meaning if markets rise, the protection levels will rise over time also. This isn’t the case with a static strategy, where the protection can only be increased upon implementation of a new static structure. The dynamic approach is therefore designed to reduce the fund’s governance burden by ensuring the strategy adapts to market conditions gradually over time without the need for periodic renewal or specific restructuring exercises.

This key benefit of a dynamic strategy is illustrated in chart 2. The strong rise in equities since the Covid-19 crash would have meant that a static strategy protecting a fund from more than a 10% fall relative to market levels on 31 October 2018 would only protect a fund from more than an 80% fall 3 years later. However, the protection level under a dynamic strategy automatically evolves with increases in markets, reducing risk in a low governance way. 

De-stress don’t distress

Many LGPS funds are grappling with the challenge of providing manageable (and lower!) costs that are sustainable for employers in the face of all time equity market highs and uncertain market risks. At Mercer we believe making an equity protection strategy part of the strategic armoury can help funds tailor their risk and return profile to their specific needs in an objective and transparent way, providing increased certainty for stakeholders and avoiding nasty surprises.


If your LGPS fund is yet to implement an equity protection strategy, or has a structure that is nearing expiry, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss the different approaches available to help you manage the affordability and stability of contributions for your employers through these uncertain times. 


Please feel free to get in touch with me directly or by filling out the form below if you’d like to find out more. 

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