Investing in the Netherlands

Investing in the Netherlands

From wind farms to hotels and from highways to promising start-ups, we are committed to investing in the Netherlands. Where do we invest? And why? Read more on this page.

Theme
Long-term investment
Collection Contents
16 Publications

APG and KPN start fiber optics company Glaspoort

Published on: 9 June 2021

APG and KPN today completed the transaction to launch a joint venture in fiber optics: Glaspoort. The new Amsterdam-based company will now begin to roll out fiber optics in villages, small communities and business parks. The scope of the joint venture has increased by 75,000 households. This will enable 750,000 households and 225,000 businesses to get connected to fiber optics by 2026.

 

Over the next five years, Glaspoort will be investing over 1 billion Euros in rolling out fiber optics. Thanks to sufficient construction capacity and external financing, Glaspoort can have a quick start. More than 70,000 fiber optic connections are expected to be added this year. The name Glaspoort refers to fiber (glass) and port, as the gateway to the digital future. 

 

Many advantages

The past year underlined the importance of reliable, safe and fast internet for Dutch society. In the next few years, nearly 1 million customers in more remote areas will have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a fiber optic connection. The required construction capacity will create more than 1,000 additional jobs.

Patrick Kanters, Managing Director of Global Real Assets at APG, is pleased with the formal launch of Glaspoort. “We look forward to building the new company with KPN and enabling the rollout of fiber optics to nearly 1 million customers. This joint venture will make a significant contribution to the Dutch digital infrastructure. It is also expected to generate attractive returns for our pension fund customers. The rollout will also contribute to energy savings. After all, fiber is more energy-efficient than copper or cable.”

 

Nearly national fiber coverage

“This transaction creates additional value for all stakeholders,” KPN CEO Joost Farwerck tells us excitedly. “Thanks to the expanded scope of the project, even more villages can be connected to state-of-the-art fiber infrastructure at an accelerated pace.” Combined with KPN's own rollout of about half a million households per year, this will result in nearly national fiber coverage (80 percent) by 2026. A result that would otherwise not be achieved until much later. Farwerck: “With 5G, fiber will provide the most modern and powerful network, which will support the Netherlands well into the 21st century.”

 

Open network strategy

The new network company has an open network strategy. Although KPN acts as the main tenant on the network, Glaspoort offers access to external operators who opt for this. End users can therefore select a telecom company of their choice. This will promote competition and innovation in the Netherlands.

 

Jan Willem Scheerder and Ferry Niers have been appointed as respectively CEO and CFO of Glaspoort. Scheerder previously held various executive positions in Wholesale Services and International Carrier Business and led several start-ups. Niers has over 14 years of experience in the TMT industry and held Corporate Finance and M&A positions at KPN and KPMG.

 

Also read: Why is a pension investor investing in fiber optics technology?

For more information about Glaspoort, visit: glaspoort.nl

Volgende publicatie:
More rental homes thanks for online loan platform

More rental homes thanks for online loan platform

Published on: 4 May 2021

Housing corporations need billions to make their existing rental homes sustainable and build more homes. Through the auction site LIST Amsterdam they can now borrow money easily and quickly. APG Asset Management is a co-initiator of this fully digital loan platform. “With fifty approved loans worth half a billion Euros, this is already a great success.”

 

How do you find affordable rental housing if you have a modest income and can forget about buying a house? This is becoming increasingly difficult in the Netherlands. Tenants often have to wait years to get a home. That is why the housing corporations want to build about 34,000 more social rental homes each year; that is double the amount they've had built in recent years. In addition, the pressure on housing corporations to make their (more than two million) existing homes more sustainable is increasing, because in 2050 all housing corporations must be CO2 neutral.

 

New financing source

That can only mean one thing: the 300 housing corporations in the Netherlands will need many billions in the coming years. How will they get that money? Rent increases offer little solace because rents in the social rental sector are capped. In practice, the corporations now borrow money mainly from two sector banks, the Nederlandse Waterschapsbank (NWB) and the Bank Nederlandse Gemeenten (BNG). “A third source of funding has now been added with the platform LIST Amsterdam. Through this online marketplace, corporations can apply for a loan very easily and efficiently, compare the offers from institutional investors and take out the loan that is most favorable for them,” says Hans van Westrienen, senior portfolio manager of APG Asset Management.

 

Taking advantage of the platforming trend

He explains that APG was approached a few years ago by Amsterdam-based entrepreneurs Adriaan Hendriksen and Erik Wilders. “They saw opportunities for an online lending platform where housing associations could make direct contact with institutional investors for their financing needs. Without all kinds of intermediaries, such as brokers; that immediately saves a lot of money. We thought it was an excellent idea and helped them set up this platform.” In doing so, LIST Amsterdam is responding to the trend of platformization: after all, we have become accustomed to online platforms for ordering food, arranging a cab or an overnight stay, or hiring a handyman. Lending money through crowdfunding platforms like Geldvoorelkaar, Kickstarter and Voordekunst have been around for years, but a platform for large, long-term loans is new, observes Van Westrienen: “It’s simple: the housing association puts in its request for money directly to institutional investors via LIST Amsterdam. Regular banks are not involved.” Wouldn’t APG have wanted to set up this platform itself? “No, in this case the rule is: stick with what you know. Setting up an online auction site like this is also subject to strict conditions, based on legislation and regulations.” 

 

More competition, lower interest

The platform clearly meets a need: after two years, some fifty loans have been traded through LIST Amsterdam, with a total value of half a billion Euros. Why is APG participating? Van Westrienen: “We are happy to make these investments through this platform because our clients, the pension funds ABP, bpfBOUW, SPW and PPF APG, not only want to provide long-term loans with a stable and reliable return, but also want to contribute to solving the housing shortage and making homes more sustainable. Moreover, they want to invest more in the Netherlands where possible.” Van Westrienen has had a lot of praise from the housing corporations. “They can now choose from more financiers. And because there has been more competition, the housing corporations pay a somewhat lower interest rate than before.”

Return, risk, costs and sustainability

APG usually bases its investments on four criteria, Van Westrienen explains: “The risk, the return, the costs and the sustainable, social character of the investment. We certainly meet the last criterion - by investing through LIST Amsterdam - given the desire of housing associations to use these loans to build more rental homes and to make existing homes more energy efficient.”

As for the risk; the Dutch State guarantees this type of long-term loans to housing corporations. This is done through the Social Housing Guarantee Fund (WSW), a construction that is interesting to institutional investors like APG. "Because of this guarantee, the risk for us is low. The interest rate on these loans is slightly higher than on Dutch government bonds, so on balance we can realize a slightly higher return at a comparable risk. At the same time, the return on these low-risk loans is relatively low, which makes them less attractive to the ordinary large banks. But that low return is not a problem, in part because by investing through LIST Amsterdam, we score so well on the other three criteria.” And what about the fourth criterion, the costs? “Those are relatively low, because the whole auction process is automated and very efficient.”

 

Simple, digital security system

This automation is possible in part due to extensive standardization, Van Westrienen explains. “Normally, you can incorporate all sorts of tailor-made options into these kinds of large loans. For example the option of early repayment, a variable interest rate during the term, or an annuity structure. With the loans through LIST Amsterdam you only have to deal with a template on which you can enter the term, the amount to be borrowed and the interest rate. That’s very straightforward.” The system works surprisingly simply: at eleven a.m., on fixed days during the week, investors are shown a template on which corporation X has indicated how many million Euros they want to borrow. Interested investors then enter the interest rate they want for that loan. The corporation then gets five minutes to tick which interest rate they prefer, and thus automatically which investor they will go with. And then the deal is done. “We have no contact with the housing corporation in question. We used to process these types of investments manually in our administration. My coworkers in Trade Processing, together with our Integration team, have ensured that everything runs digitally and in a standardized way. Even the signing of the required signatures by all parties is now done electronically, via AdobeSign. Especially now that almost everyone works from home, this is extremely convenient. This digitization means fewer errors, more speed and lower costs. Good news for the housing corporations and for our clients and their participants that we invest for.”

 

 

 

“LIST Amsterdam is very good news”

 

Housing corporation De Alliantie was the first to take out a loan through LIST Amsterdam in 2019. Jan Michiel Aeilkema, treasurer at De Alliantie, said this about it on the ABP website earlier this year, “It is our mission to ensure sufficient social rental housing. In our case, ninety percent of our stock consists of homes for which rents are capped. We can’t just raise those rents to pay for sustainability, for example.

We try to borrow money as cheaply as possible, at the lowest possible interest rate. Because we don't need brokers when we work through LIST Amsterdam and many processes are highly automated, we also have fewer expenses when attracting funding this way. And if we don’t like the offers we get on the platform, we can always approach the sector banks.”

What does Aeilkema think of LIST Amsterdam? “For housing corporations, the social housing market and the large group of people who depend on it, this is very good news. The cheaper loans and lower costs mean that we can keep housing affordable and make it more sustainable. So it's a very good thing for the Netherlands.”

 

 

 

Volgende publicatie:
“The commodities market is volatile, that's what makes it interesting”

“The commodities market is volatile, that's what makes it interesting”

Published on: 4 May 2021

568 billion euros. That's the total amount of invested assets of APG globally (position in February, 2021). Goal: good and sustainable returns for the participants of the funds. The portfolio is obviously diversified. From investments in wind parks in Zeeland to shares in international hotel chains. And from safe bonds to the more volatile trade in gold or soy. Who are the people behind those investments? What is it that drives them? What choices do they make? And why?

 

In this first episode: Peter Verbaken, Head of the Team Commodities of APG.

 

In 2019 a plus of 17%, in Corona year 2020 a minus of 16%: people investing in commodities must have nerves of steel. Are commodities such as oil, gold, soy or sugar too risky for a pension investor like APG? No, says Peter Verbaken, Head of the Team Commodities of APG Asset Management. “Commodities are a great instrument for applying risk diversification to the total investment portfolio.” A good conversation about the approach, opportunities and dilemmas of APG - also when it comes to sustainability.

 

 

What causes those enormous fluctuations in the prices of commodities?

“Multiple factors are responsible for the volatility. The price decreases on the commodity market in the past decade can mainly be attributed to the weak economic growth. An apparent pick up of the growth is immediately reflected in the prices of commodities. Furthermore, major shifts occur very rapidly in supply and demand, as for example on the oil market. The oil price dropped extremely hard last year and even noted negative for a while. Throughout the year 2020, copper, gold and silver actually performed really well, the same as a number of agricultural commodities, like soy, corn and cocoa. Where shares, bonds and property investments often move in the same direction, commodities show much more opposite price movements. In other words, the correlation between the different commodities is very low. That offers opportunities for investors like us, investors who invest from a perspective of active management. That means we are not just following a commodities index, but choose our own commodities to invest in. One of our goals is to achieve a higher return than such index which is considered to be a benchmark.”

 

 

Some experts predict a new ‘super cycle’ in commodities; a long period of price increases due to the Corona vaccines, the monetary support packages offered by central banks and eventually economic recovery. What do you expect?

”That is indeed a real possibility. The prices of commodities usually increase when the global economy grows, but also when the inflation remains low. You also need a fundamental outlook: a growing demand for some commodities is often very likely. Take copper for instance, a commodity that will play an essential role in electrification within many markets. Or lithium, used for batteries integrated by producers in, among other things, electric cars. The demand for such commodities will increase, while the supply is not significantly increasing. However, that doesn't mean that the prices of these commodities will immediately rise in a straight line upwards. And besides that, the current prices already include some of those expectations.”

 

How do you explain the enormous leaps in the price of oil? And in what direction will that price be going?

“The latter is very hard to predict. The oil price may very well be the most volatile of all commodities. With the outbreak of the Corona crisis, the demand for oil naturally declined rapidly as a result of all those lockdowns. At the same time, the two major oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia increased their production due to a mutual conflict. As a result, the oil price decreased to an all-time low of about 20 dollars in April. And for a very brief period of time the price was actually negative. After that the OPEC countries, including Russia, still reached an agreement to restrain the oil production. This resulted in a steady rise of the price. In the beginning of April, the oil price was slightly over 60 dollars per barrel. An enormous increase compared to last spring.”

 

But if the climate goals are taken seriously worldwide, wouldn't the demand for oil structurally decrease in the years to come? 

“The oil price will rise in the short term due to the expectation of economic recovery, meaning the demand for oil increases. But indeed, it will be crucial to see the effects of the climate transition in the years to come. What alternative fuels will be emerging further? And what happens on the supply side? We have seen a large supply of (relatively expensive) shale oil from the US in the past years, but the oil producers there were hit hard by the low oil price. In short, everything is possible both on the demand side and on the supply side.”

 

The annual report 2020 states that ‘APG uses its influence as major investor to encourage CO2 reductions’. Doesn't that contradict the simultaneous investment in fossil fuels such as oil?

“A lot of attention is paid to fossil fuels from a societal point of view. From APG's point of view, we therefore look carefully at the effects of the energy transition. It will be very interesting to see the rate at which sustainable energy sources will become widely available. The fact that the demand for fossil fuels, such as oil, has to decrease in order to meet the climate goals, is evident. In order to achieve this goal, governments, companies and consumers have to take responsibility and start initiating or accelerating big changes.”

 

Should APG also assume that responsibility, among other things when it comes to investments in commodities?

“Certainly. However, it is a significant difference when you, as we do, invest through derivatives and mainly futures in the oil price or when you invest directly by means of shares or bonds into oil producing companies. Those latter investments are effectively contributing to more production by financing the activities of these companies. That's why investments in commodities, in my opinion, are more difficult to relate to the ambitions of CO2 reduction. Our investments in an oil future, for example, are not contributing to higher levels of oil production; it is quite a neutral investment in terms of CO2 emission. But indeed, the difference is hard to explain sometimes.”

 

The returns of commodity investments can be quite volatile. Is it a wise decision to use the pension contributions for this purpose? 

“That point is rightly emphasized. We are always considering the total investment allocation for our clients. That allocation may vary per client, depending on the returns they are looking to achieve and at what risks. We determine the ideal mix in close consultation with the client based on those factors. This means the percentages we invest in respectively shares, bonds, property and a number of other assets, such as private equity, infrastructure and commodities. Some clients find the risks too high, but most of them like for us to also invest a small part in commodities. The logic behind this is that commodities are a great instrument to apply better risk diversification to the entire investment portfolio.”

 

When do you exceed the expectations of investing in this market?

“We use commodity futures. When doing so, we usually opt for forward contracts with a one month's duration. Our starting point is a benchmark composed of 22 different commodities, including oil, gold, silver, copper, coffee, wheat and cocoa. We have developed our own quantitative model. Based on this model, we decide for each of these commodities whether we want our weighing to deviate from the benchmark. That is the only way to beat that benchmark. Our goal? To beat the benchmark annually with an average of 0.65%. The benchmark in 2020 performed minus 20% and we achieved a minus of 15%. I know it sounds a bit weird, but that means we have done very well relatively speaking.”

 

Gold has always been considered a ‘safe haven’ by many investors and the price often increased in times of turmoil on the financial markets. Is that still the case?

“Gold is performing well in times of high levels of stock market volatility. But the same applies to low levels of real interest rates, as shown for many years now. Gold actually is an outsider in our mixture of commodities, as it is often recognized more as a currency instead of a commodity.”

 

The interest has slightly increased recently. Is that immediately reflected in a decreasing price of gold?

“Yes, it is. But it's better to look at the long term. Central banks have hinted that they want to keep the interests low for now to not hamper the economic recovery. So, that's beneficial to the price of gold. Even though a straight line can never be drawn in terms of that relation.”

 

What can private individuals do if they want to invest in commodities? Commodity futures are quite difficult for them…

“I do not give advice. But for private individuals who are open to the idea, increasingly more commodity ETFs have been witnessed lately. ETFs are products you can use to invest in a basket of commodities quite easily. Also for private individuals, commodities can add great risk diversification to their portfolio. The investors have to keep in mind that the risks are also quite significant because of the high level of volatility which means the investment in commodities should not represent a significant part of your portfolio.” 

 

You have been investing in commodities since 2008. Why are those investments so much fun?

“LOL, good question. I started working as a junior portfolio manager at the Commodities Desk of APG in the beginning of 2008. That was exactly the time at which the previous super cycle in commodities came to an end, mainly driven by the demand from China. And just before the crash of Lehman Brothers, bringing about the financial crisis. Investors with thirty years of experience were staring at their monitors flabbergasted during those months. The fall in share prices, but also in commodities, was unprecedented that year. I always continued to invest in commodities after that, because its volatility is exactly what makes this market so interesting. That can offer investors plenty of opportunities, as it does now. I have been leading the Commodities Team since 2015. The team members together have a lot of experience and knowledge of both the model-based side and the fundamental developments in the commodities market. That combination has resulted in us structurally beating the commodities benchmark in the past decade.”

 

 

Facts & Figures

 

What are the commodities in which APG invests?

APG invests in oil, petrol, gold, silver, aluminum, copper and nickel, but also in agricultural commodities, such as wheat, corn, sugar, coffee, cocoa and soybeans. The trade volumes in ‘large’ commodity contracts, like oil, gold and copper, are huge. Tens of billions of euros are traded every day in the derivatives on these commodities.

 

For how much?

33 billion euros (approximately 5.7% of the total invested pension assets). 

 

And what is the rate of returns?

2016 +11%

2017  +7%

2018 -13%

2019  +17%

2020 -16%

2021 up to and including mid-April +19%

Since 2015 on average around 2.5% per year

Investors-ABC

Volgende publicatie:
Covid-19 speeds up investment trends at APG

Covid-19 speeds up investment trends at APG

Published on: 16 April 2021

When you have your eye on a new investment as an investor, of course you want to know what you are getting into. To be able to comprehend non-listed companies as an investor, you usually need to go and visit them.  However, due to the pandemic, this is difficult.  How does APG deal with those restrictions? PensionPro had a conversation about it with APG’s Chief Investment Officer, Peter Branner.   

 

A lot of information is available about listed companies, in part because there are certain legal requirements. On top of that, a lot of estimations have often been done by share analysts: professionals outside the company, who - if they do their job right -  provide an independent assessment about the prospects and the potential of the company or project.

Much less information is often available about non-listed companies. That is why it is very important to go and visit them as an investor. An investment may look very attractive from a distance, but when you walk around in the workplace and speak to its management, you can pick up signals that may change your mind.

 

Closer to home

Now that a lot of airplanes are grounded, and countries are on lock-down - especially for foreigners – investors need to look for alternative ways to form an opinion. In the interview with PensionPro, Branner explains that APG does this in three ways.

The first way: look closer to home. If you invest in the Netherlands, for example in KPN’s fiberoptics network, you don’t need to catch a plane. Plus, an investment like that contributes to the implementation of an existing ambition of APG’s biggest pension client: invest more in the Netherlands.

The second way for APG to deal with the current travel restrictions is to expand existing investments in specific non-listed companies by taking a bigger interest in an existing company or project. A big part of the information that APG needs to be able to make the investment has already been collected in a previous phase. A project or company therefore does not require another visit. Expanding existing investments was already a trend at APG, even before Covid-19 started to assert itself, Branner explains. The reason is obvious: it brings costs down.

 

Data rooms

The third way APG uses to still be able to make non-listed investments is so-called due diligence: the entire extensive audit that a serious candidate-buyer does before he makes a definitive decision. Generally speaking, an investigation like that is done in a physical data room in the country where the company is located. Currently, these data rooms are sometimes also made available in digital form, so that travel is no longer required.

All three of these ways of dealing with the Covid restrictions, Branner believes, are trends that will not disappear. To a certain extent, they had already been implementing them, but due to Covid, they have been sped up.

 

Home entertainment

The PensionPro interview also shows that APG is actively taking advantage of the opportunities provided by Covid, as an investor. For example, it got away from providers of cruise ships at an early stage and then got back in the minute the rates were at an all-time low – and the shares had therefore become cheap. APG also bought do-it-yourself store chains, providers of home entertainment and operators of vacation homes. That active approach paid off in 2o2o, but also in the past five years, with an above-average investment return.

Volgende publicatie:
Bitcoin pension

Bitcoin pension

Published on: 15 April 2021

Early retirement thanks to the Bitcoin. Someone in my circle managed to do just that. In particular the price explosion as of last summer was a major contributor. Would this be an idea for pension funds? APG has received some media questions on the topic over the past few weeks. This resulted in articles, concluding that major investors still hesitate.

 

Please pay attention to the word ‘still’. Is it just a matter of time? I will get back to you on that one. Let's first take a look at the investment approach of pension funds. The goal is to provide participants with a good pension. An important question is the amount of investment risk you are willing to take. Avoiding all risks leads to a pension that's quite certain, but also quite low. Accepting more risk leads to higher pensions on average, but also to a greater 'variety’ surrounding it. The ultimate investment policy has to match the needs of the participants.

 

Are Bitcoins a good fit? The price movements are rather substantial. This has very likely disturbed the night's rest of the friend of a friend mentioned above. The price decreased by 70% or more three times in the past ten years. It eventually worked out well for her in euros and she can now catch some extra hours of sleep. My point is that you have to relate the phenomenal price increase to the huge volatility of the prices. When risk-adjusted, the reward over the past ten years is similar to the reward you get from a (50/50) portfolio composed of global shares and bonds (for the wonks: the Sharpe ratio is the same).

 

But it's all about the future. Do Bitcoins provide added value to a portfolio? In order to establish that, it is important to first determine the return expectations in several ‘weather conditions'. What is the so-called ‘investment case’? Where does the return come from? Just take shares or real estate for instance. Those sectors have recurring revenues - dividends and rental income - that move along with the economy or inflation. That's something you can count on.

To what extent the price is still able to rise is very hard to say

That doesn't apply to Bitcoins. There is no cash flow. It is therefore impossible to determine ‘fair value’ or expected returns. The return is determined entirely by the price trend of the Bitcoin. And as the supply barely increases, the price is primarily driven by demand. And what is it that drives the demand? Probably not buyers who are looking to use the Bitcoin as a means of payment, as that process is slow and expensive. That leaves us with: buyers who speculate on (further) price appreciation. But what is it that would trigger an increase of the price? Simple: it just does. That mechanism really exists. Increasing prices often trigger new demands and drive further price appreciation.

 

To what extent the price is still able to rise is very hard to say. Another 20%? A doubling? A tenfold increase? I don't rule out any of these possibilities. I can be a bit more precise on the timing of the peak. That will be once the bottom of the maximum width of the pyramid has been reached. As soon as the inflow of new groups of buyers comes to a standstill, the price cannot increase any more. If ‘Bitcoin-pensionados’ then want to pull out, the process may very well reverse (decreasing prices, increasing sales, etc.). Try to explain that as a pension provider to your constituencies and the regulatory body.

 

The Bitcoin will probably already tumble prior to the investment case, as it doesn't fit within the investment convictions. You cannot call the Bitcoin sustainable when you look at its considerable energy consumption. It is a bit pointless to have the energy provided by the new wind and solar parks immediately absorbed by the Bitcoin.

 

Returning to the word ‘still’, I think it will still take a while before the pension investors have overcome their hesitations. How long? Longer than it takes to build a pyramid.

 

 

Charles Kalshoven is Senior Strategist at APG

Volgende publicatie:
“Selling in panic never is the smart thing to do”

“Selling in panic never is the smart thing to do”

Published on: 1 April 2021

Ronald Wuijster on investing in a Corona year

Despite the Corona crisis and the associated correction on the stock market, APG can still look back on an ‘excellent investment year’. Ronald Wuijster, member of the Board of Directors and responsible for Asset Management and HR, explains why. “We really had to work hard as an investor and many discussions have been raised. But we didn't make any changes to our long-term investment approach.”

How did APG perform in the field of asset management in 2020?
“Really good. We managed to achieve great returns for our customers, between 6.5 and 10 percent, and we recovered remarkably well in comparison with 2019. The results in the year 2019 were somewhat detrimental to the five years’ return. When we look back: the absolute return -the income realized from the market- was good in 2020, but a little bit lower in 2019. It is then up to Asset Management to earn additional returns above the market average, which is called excess return. We did not succeed in that goal in 2019, as we were below the market average in that year. However, the excess return in 2020 was really very good again and, as a result, the five years’ excess return also increased.”

More room was made in 2020 for investments in the Netherlands. Why was that? And what was that decision based on?
“APG is looking to emphasize its societal role in the Netherlands and contribute to the economy. That's not done by means of random investments. If you choose to invest in, for example government bonds, your contribution to the Dutch economy is rather limited. Moreover, there is sufficient interest in such investments which means it doesn't result in added value. Asset Management has therefore identified two areas in which we do make a contribution: infrastructure and venture capital. And the latter we invest in start-ups focusing on the energy transition, for instance, like our recent investment in NET2GRID. In addition to the social importance, making investments in the Netherlands of course has to meet the characteristics in the field of return on risk. That means we are certainly not investing in the Netherlands at all costs, but when a serious investment comes up that compares well with other market opportunities, it has a clear advantage.”

2020 has been a turbulent year in many ways. What is the overall conclusion as we look back?
“That we were able to maintain the good investment returns in the past year. And that truly makes me proud. We were startled by the stock market correction in the beginning of 2020: due to COVID-19, we experienced a sudden, sharp fall on the stock market. That fall caused commotion and concerns, sometimes with our customers as well. They witnessed the stock markets drop significantly and wondered whether we shouldn't be more careful. But from experience and good analysis we know it's not wise to slow down at a time like that. If you sell at a low level, triggered by fears of risk, you have to buy again at a high level once the stock market is recovered. That would be a shame. So, we maintained our long-term direction and purchased shares, according to our rebalancing policy, while the valuations decreased. In short, this means the following: when certain investment categories sharply increase or decrease, the allocations per category agreed with the customers is jeopardized. That means you have to purchase or sell: rebalancing. A correct decision.”

We know when to slow down or to accelerate

So, we escaped that stock market correction by sticking with the long-term direction. But does this mean Corona had no effect whatsoever on the investment strategy?
“Companies globally responded differently to Corona. Some companies benefited, others didn't notice any difference and a third group has really suffered from the crisis. To us, as an investor, it meant we had to work hard in some industries, such as hotels, entertainment and real estate. You may think about refinancing or having to apply special measures. We have had many discussions on these matters and were able to offer some help here and there, but we didn't make any changes to our long-term investment approach. What we take away from this crisis, is the knowledge that a certain event triggers trends that will last for a longer period of time. Think about growth in logistics and working at every location. That's something for us to respond to.”

APG sets high sustainability requirements to companies in which it invests on behalf of the funds. However, the administrator itself appears not to meet those requirements in all instances yet. What will be done about that?
“We set the bar high for others and, as a company, we also want to meet those requirements. But you will also notice that the hairdresser is not always cutting his or her own hair correctly. That obviously should not be the case and we have therefore prepared a plan to improve our own sustainability. We have implemented several programs to work on our mobility, diversity and inclusion, as well as financial self-reliance of participants in our pension fund customers. Our housing will also become more sustainable and we are exploring the new methods of working.”

Next for something entirely different. One of the themes in APG's new annual report: rewards. The total amount of variable rewards within APG increased significantly in 2020. How is that possible?
“That has to do with the number of employees in the domain in which the bonuses are paid. We have abolished the variable renumeration within APG, except for one specific group: employees bearing a very direct investment responsibility. That group consists of the portfolio managers and the team members have increased due our customers’ objectives, mainly in illiquid investments. 2020 has been an excellent investment year and was additionally positive in terms of our five years’ returns. The rewards are especially linked to the performances in the long term. And good investments are beneficial to the customers and the consumers and activate the variable reward system.”

 

APG usually states that it mainly pays variable remunerations to employees who work in one of APG's foreign offices. Is that still the case?
“We have a group of employees in the Netherlands who are bearing a direct investment responsibility. However, that group only receives 15% of the variable remunerations. 85% of the amount is therefore paid in the Unites States and in Asia where variable remunerations are customary in the rewards structure applicable to those continents.”


The members of the Board of Directors of APG have started to earn more on average, almost 30,000 euro per year. You have started earning even 66,000 euro more. What is the reason for this increase in salaries of the members of the Board of Directors and of you in particular?
“As far as I am concerned: the agreement has been made at the time of my appointment that upon adequate functioning my salary would increase to a pre-agreed level after two years. The Board of Directors has determined last year that my functioning is of a very good level which explains the increase. The other increases relate to, among other things, an increase in the Collective Labor Agreement (CAO), holiday pay of which the payment is lagging behind and some isolated cases, such as the parting of our Chief Executive Officer, Gerard van Olphen.”

And can this be justified now the country is suffering from such an enormous blow caused by the Corona crisis?
“The commitment and productivity of our employees have by no means been affected because of the Corona crisis. The realized performances have exceeded our expectations. In addition, APG did not have a business economic reason to reward differently. APG is not benefiting from Corona but is also not suffering. That applies throughout the organization. Moreover, a decrease in salaries would create uncertainties that would harm the economy. It is with good reason that the government has announced support programs for the industries that are struggling. So, preserving the salaries was the best thing for us to do, also in the interest of our economy.”

The new chairperson of the Board of Directors will not be earning the same salary as her predecessor? What are the underlying considerations for that decision?
“Annette Mosman will be earning slightly less than Gerard van Olphen. We consider the internal proportions when determining salaries -what does the average employee earn in relation to the chairperson-, the benchmark in the market and the societal aspects. Her salary is looking quite alright, a little lower at most, but she is also at the beginning of her term while Gerard had already been in service for a couple of years.”

Volgende publicatie:
APG makes new step towards carbon neutral investment portfolio

APG makes new step towards carbon neutral investment portfolio

Published on: 29 March 2021

APG is joining the Net Zero Asset Managers initiative (NZAM). The NZAM is a group of international asset managers committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. The initiative has a total of 73 signatories representing $32 trillion in assets under management, amounts to 36 percent of total assets across the globe. 

 

Specifically, APG promises to work in partnership with its clients on decarbonization goals, consistent with an ambition to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or sooner across all assets under management; set an interim target for the proportion of assets to be managed in line with the attainment of net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner; and review this interim target at least every five years, with a view of ratchetting up the proportion of assets under management covered until all assets are included.

“APG on behalf of pension fund clients, is committed to contributing to the goal of the Paris agreement to keep global warming limited to 1,5 degrees,” says Peter Branner, Chief Investment Officer (CIO) of APG Asset Management. “The Net Zero Asset Managers initiative is completely in line with this ambition, which is why we are pleased to join the group. I am thrilled to see how our investment teams continue to identify climate-related investments in all regions in which we operate. It is encouraging in its own right and comforting for our clients to see that this happens without compromising return objectives.”

The Net Zero Asset Managers initiative is a group of international asset managers committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner. Launched in December 2020, the initiative has rapidly grown and now has a total of 73 signatories representing $32 trillion in assets under management. This represents 36 per cent of total assets across the globe. 

APG’s pension fund clients already have climate-related targets for 2025, such as investing in clean and affordable energy (ABP: €15 billion) and reducing the carbon footprint in listed equities. Starting with the 2020 reporting cycle, APG and its clients will extend the scope of the carbon footprint disclosures to include corporate bonds, real estate and private equity. Together, these asset classes represent over half of our assets under management. The objective is to allow clients to set 2030 Paris-aligned climate targets no later than 2022.

We also actively partner with the broader investment community to share insights on climate-related risks and measurement. APG co-chairs the Net Zero Investment Framework (NZIF) which offers practical guidance for investors to align their portfolios with the Paris climate goals. Among other things, the framework defines principles and thresholds for targets on decarbonizing investment portfolios and investing in climate solutions. APG is also a founding member of the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials (PCAF). The goal of PCAF is to arrive at a shared methodology to enable financial institutions to assess and disclose the carbon emissions of their loans and investments.

APG’s commitment to net zero emissions in 2050 goes beyond merely reducing the carbon footprint of the investment portfolio, says Joost Slabbekoorn, senior responsible investment specialist at APG. “As a large investor, we have a broad set of tools at our disposal to drive lower emissions in the real world. This includes engagement, also together with other investors, to encourage companies we invest in to reduce carbon emissions and investing in climate solutions, such as renewable energy and carbon saving technology.” 

Volgende publicatie:
This is why ABP invests in KPN's fiber-optic network

This is why ABP invests in KPN's fiber-optic network

Published on: 26 March 2021

Pension fund ABP is helping KPN accelerate implementation of a fiber-optic network, it was announced at the end of March. APG, ABP's pension administrator, is starting a joint venture with KPN for this purpose. But what should a pension investor in fiber-optic technology do? And what does that mean for retirees?

 

At the end of last year, KPN announced that it was fully committed to the roll-out of fiber-optic connections in the coming years. With the replacement of the old copper network by super-fast Internet connections via optical fiber, KPN wants to offer both consumers and companies better support for their digital activities. Good news for both (more and more home-working) individuals and companies that offer more and more digital services.

 

How many more people will benefit from this announced 'acceleration'?

KPN's original plan was to provide 2.5 million households in larger municipalities with fast Internet via optical fiber in the next five years. This would serve a total of 65% of all Dutch households. As a result of this joint venture, some 900,000 fiber-optic connections will now be added, mainly in villages, bringing the counter to 80% by the end of 2026. Good for the customer, and KPN is thus accelerating the roll-out of its fiber-optic network.

 

The benefits for KPN are clear, but why is ABP joining in?

Senior portfolio manager Laurens-Jan Sipma, who coordinated this joint venture with KPN on behalf of APG: 'In addition to equities, bonds, real estate and commodities, we also invest part of our portfolio in infrastructure. Examples include wind farms, electricity networks, highways and airports. This also includes projects in the telecommunications sector, such as transmission masts for mobile telephony and therefore also fiber-optic networks. Optical fiber is a future-proof technology, not only because of its speed and scalability, but also because it's a relatively energy-efficient technology.'

 

Is this joint venture also of public interest? 

Sipma: 'Fast fiber-optic connections offer advantages for all kinds of sectors. The health care industry, for instance, will make more and more frequent use of video consultations in the coming years. Or a patient who wants to e-mail a photo of, for example, a skin condition to his doctor from home: you really need a fast, secure Internet connection. Optical fiber offers that and it's a better alternative than the cable or the old copper connection. But there are also other public interests: the accelerated roll-out will create more than a thousand extra jobs. We currently have a greater need for the people who are going to lay all those cables, such as engineers, planners, welders, you name it. Also, optical fiber is more sustainable, because it requires less energy than copper or cable. Last but not least, super-fast Internet gives a strong impetus to the economic growth of the Netherlands. All in all, this joint venture clearly meets ABP's ambitions and wishes. '   

 

Does an investor like APG know enough about fiber-optic technology?

Sipma: 'Oh, yes. For example, we previously made an investment in Conterra in the US, a company that has an extensive fiber-optic network and is expanding. And in France, we invest in TDF, which is now also rolling out optical fiber to around one million French households in rural areas. So we know very well which teething problems you can encounter with optical fiber and what the risks and possibilities are. But when we assessed this business case, we naturally also performed analyses with a range of external specialists.' 

 

What return can customers and participants expect from this deal?

Arjan Reinders, Head of the APG team that invests in European Infrastructure: 'The investment in this joint venture, in which KPN and APG, on behalf of ABP, each have a 50% stake, involves a total amount of more than one billion euros. APG is responsible for 440 million euros of this. The first half immediately when the contracts are signed; we will transfer the other 220 million euros in installments, depending on the pace of the actual roll-out. The return we expect on this investment is in line with the returns we normally achieve for our clients on this type of infrastructure investment. On average, about 7% per year. Once the roll-out is complete, we will receive an annual dividend. In short, this is a very solid investment for us.'

Isn't the choice of such a joint venture a bit unusual for an investor like APG?

Reinders: ''Well, it may seem a bit strange to outsiders, but it's familiar territory for APG. It's not the first time we've done this. Working together within such a joint venture gives us control as a co-shareholder. It's a fairly flexible form, with its own management team and supervisory directors. The joint venture is separate from KPN itself, which, like us, is a shareholder. KPN will of course take care of operational management, because that's where their expertise lies. We do have a say in the pace of the roll-out and whether we want to roll it out in other areas. We also offer expertise in the fields of investment and financing decisions.'

 

If all those fiber-optic connections have been made, can other telecommunications providers also use them?

Reinders: 'Yes, they can. KPN will soon be the main tenant on the network, but other telecommunications players can also rent access from the joint venture. Which of course further strengthens the solidity of this investment for APG.'   

Volgende publicatie:
APG contributes to an intelligent and cleaner energy chain by investing in NET2GRID

APG contributes to an intelligent and cleaner energy chain by investing in NET2GRID

Published on: 22 March 2021

APG announced today that it is investing in NET2GRID, a Dutch scale-up in the energy sector. For APG the investment in NET2GRID fits within its Dutch energy transition portfolio ANET. ANET’s goal is to support fast-growing companies and projects that contribute to the energy transition, to optimize long term returns and to maximize carbon reduction.

 

NET2GRID empowers utilities and energy retailers by providing actionable insights to their end customers based on the real-time analysis of their energy usage data. At the heart of NET2GRID’s product portfolio sit its cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning technologies that deliver unique energy insights and energy consumption predictions.

 

“Real-time energy insight is becoming more important for consumers and utilities, creating more awareness of energy consumption and ways to become more energy efficient”, says Nienke Vledder, senior portfolio manager ANET at APG. “These insights help balance supply and demand of increasing renewable energy coming on-line, as seen in The Netherlands generated by – amongst others - wind and sun.

 

Please read the full press release Net2GR here.

Volgende publicatie:
Are you afraid of ghosts?

Are you afraid of ghosts?

Published on: 18 March 2021

No one likes to have a monster under the bed. And even if your parents say there is no such thing as a ghost, as a child that’s not what it feels like. In the financial market, there is also a monster lurking sometimes. One that has the capacity to scare the living daylights out of everyone: the inflation ghost. How afraid of that should we really be?

 

The bad news: this ghost is real. In western countries there have been three periods of massive inflation in the last century. In the Netherlands, this amounted to an average of about 10% during both world wars. In the seventies, it was 7% a year. At that rate, your money is only worth half of what it was after ten years. That means the same pension will only get you through half of the month.

 

The damage can already start before the monster even stirs. Because it is the fear of inflation that can cause interest rates to rise before even one price tag has been received. Because inflation makes government bonds with fixed remuneration in Euros less attractive. If scared investors then dump these items, the price goes down and interest goes up. And a higher interest rate also has a negative effect on shares and housing prices. It makes future profits and renting worth less. And home buyers will also not be able to borrow as much.

 

Financial markets take rising inflation into account. This can be seen in the increasing price of insurance for inflation. Why? Rising optimism about economic recovery due to vaccines and fiscal injections plays a role. Inflation is higher in an economy that is growing. But more expensive raw materials and logistical problems can lead to higher prices. A shortage of chips affects production costs, a shortage of containers in the right place drives up transportation costs.

High inflation is not the most likely scenario, but it would be unwise not to take it into account.

Still, these types of problems should be temporary. Rising prices for specific products and services are what solves logistical problems – greater supply of containers where they are most needed - trigger higher production. The current production problems are certainly not economy-wide. For the time being, the world is still far below its old production level. Therefore, overheating – a spiral of rising wages and prices – is still far away. Also consider that the inflation rate has been (too) low for years, despite the substantial money offer from the ECB.

 

So, can we rest easy? No, not quite. High inflation is not the most likely scenario, but it would be unwise not to take it into account. In the somewhat longer term, it is conceivable that supply will be constrained while demand rises. Trade restrictions, climate damage, strict regulations, and cost-prohibitive taxes are examples of barriers on the production side. Additional demand can come from hefty public investment programs backed by generous monetary policy. Several scenarios are conceivable. To mention one: a late, abrupt energy transition that converges with physical climate damage.

 

Should you encounter the inflation specter in a nightmare, go with it for a while. Think through the consequences if such a scenario occurs. Imagining a risk scenario helps you to make better decisions the next day. As a result, you will be able to sleep a lot more soundly the following night.

 

Charles Kalshoven is a macro-economist and senior strategist at APG

Volgende publicatie:
Support measures and vaccines guideline for investors

Support measures and vaccines guideline for investors

Published on: 22 February 2021

Despite the corona crisis, the investment year 2020 was not bad for APG. However, the outlook for 2021 is uncertain. With booming financial markets, increasing inflation risk and worry about the speed of the vaccine roll out. What does this mean for APGs investments? Peter Branner, Chief Investment Officer of APG Asset Management, looks back and takes a bird's-eye view ahead on the basis of ten themes.

 

2020

"Despite all the turmoil, we've had a very decent year in terms of both absolute and relative investment results. Our pension fund clients achieved a return of around 7% in 2020, which is in line with our average over recent years. After the severe price falls in March, stock prices rose sharply before the summer and continued to the end of the year. For our two largest clients, ABP and BpfBOUW, we achieved an average additional return compared to the market of 0,90% due to broad range of  active management decisions in several sub asset classes within both fixed income and equity."

 

Central banks 2021

“The 2021 investment year will be largely determined by the way central banks are going to balance their strong support to financial markets with ultra low interest rates and buying up financial assets, thereby justifying the low risk premia investors accept. I expect this support to continue and it will be the single most important area to follow closely. Any changes in actions - or even rhetoric - could be very bad news for financial markets. The better news is that central banks are rational institutions – they also look at growth, inflation and unemployment. The question is how soon the economy will recover and how elegantly the central banks will be able to unwind the support without jeopardizing financial market.”

 

Corona crisis

"The media continues to drive a lot of attention to the implications of the lockdown and the delay in vaccination of the population. Listening to the experts I sense  that the virus and the mutants can be around for longer than we all hope. The economic impact will be challenging for many sectors and at the same time provide growth for others. Active management of assets will be important in this climate."

 

Consumer behavior

"For the Netherlands, I don't see consumer spending rising much in the first six months. As long as the uncertainty about employment is high this will have a dampening effect on consumption. At the same time the attribution of consumption is important to follow and what people save on travel they probably will continue to spend on house improvements, electronic equipment and similar stuff.

It's also somewhat questionable whether we'll pick up our old life again, so work full-time in the office, fly a lot, you name it. At the same time, policymakers will use fiscal policy to stimulate specific consumer behavior. Examples include taxes on polluting , such as air passenger tax, but also the coming CO2 levy for businesses. For the time being, consumers will remain very uncertain about the economy, their purchasing power, and how to keep their jobs. We see this uncertainty reflected in the financial markets, especially in the VIX, the indicator of investor unrest. The VIX peaked at more than 80 last year and has now settled at a somewhat elevated level around 20 due to fear, but probably also some speculative market participants. Still higher than longer term average and I can see that going on for a while." 

 

Financial policy support

"Policymakers in both the US and the eurozone have set up massive fiscal stimulus programs over the past year. This is good news and could work very well but it is complex to implement unlike interest rate stimulus from central banks that is much more simple and proven concept with immediate impact. Financial policy support will pick up in 2021 and what we will follow closely is how the actual allocation of support is going to practically handled, be absorbed in the economy and showing effect. This is not trivial, it will take time and maybe requires another type of politician like Mario Draghi to succeed. For Italy specifically, this is going to be crucial."

 

Joe Biden

"The election of Joe Biden as the new president has far-reaching consequences. For the global approach to the climate problem in any case, it's good that Biden immediately ensured that the US rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. The world's largest economy has a major influence on the pace of the necessary sustainability movement. I also assume that trade relations between the US and the EU countries will improve with positive effect on some parts of the economy even if there are still important bottlenecks in relationship to how we tax tech giants in Europe. Biden might provide more fiscally stimulating than his predecessor, but let’s not forget that Trump gave huge tax reliefs to the wealthy. Somehow Biden will have to finance the recovery plan so I do expect a tax policy to address social unrest. This is not necessary good news for financial markets in the shorter term, regardless of the sympathy I have for the rationale. I don't see much improvement in the relationship between the US and China. Biden's ideas about the interpretation of the trade relationship with China do not differ much from those of Trump and let’s be realistic. The global encounter for superpower between China and the US has just begun.”

 

Sectors

"These political and macroeconomic trends obviously have consequences for the sectors in which we invest. I think the tech sector will continue to perform well in 2021, and so will online retailers. This is not a revolutionary view. The consensus is that physical stores, shopping centers, but also businesses in the travel industry, will have tougher times in 2021. As a diversified investor, these trends were already part of our investment process before the pandemic. In practice, this means that our different investment teams have a risk/return view on both companies and sectors when we build portfolios. Digitalization and robotization are also a theme under which we select our investments. With our broad mandates this allows us to invest in the most lucrative parts of value chains as well as the most interesting part of the capital structure."

 

Fossil fuels

"We've been in dialog with the oil and gas companies we invest in for years now. As a committed shareholder, you can influence these companies to make the transition towards generating sustainable energy, so that their CO2 emissions are reduced. We should invest in companies that best implement this transition; who have successfully switched from the extraction of energy from oil and gas, to wind farms at sea and solar energy."

 

Emerging markets

"The corona pandemic has resulted in negative growth figures in most countries worldwide. Except in China and some emerging markets, especially in Africa. For the long term, I do regard the advancing robotization in Western countries as a risk for Emerging markets. We have also seen fright rates sky rocket in the last year. These dynamic factors together with the focus on climate will change the emerging market story gradually as these fragile economies will have to rely more on inland consumption. This will work out in China, less so elsewhere. And we might need to reclassify our mindset about China as an emerging economy. In many ways China has surpassed Europe and the US in its way of using modern technology." 

 

Infrastructure

"In addition to investing in shares, bonds and real estate, we invest directly in infrastructure. Examples include wind farms, ports, airports, highways, bridges and toll roads. These investments make a stabilizing positive contribution to our returns and contribute to the energy transition. These are often complex investments and therefore deselected by most other investors – benefit being that we get a slightly higher return. Worldwide, investment in infrastructure is going to pick up strongly, partly due to all the stimulus measures from governments. I don’t expect us to 'compete' with public money in interesting infrastructure investment projects. Rather I expect some government money to find comfort in investing together with us due to the know-how we have built to facilitate complex investment analysis, partnerships and platform investments (investments where we gradually can expand our interest).”

 

Bitcoin

"Yes, bitcoin is the current hype for some more speculative money, digital front runners such as Elon Musk and now also some of the larger transaction banks. I admire the blockchain technology behind Bitcoin but I worry about the actual value of Bitcoins. I don’t  see it as a new asset class but I do see the massive energy consumption it took to “mine” the digital currency. I also struggle with the fact that Bitcoins are not backed by central banks. Central bank backed digital currency is being rolled out and this I would support big time. In a country like Sweden tax fraud has become much harder as they see the use of physical notes and coins diminishing. Central bank backed digital currency is hopefully the future in all countries. But not bitcoins.”

Volgende publicatie:
"We need a different definition of a good life"

"We need a different definition of a good life"

Published on: 22 February 2021

Two economists on a different form of economic growth

 

Economic growth is beginning to take its toll on people and the environment. Nature has reached its limits and people are rebelling against the unequal distribution of wealth. According to economists Hans Stegeman of Triodos Investment Management and Charles Kalshoven of APG, we need a drastically different way of thinking. "People are getting a different sense of what is valuable."

 

Hans Stegeman is a Chief Investment Strategist at impact investor Triodos Investment Management. He regularly publishes about the boundaries of the current economic system. Charles Kalshoven is a macro-economist and senior strategist at APG. In his columns, he discusses economic developments and how they affect our daily lives.

 

Hans, as an economist, you regularly publish about your belief that the current system of striving for endless economic growth is no longer sustainable. What do you mean by that?

"I'm not against economic growth, but it does have major negative consequences for the planet: climate change, increasing social inequality and the drastic decline in biodiversity. Some say that new technology can solve those problems, but I haven't seen any convincing evidence for that. I sincerely hope technologies such as CO2 capture (capturing CO2 as soon as it is released during combustion and thus preventing it from entering the air, ed.) will help, but I have my doubts. I really think we need to move to a different form of growth. Incidentally, I think economic growth is a limited concept for measuring progress. Growth doesn't always equate to happiness or well-being."

 

Charles: "Classic economic theory sees economic growth as the outcome of capital and labor. But since the industrial revolution, an important factor has been added, namely energy. And so far, this has mainly been fossil energy. This comes at a price, in the form of damage to people and planet. But it's not or insufficiently passed on in the price of products."

 

Still, poor countries need economic growth to get out of poverty.

Charles: "That's a dilemma. If you want to fight poverty, you need economic growth. And that in turn leads to a greater demand for energy. On the other hand, you want to limit the use of energy to combat climate change. So we have to look for a different kind of growth that requires less energy and makes more use of renewable energy. We need to handle raw materials more carefully and reuse them; we have to transport less stuff and people all over the world. What helps is that economic development usually leads to smaller families and thus lower population growth. And that benefits the climate."

 

Hans: "The boundaries of our ecosystem are rock-hard. There's only one planet earth. That can't be changed. We'll have to find a way to create prosperity for everyone within these limits. Prosperity is very unevenly distributed. The richest 10% of the world - and that includes most of the Dutch - are buying more and more stuff, without really being happy about it. While at the same time, there are billions of people who are starving and barely have a roof over their heads. This should be fairer."

 

How do we get such a sustainable, fair form of economic growth off the ground?

Hans: "We have to think differently in the West. We live in a competitive world where everyone wants to race to the top. With an expensive watch or designer clothing as a status symbol. But do they really make us happy? Or are they values such as togetherness and being satisfied with what you have? To achieve such a change in thinking, all parties involved must cooperate, the government, businesses, consumers and investors. You have to play chess on all boards. And each game starts from a different point. That's very complex."

 

Charles: "We need a different definition of 'a good life'. Currently, it's mass consumption. And status. But the things that bring status can change. The younger generation no longer thinks it's 'cool' to work 80 hours a week, and attaches importance to other things than making a lot of money. The government also has a role to play in this. It has to create a remote prospect, something we all want to aim for. And then stimulate this with laws and regulations. For example, by including the costs of CO2 emissions in the prices of products."

    Hans Stegeman (left) and Charles Kalshoven

 

Has 'corona' changed our way of thinking? Has it brought a sustainable economy closer?

Hans: "People are getting a different sense of what is valuable. For example, I asked if this interview could start 15 minutes earlier, because I wanted to pick up my son from school on the sleigh. What I've learned is that people are motivated by positive rewards, not by the deterrent effect of a negative outlook. If we want to change something in our economic thinking, we achieve the most by inspiring with positive examples. In particular, indicate what is possible and how this can contribute to our well-being."

 

Charles: "I've noticed that corona has had an influence on politics. In Europe, corona has really given a boost to green initiatives, such as the Green Deal (an action plan to make the economy of the European Union sustainable, ed.). The attitude of governments has also shifted from austerity and financial discipline to investing in society and supporting affected people and businesses. Increasing public debt is no longer as taboo as before.

 

Hans: "The virus has made us more aware of our relationship with nature. I do think that the government has missed an enormous opportunity by not attaching any conditions to support for businesses, such as Schiphol. This would have been a great opportunity to accelerate the sustainability of Schiphol. Maintaining something that isn't sustainable is actually a waste of money."

 

What role can pension funds and investors play in making the economy more sustainable?

Charles: "We play an important role with the money we manage on behalf of our pension funds. And that goes beyond excluding producers of bad products. We talk to businesses. For example, about how they can make the switch from fossil to sustainable energy. Or because we think they're doing very well and we want to share their example with other businesses we invest in. One example is Arcadis, which started to report on how they contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals, partly through discussions with us. The challenge is that there's still far too little information about the sustainability of businesses and projects. We therefore press businesses about it and contribute to the development of sustainability standards, so that as many investors as possible speak the same language."

 

Hans: "As an investor, you need to know where you want to go. And contribute to that. That goes much further than a CO2 footprint that's lower than the market. The market as a whole is a reflection of the world and the world is far from sustainable. At the start of our investment process, we determine which positive developments we want to contribute to and that's what we invest in. Examples include micro-finance, solar panels or online platforms where you can buy food products directly from the farmer. Things like nuclear weapons and fossil energy are not part of that."

 

Triodos Investment Management has customers who consciously opt for a 'green' investor; APG serves pension funds which participants must be affiliated to. Does that make a difference in the way you can implement responsible investment?

Hans: "Triodos once started excluding certain investments on ethical grounds, and that has evolved towards a focus on positive impact. APG naturally has to deal with the expectations of participants in the pension funds for which it works. APG is given a specific mandate from the pension funds and this involves a specific policy. But it could be stricter, as far as I'm concerned. There has to be a lower limit. If the core of a business isn't sustainable and improvement discussions come to nothing, you have to leave. APG could also explain in more specific terms what positive impact it wants to achieve."

 

Charles: "We believe in the power of engagement (improvement discussions with businesses, ed.). If you sell all fossil energy companies, it won't make the world any greener. By talking to them, you can bring about positive changes. Companies such as Shell and BP understand very well that we have to move to a different form of energy. There's a lot of knowledge and money in the energy sector. We must take advantage of that. With assets of over € 500 billion, we can also take relatively large stakes in companies, which allows us to exert influence. But we also sell a company if engagement doesn't work in the end."

 

Hans: "There are fossil companies that are switching to green energy. Ørsted from Denmark, for instance. But the real change isn't going to come from the big oil companies. Most still want to milk their oil supplies for as long as possible. Rather, change comes from small businesses with smart, new ideas. We take relatively large stakes in these types of start-ups and non-listed companies. This allows us to exert influence right from the start."

 

Is investing in a sustainable economy at the expense of the returns you can achieve?

Hans: "Not in the longer term. Of course, in a year of rising oil prices, we won't benefit from it. But we won't be bothered by this in the longer term. Also, sustainability information provides additional insight into a business. It's a persistent myth that sustainability comes at the expense of returns. There are numerous studies that indicate that this is not the case."

 

Charles: "I agree. Responsible investing not only tackles financial risks, but also other types of risks, such as the risk that your real estate properties will flood due to climate change. If you know exactly where this is happening and take preparatory measures, you actually reduce the risk of your investments. Unsustainable investment, now, that's a risk."

Volgende publicatie:
“There are certainly possibilities in the Netherlands, albeit on a smaller scale”

“There are certainly possibilities in the Netherlands, albeit on a smaller scale”

Published on: 12 February 2021

Jeroen Schreur on investing in the Dutch energy transition

 

From smart batteries to innovative charging technologies for electric vehicles: These are some of the initiatives through which fledgling companies are contributing to the Dutch energy transition. APG invests in these start-ups on behalf of ABP through Rockstart, an initiative that specializes in selecting and supporting promising young companies. The first companies selected to participate in this program were announced today. “We expect that Rockstart will help several of these companies to grow into leading players in the field of energy,” says Jeroen Schreur, in charge of investments in the energy transition at APG.

To facilitate ABP’s investments in the Dutch energy transition through relatively small and innovative projects and companies, APG established ANET (“the ABP Dutch Energy Transition Fund”) at the beginning of 2019. The fund invests in projects and companies that focus on the generation, storage, distribution, and conservation of energy. Schreur explains: “Pension funds often rely on larger companies and projects worldwide to invest their considerable assets. Although it is difficult to find them in the Netherlands, there are certainly opportunities here – albeit on a smaller scale. Ignoring this would be a great pity, because it is an interesting, dynamic market that offers attractive opportunities. By investing in a broadly diversified portfolio of promising young companies, we expect to achieve good returns at an acceptable risk.”

Follow-on capital
Apart from Asper (smart heating grids), Rockstart is one of the specialized investors with whom ANET is seeking to collaborate. Rockstart is what is referred to as a “start-up accelerator”: an initiative that offers promising young companies support and extensive guidance. Schreur explains: “Rockstart provides them with support to further develop their business, marketing, and funding plans. The initiative has been conducting programs like this in various branches of industry, such as the healthcare, agri-food, and ICT sectors ever since 2012. Through Rockstart, participating start-ups will be given access to relevant networks that will put them in contact with people, organizations, knowledge, expertise, and experience. In addition to the accelerator program, once the participating start-ups have produced successful results, they will also be given access to the necessary follow-up capital to secure their further growth. After all, finding funding for further growth is a difficult task, particularly for start-ups. Rockstart has developed a specific approach for the agri-food sector, which has already helped many companies reach the next phase in their development. It is doing this for ANET as well, where it will be applied to companies that promote the energy transition in the Netherlands through innovative technology.”

Attractive partnership
APG is an attractive partner for investors such as Rockstart and for businesses with clear growth ambitions. Schreur says: “Strategic partners such as Rockstart contribute knowledge, expertise, and experience. On top of that, APG offers the benefits of a long-term investment horizon, as we have more time to enable an investment to reach full maturity than venture capital associations, who tend to pull out after five years or so. This proposition is particularly attractive to companies looking for funding to secure further growth.”

The first start-ups selected for ANET are Advanced Infrastructure, Bia, Helio, Klimate, OKTO, Soolutions, Starke Energy, and eDRV. They all contribute, in one way or another, to solutions that make the Dutch energy system more sustainable. Starke Energy, for example, is preparing to install a smart battery in the office building of the Parteon housing corporation in Wormerveer. The technology linked to this battery allows the corporation to make use of the generated power when needed or, if there is a surplus, for it to be fed into the power grid in return for cash. Through this trial, Starke aims to explore the possibility of applying this technology to affordably enhance the sustainability of rental homes, in which the Dutch housing corporations – who manage over 2.4 million rental properties – could serve as a key enabler. This would result in a wonderful opportunity to grow for Starke Energy and is one of the reasons why this originally Spanish company decided to relocate to the Netherlands.

Power grid overload
Bia Power is also among the selected start-ups. The software developed by this company offers a solution for the strongly growing demand for power in response to the increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs). This can cause the power grid to overload at peak moments. Bia Power’s software identifies peaks and troughs on the power grid in terms of supply and demand. This facilitates optimum recharging, enabling the power grid to retain a perfect balance and batteries to last longer. Bia Power also has Spanish roots and is currently in the process of establishing itself in the Netherlands.

ANET currently has 250 million euros at its disposal for investment in start-ups and is managed by a team of four investors from APG. In addition to fund investments such as Rockstart, the team focuses on direct investments in companies and projects in their scale-up phase (companies with a proven technology that are ready to scale up for commercial applications). Companies that have already made a bit more headway in this respect are also eligible for funding via ANET.

Future leading players
Through Rockstart, ANET is building up a portfolio of fifty start-ups, who will be selected during the following five-year period. Eight to ten start-ups are added to this each year, on average. A second round will be held at the end of 2021. Schreur says: “Our selection process is very strict and takes several days of intensive screening to complete. Out of the fifty companies that were selected, perhaps ten to twenty will qualify for follow-up funding to help them grow further. Thanks to its accelerator model, Rockstart is more than capable of mitigating the risks commonly faced by young companies like these. A number of them will not be able to survive, but we expect that Rockstart will help some of them develop into future leading players in the field of energy.”

Volgende publicatie:
Everyone thinking about sustainable digitization

Everyone thinking about sustainable digitization

Published on: 29 January 2021

Digitization can contribute to a sustainable world. Examples include working online, with less commuting and decreasing CO2 emissions as a result. But the use of robots, artificial intelligence and online services also has its drawbacks, such as job losses or energy-guzzling data centers. Sustainable digitization is possible, but only if government, businesses and (pension) investors work together.


This was the conclusion of an online event organized by ABP and APG, entitled 'Making investments in SDGs work: sustainable digitization'. Digital technology is claiming an increasingly important place in the investments that APG makes for its pension fund clients. Not least because digital solutions can help with the major challenges faced by people and the environment, such as climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic.


For example, on behalf of its pension fund clients, APG invests in Moderna, a producer of a vaccine against COVID-19. "This biotechnology company had a vaccine design ready within a few days using digital design methods," says Ronald Wuijster, board member of APG and CEO of APG Asset Management. "Another example of an investment in digital solutions is Remote, in which we invest through private equity firm Inkef. This platform makes it possible for employees all over the world to work together and it handles the associated administrative matters for the company."


Downsides

But there is another side of the coin. Robotization is accompanied by job losses and the need for retraining. Data centers gulp energy - they are expected to account for 80% of the global energy demand within 20 years. The raw materials for computers, chips and other hardware are often extracted under difficult circumstances. Half of all cobalt, an indispensable raw material for batteries and accumulators for electric cars, comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are many instances of human rights violations and child labor in that country. Closer to home, the position of power of major platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google raises questions about data privacy.


In 1986, the Dutch government set up an institute to investigate the impact of technology on our lives: the Rathenau Institute. Among other things, this institute conducts research into how you can match the supply of and demand for energy with the help of digital technology. Melanie Peters, director of the Rathenau Institute: "Energy from sources such as wind, water and combined heat and power is generated locally. We want to find out how to match this supply as closely as possible to the demand of people and businesses, with as little waste as possible."

Circular entrepreneurship must pay off and digitization can play a role in this

Control over your own energy

Major platform companies in the United States and China are already measuring people's energy needs through their thermostats. This way, they can predict when energy demand will peak and respond to this. "Convenient," says Peters, "but you don't want large businesses or other countries to determine when the energy supply in the Netherlands is switched on or off. This means you shouldn't only invest in the large technology companies, but also in smaller, innovative companies in the Netherlands or Europe. And talk to them about control."
Maurice van Tilburg is familiar with these kinds of start-ups. He is a director at Techleap.nl, an interest group for Dutch start-ups. "One of those start-ups, for example, has designed a smart tool that can save a lot of energy," says Van Tilburg. "With the help of their software, which uses artificial intelligence, among other things, you can plan better and therefore energy consumption in logistics can be drastically reduced."


All hands on deck

Digitizing in a way that contributes to sustainability is a complex issue for which there is no single solution. "Collaboration is crucial," says Van Tilburg. "For example, it is still often cheapest for businesses to throw away goods that they no longer use. Circular entrepreneurship must pay off and digitization can play a role in this. For example, the government can factor in the costs of waste processing. But there is also an important role for pension investors such as APG and its pension fund clients. Investors who are able to hold out for a long time, who think along with a business. International cooperation is essential in this respect, so that we do not all invent the wheel individually."


"ABP is already taking steps with investments in start-ups via the ABP Netherlands Energy Transition Fund (ANET) and Inkef," says ABP CEO Corien Wortmann. "But we want to do more. I call on the government to create more opportunities for public-private partnerships, so that government and (pension) investors can pool their money and expertise to make sustainable digitization possible."

Volgende publicatie:
Pension Pro Awards for BPF Schoonmaak and BpfBOUW

Pension Pro Awards for BPF Schoonmaak and BpfBOUW

Published on: 11 December 2020

BpfBOUW has won the silver Pension Pro Award for Best large pension fund. BPF Schoonmaak won the Pension Pro Award Diversity & Inclusion.

BpfBOUW won this high award in the pension sector because it was the only one of the major pension funds to be able to increase their pensions in 2020 - for the third time in a row. The professional jury praised BpfBOUW for its good strategy in difficult times - "the highest funding ratio of the large funds, a real long-term investor". Furthermore, the jury report praised the great attention to sustainability and “the eye for human capital of the participants”.

Award for BPF Schoonmaak

BPF Schoonmaak received the prize for Diversity and Inclusion for its courage to raise the importance of diversity and ethnicity. The pension fund says about this on its own website: "Wherever you come from and whether you are male or female, old or young: everyone deserves a place". BPF Schoonmaak not only propagates this conviction: they also show it convincingly in the composition of their board.
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Best Communication Initiative

Finally, the Pension Checker emerged as the best communication initiative. The Pension Checker is a mobile app that allows participants to quickly find out how much net pension they can expect. The tool is the product of a collaboration between different pension funds, led by the Pension Federation. The ABP / APG Experiments Team developed the prototype. The jury praised the fact that several parties from the pension sector have worked on this. The Pension Checker previously also won the Pensioen Wegwijzer Award 2020.

The prizes were awarded online to the winners on Thursday evening, December 10, after the Pension Pro Annual Congress. Readers and listeners of Pension Pro, the Financieele Dagblad and radio station BNR could vote for the public award.

Volgende publicatie:
“We are seeing opportunities in affordable rental housing in cities”

“We are seeing opportunities in affordable rental housing in cities”

Published on: 1 December 2020

Robert-Jan Foortse, Head of European real estate at APG, about the post-corona investment strategy

 

For real estate investors, 2020 is also a very turbulent year.  Offices are standing empty because employees are working from home, consumers are increasingly shopping online, store owners are having a hard time paying their rent. How does a big real estate investor like APG deal with this?  By becoming much more flexible, says Robert-Jan Foortse, Head of European real estate at APG. “The time when you could buy an office building as an investor, get someone in there on a 10- or even 25-year lease and then sit back and just send an invoice every quarter has definitely passed.”

 

The real estate market is super-hectic right now. To what extent does that impact your investment strategy?

“Part of our real estate is listed on the stock exchange, we can quickly move     that if we want to have other emphases; for example, invest more in data centers and less in stores. But our investment strategy will not change substantially as a result of the corona crisis. We want to build and manage a portfolio of global real estate investments that offers a predictable dividend and grows in value over the long term. That is what our clients want from us. Return on investment is paramount, so that members are assured of an affordable pension. In addition, the sustainability of our real estate is at the top of our agenda; it really is a top priority.”   

 

In what regions do you invest and what do you invest in?

“Worldwide, we invest about 42% in Europe, 30% in North and South America, and 28% in Asia. In Europe it is mostly investments in the Netherlands, England, Germany and France. Out of our total investments, about 535 billion Euros as of mid-November, more than 42 billion Euros is in real estate. We invest not only in houses, stores, outlet centers and offices, but also in logistics, i.e. warehouses, and distribution centers. We invest a smaller portion in hotels, student housing, data centers and other things. In short, we have a very diverse real estate portfolio and our risks are spread out very well.”

 

Does this diverse approach work during a mega-crisis like the corona pandemic? 

“We will probably also have a negative return in 2020. That is certainly something we are not used to. The last fifteen years we have had an average return of 8.7% a year. And please note: that average includes the consequences of the financial crisis in 2008, when things were really bad too. Offices and stores are currently under a lot of pressure, but at the same time, we are seeing that the housing portfolio is stable and that data centers and logistics real estate are doing very well. That also applies to outlet centers like Batavia Stad Fashion Outlet in Lelystad, which are scarcely seeing any decline in the number of visitors. So, yes, this confirms the wisdom of a diversified portfolio all the more.”

 

The rental incomes will be under pressure for a while yet. How is APG dealing with that? Selling stores probably doesn’t pay much right now...

“The time when you could buy an office building as an investor, get someone in there on a 10- or even 25-year lease and then sit back and just send an invoice every quarter has definitely passed. And the certainty that a tenant will always pay their rent is also wobbly right now. This makes sense during a time when incomes have come to a standstill. But despite the fact that they have a contract, some tenants reasoning is now: if my neighbor stopped paying rent, why should I pay mine? Plus, governments in some countries are more or less advising store owners to postpone paying their rent. This makes it seem like suddenly it is socially acceptable to ignore a rental agreement. We have no control over these kinds of developments, so that means that we have to spend time on complying with contracts, oddly enough. But above all, it means that we have to set ourselves up to be much more flexible.”

 

How?

“You need to be much closer to your tenant to be able to get the most return out of your building. That is why we are increasingly opting for investments where we have more control and can work more closely with the operational, local partner that really manages the building. No, we don’t do that ourselves; we don’t have the manpower for that. Take, for example, our investment in The Student Hotel, a Dutch provider of student housing in Europe, with branches in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Groningen and Delft. Students reside in The Student Hotel on the Wibautstraat in Amsterdam, in the former offices of Parool and Trouw, and hotel guests can book a room and flex-workers can have a quiet place to work during the day as well. There is a restaurant and there are all kinds of sports facilities. In the basement, where the printing presses used to be, there is now a swimming pool where you can take swimming lessons from Johan Kenkhuis, a former Olympic swimmer. It is a lively building with all kinds of functions. A great example of how you can be flexible and creative with the spaces in a building.”

 

What about office buildings?

“I would like to see the same flexibility there too: many tenants really don’t know long they want to be there now and with how many employees. So, it’s better to not pin them down for a long-term lease. For example, you could rent one floor to flex-workers temporarily. As a landlord or owner, you should be close to your tenants, so you know what they want.”

 

Another example is hotels that are renting out rooms by the day to flex-workers, now that hotel guests are staying away. Does APG see opportunities there too?

“Yes, that is a good example of flexible thinking. We already got into CitizenM, entrepreneur Rattan Chadha’s successful hotel chain, back in 2008. They have now launched two options: in their hotels, you can now buy a subscription for a workspace. And you can buy a ‘global passport’ that you can use to rent a room in any CitizenM-hotel in the world for a month, for the equivalent of about 50 Euros a night. We are certainly looking for new opportunities in that vain.”

 

Apart from the current corona crisis, what long-term mega-trends are you influenced by in the selection of investments?

“For example, through the demographic and social changes. Every generation, from baby boomers to millennials to generation Z, has its own preferences, wishes and needs. People are getting older and living at home longer. In addition, people will increasingly be moving to cities in the next few decades, even though we are currently in a period where people are fleeing from some cities. Those trends mean that there are opportunities in care real estate, and affordable rental housing in cities. For example, we are investing in Australian senior real estate through an investment in the Australian Lendlease. These are villas for retired people in separate villages that are geared entirely to their needs. In Europe, we are still searching for something similar. And in London, we are currently investing in constructing and renting out affordable housing, which will be very much in demand in the coming years. In addition, the demand for, for example, distribution centers and data centers is also greatly increasing due to technological trends like digitalization and the growth in e-commerce.”

 

And what about the sustainability trend?

“That trend is our number one priority. In 2008, we were one of the founders of "GRESB", the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark. Almost all parties in the real estate sector now follow this guideline, with which you can measure the sustainability performance of real estate investments very accurately. Over the years, the bar has been raised ever higher. Every year our real estate portfolio scores well above the average; more than 65% of our investments score four or five stars, the highest categories in GRESB. And with every new investment, we obligate the parties involved to not only participate in GRESB, but also to commit themselves to come to a 4-5 star rating in consultation with us.”


In addition, APG announced in May that it is committed to CRREM, de Carbon Risk Real Estate Monitor. Why?
“This Monitor clarifies for various types of real estate how much CO₂ per square meter they are allowed to emit annually until 2050 to stay within the Paris Climate Accord goals. In this way, we can make it measurable to what extent we are providing a contribution with our real estate investments. And we can call real estate managers and listed real estate companies to account if, in our view, they do not sufficiently contribute to the goals of the Climate Accord.”

I don’t suppose they will always be happy about that. Because making things more sustainable means substantial investments...
“Yes, sometimes it requires a discussion. But fortunately, everyone knows about the need of sustainability these days. It gets tricky sometimes when you start to look at the numbers. But don’t forget that sustainability can also result in making money. Think of substantially lower energy costs. Or the higher rent you can ask for as a building owner if you are offering a very sustainable building to potential tenants. In addition, more and more tenants only want to rent responsible buildings, because they want to be more environmentally friendly in their own activities.”

Is sustainability happening fast enough for you in the real estate sector?
“Instinctively I’d say: we are still going too slow. I dare say that APG is in the lead in the real estate world in that aspect. That is why we get together with other big investors whenever possible. Because together you can accomplish more.”

We are having this conversation, each from our own house right now. Will people continue to work from home, entirely or partially after the corona crisis? Or will everybody return to the office?
“The answer depends partially on the culture you work in. Our coworkers in Hong Kong often have smaller homes and really want to get back to the office full-time. I do too, to tell you the truth, because I miss the contact with my team. But other people want to keep working from home, at least partially. It will be interesting to see what kind of permanent impact the corona crisis is going to have on our real estate investments.”