Inside Money

Business writer David Chaplin blogs on personal finance

Inside Money: Big-think at NZ Super?

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

Without the need to keep thousands of ungrateful investors happy each quarter or expend a lot of energy and money on marketing our New Zealand Superannuation Fund (NZS) can indulge in some big-picture thinking about the future.
And so it does.

As this recent presentation from the NZS head of macro strategy, Aaron Drew, shows, the $20 billion fund has some strong ideas on where the world is heading and how we can make money out of wherever that is.

Drew's talk, titled 'Investment themes and resource sustainability', shows the fund has settled on three high-level themes that are already to some extent influencing the NZS portfolio decisions.

According to Drew, the three world-changing themes cover:

* Resource sustainability (of which climate change features prominently);
* Emerging market segmentation; and
* Evolving demand patterns.

To date the NZS has acted primarily on theme one, which is based on the premise that resource usage patterns are not sustainable and this presents an active return opportunity because impacts may not been fully factored into prices.

In practice this has fed into the fund's purchase of timber, rural land and energy projects (most notably its co-investment in Zed, formerly known as Shell NZ).

But NZS is considering a step into less traditional energy investments too. Drew includes a 'heat map' illustration (which, essentially condenses a whole lot research into some pretty bar graphs) that, I think, shows alternative energy is a better bet than conventional energy investments.

From this the NZS has identified two categories of interest: 'green' energy hopefuls such as geo-thermal, hydro, solar etc; and, Infrastructure opportunities associated with the boom in Nth American natural gas fields.

That last point refers to the huge increase in US natural gas production gained primarily by the controversial process known as 'fracking'. However, the NZS makes it clear it doesn't want to be involved in any fracking exploration projects not just yet anyway.
This is at least diversified big-thinking, not to be confused with government-endorsed thought leadership as made famous by the Muldoon-era 'Think Big'.

And as far as future-gazing goes the energy theme is probably one of the more reliable indicators. Picking the climate change investment trends might be a little harder Although in an earlier presentation the NZS labeled New Zealand as a relative 'winner' from climate change.

The other NZS themes might play our way as well (including the not-yet-identified next big thing that is waiting to emerge out of evolving demand patterns).

In fact, according to the NZS the thematic implications for New Zealand in 2050 are very positive.

If these opportunities are reaped the 'terms of trade' or price we receive for exports relative to price we pay for imports will continue the upward trend established in the early 1990s; implying we will get richer as a nation, the October presentation states.

Think on that.

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