26 July 2021 / TARGET DATE SOLUTIONS
How We Design a Blend Solution for Target Date Investors
Mixing active and passive investments in a target date solution.
- We are committed to delivering successful retirement outcomes through a range of target date solutions for our clients to help meet their needs and objectives.
- Our blend target date strategy is designed with a goal of delivering a lower fee profile and reduced tracking error with the benefits of our approach to active management.
- We believe the pursuit of lower costs must be balanced with the need for broad diversification and the potential for excess returns.
Given our leadership in the target date marketplace, we have a strong commitment to research and innovation to help meet investors’ evolving needs. Our target date suite is built on the principle that investor preferences should drive design. For that reason, we manage an array of solutions to meet the range of needs we know exist in the market.
A number of plan sponsors have sought out target date strategies that offer lower fees and reduced tracking error.1 Importantly, they are seeking solutions from providers that can restrain costs but offer a full opportunity set of asset classes that can potentially generate excess returns and greater portfolio growth.
In addition to delivering a strategy that combines the value of active management with the lower costs of passive management, we believe our approach to a blend target date strategy offers investors:
- A thoughtful glide path design tailored to help support investors’ objectives, which seeks to balance risk and return potential in line with our research on participant preferences and behavior.
- Enhanced diversification in asset categories that can only be adequately achieved through active management.
- A suite of strong underlying building blocks.
- A robust tactical allocation decision‑making process that rigorously assesses market risks and opportunities.
- An experienced team that has managed target date strategies through multiple market cycles.
Solving for Client Needs
Plan sponsors often have unique needs and specific objectives in their selection of target date offerings. Lower cost solutions that couple the benefits of active and passive management are among them. We recognize that some passive investments can provide efficient capital market exposure in select sectors while also delivering significant cost reduction. Importantly, however, we believe our actively managed portfolios can generate excess returns and diversification through exposure to market segments in which passive management cannot drive desired outcomes.
The primary goal of our blended approach is consistent with that of our existing suite of target date solutions: to balance providing support for lifetime income with reducing volatility near retirement through a risk‑aware design. We firmly believe that a fully active approach presents the greatest opportunity to generate excess returns, but we also recognize that, for some, this goal must be balanced alongside other considerations. To that end, we sought to design a solution to meet plan sponsors’ needs without sacrificing participants’ outcomes.
Our Active Approach Offers Favorable Diversification
(Fig. 1) Regional diversification comparison
Building a Blend Solution
We sought to design a target date strategy that blends T. Rowe Price’s passive and actively managed investments that aim to deliver a lower fee profile and reduced tracking error while maintaining many of the benefits of active management. Through an iterative evaluation process, we explored the trade‑offs between our active and passive strategies in terms of their potential impact on a range of outcomes, such as cost, excess return potential, and diversification, among other factors.
Fixed income and equity portfolios have divergent characteristics and are impacted by different factors, particularly when considering the implementations of a blended approach between active and passive investments. For that reason, we considered our approach to the broad asset classes separately.
Fixed Income—Improved Diversification
We believe in broad diversification within fixed income and, therefore, have implemented allocations across both core and diversifying fixed income sectors. As part of our design process, we evaluated the trade‑offs of active and passive investments across each fixed income sector in which we invest. For each sector, we evaluated a passive investment’s ability to achieve efficient exposure with low tracking error as well as the attractiveness of gaining that exposure passively.
While passive investment strategies within certain fixed income market segments face significant challenges gaining efficient exposure, our research indicates passive can be appropriate in other market segments due to the relative ease of benchmark replication and reasonably well‑contained tracking error within those sectors. For example, based on our analysis, we believe passive investments within the U.S. investment‑grade and U.S. Treasury sleeves can be employed. Additionally, we believe passive exposure to these sectors is more prudent given their high credit quality. This allocation to passive fixed income investments could also enable us to maintain an allocation to active equity while maintaining a similar mix of active and passive exposures across our portfolios.
In more specialized fixed income sectors, our analysis suggests that an active management approach can be preferable, as index returns can be more challenging to replicate through passive portfolios. In these sectors—such as high yield and emerging markets debt—passive managers may not be able to purchase and hold some benchmark securities at appropriate weights, and there can be heightened liquidity risks. As a result, tracking error for a passive strategy in these sectors can comparably be as high as an active strategy, and performance may fail to appropriately track the stated benchmark.
Beyond simple inefficiency and high tracking error, we found that accurate index exposure in certain sectors may produce unfavorable outcomes. In some cases, the securities that dominate particular indexes may have potentially unattractive qualities:
- Within high yield debt, index representation skews toward the most highly leveraged issuers. This can expose investors to greater default risk and can also create sector concentrations.
- In emerging markets debt, benchmark representation is typically limited to sovereign issues, which reduces the opportunity set available to investors.
- In international developed debt markets, indexes tend to skew toward a high concentration of issuers in a limited number of countries, which increases idiosyncratic risk.
We believe target date strategies should have strategic exposure to these sectors, which provide important, long‑term diversification benefits. In our view, exposure to these sectors can be best achieved through an active management approach.
Active Management Maximizes the Potential for Excess Returns
(Fig. 2) Average annualized excess returns (net of fees)
Equities—Potential for Excess Returns
Among equities, we found that the appropriateness of passive and active vehicles similarly varied across market segments and styles. In core allocations to U.S. and international developed markets equities, we determined that passive allocations could achieve efficient market exposure while restraining cost.g
However, we found that—given the magnitude of potential excess returns—desirable outcomes were most supported by combining these passive allocations with our active allocations to narrower, style‑based segments. We believe our active capabilities in growth‑ and value‑focused segments in the U.S. and international developed markets provide opportunities to maximize potential excess cost‑adjusted returns that may deliver value for plan participants.
For instance, passive investments in U.S. equities present opportunities to gain efficient market exposure at lower cost and minimal tracking error. We believe that a purely passive approach to the segment may limit the ability to generate excess returns. In particular, we have maintained a sizable allocation to U.S. large‑cap equities throughout the glide path, and we believe the magnitude of potential value added from our active strategies within U.S. large-cap equities outweighs the lower cost of a passive alternative.3 Given our sizable allocation and track record of generating excess returns net of fees within U.S. large‑cap equities,4 we believe it was prudent to utilize a degree of active management within the space. Our emphasis is on participant outcomes, and we have a high conviction on maintaining active allocations where we believe we can add significant value.
While efficient passive market exposure is available in certain market segments, we determined that investment opportunities in a number of sectors could also be enhanced though our active management approach. Passive options in emerging markets equities are less desirable, as they are generally viewed as largely inefficient markets and because indexes may skew heavily toward concentration in a few countries. Our suite of target date solutions also maintains an allocation to real assets equities, which can enhance diversification and provide a potential hedge against inflation. In our view, the universe of passive investments does not offer an adequate alternative for this allocation.
By including a blend strategy to our suite of target date solutions, we believe we can provide plan sponsors a unique alternative that stands out from the existing universe of investment options. The integration of active and passive strategies in our blended solution may offer investors the potential for lower costs and the opportunity to benefit from excess returns driven by fundamental research.
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