Pension fund Caisse open to investing more in Bombardier

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canada's second-largest pension fund, Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec, said it was open to further investment in Bombardier Inc BBDb.TO after reporting strong returns in 2015.

The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDP) building is seen in Montreal, February 26, 2014. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

Quebec’s public pension fund manager agreed to buy a 30 percent stake in Bombardier’s rail business for $1.5 billion in November, providing a bigger cash cushion for Bombardier’s planemaking unit.

Asked if the Caisse would invest further in Bombardier Inc, Caisse Chief Executive Michael Sabia said: “Are we open to the idea of increasing our position? Yes. Are we going to increase our level of investment in Bombardier Inc very soon? Probably not. We have an important investment in a subsidiary of Bombardier. For now, that represents significant exposure.”

Bombardier has struggled to win new orders for its C Series plane with some potential clients looking for more certainty about its financial health before placing orders. It remains in talks over possible federal aid.

Sabia said federal aid would make Bombardier more attractive to investors by providing that certainty.

“If those risks get reduced I think you’ll probably see some change in the valuation of the company so I think that’s the catalyst. It’s a risk reduction story.”

The company last week received the first order in 16 months for its CSeries jets, sending its shares higher and overshadowing news of lower-than-expected results and plans to cut 7,000 jobs.

Sabia backed Chief Executive Alain Bellemare to turn the business around and said he should be given time.

“Alain Bellemare is doing a very good job. Turnarounds take time. Alain’s been there about a year. In the history of a turnaround those are early days so we’ll see how that progresses,” Sabia said.

The Caisse reported weighted average returns of 9.1 percent in 2015, weaker than the average return of 12 percent it achieved in 2014 reflecting volatile equity markets and global economic uncertainty.

However, it beat the average return of 5.4 percent achieved by Canadian pension funds last year, according to research by RBC Investor Services.

Over the past four years, the Caisse said its annualised return was 10.9 percent, 90 basis points ahead of the benchmark portfolio which it compares itself against.

Since Sabia was appointed in 2009, the fund has sought higher returns by investing more funds in alternative assets such as infrastructure and real estate, shifting funds out of equities and low-yielding government bonds.

“While not immunizing our portfolio against market movements, our strategy makes it more resilient in turbulent times,” Sabia said.

The Caisse said its net assets had increased to C$248 billion at the end of 2015, compared with C$226 billion 12 months earlier.

Reporting by Matt Scuffham; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and David Gregorio