WCB portfolio drops $20 million

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board has seen a $20-million devaluation to its investment portfolio, but rates will remain…

The Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board has seen a $20-million devaluation to its investment portfolio, but rates will remain stable in 2009 barring “unexpected circumstances.”

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that your investments today are not worth anything near what they were a few years back,” said board chair Craig Tuton, in comments to the Yukon legislature on December 4.

“In actual numbers — and I have to swallow hard when I say these numbers — but we’re actually down some $20 million — not $9 million — in our investment dollars,” he said.

But as long as the bonds are not sold before their maturity date, no real money will be lost.

The board is still “fully funded,” meaning that they are able to cover existing expenses and claims regardless of the reduced investment revenue.

The only danger is if the board becomes strapped for cash, and is forced to generate income by selling the bonds at a loss.

“It would have to be something unusual that would force us to dip into (our investments) right now, and it’s nothing we anticipate at the moment,” said board president Valerie Royle.

The board attributes its financial stability to a particularly “conservative portfolio.”

“We know we don’t make the kind of money others do when the market’s good, but we don’t lose as much when it’s bad,” said Royle

But Liberal MLAs charge that the WCB isn’t “conservative enough.”

The board refuses to purchase any bonds rated lower than “BBB,” but Liberals say the minimum bond rating should be bumped to “A.”

“The board was willing to take that slightly higher measure of risk in BBB bonds, and so far, it’s boded well for us,” said Royle.

No bonds have yet defaulted, she added.

Even before the global financial crisis broke out, the board was reporting investment losses.

“The year before, their investments were down a few million dollars, and (Tuton) testified that they were changing investment managers,” said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“So they must not have been happy with their performance at that point either,” he said.

Workers’ compensation boards across the country are running into dire financial straits, making the Yukon’s position enviable by comparison, said Royle.

“Don’t feel bad, we are down $3 billion in our investments,” said an Eastern Canada representative to Tuton at a Vancouver meeting of Canadian workers’ compensation board chairs, Tuton told the legislature.

“I don’t have a crystal ball to predict the future of the markets, but I hope that, by December 31, we are still in that fully funded position in which we are today,” said Royle.

Contact Tristin Hopper at tristinh@yukon-news.com