Elimination of the Foreign Property Rule on Tax Deferred Savings Plans
The Foreign Property Rule (FPR), limiting the holding of foreign property in pension plan assets, is scheduled to be eliminated this year. It has been rationalized on economic grounds by asserting that it improves the value of the dollar and decreases the cost of capital yet, at the time the FPR began, the government was trying to keep the dollar from rising and there were strong capital inflows. Further, evidence from the past changes in the FPR indicates it had little, if any, affect on the cost of capital and exchange rate, but cost middle income workers between one and three billion dollars per annum when set at 30%. I argue that the reason for its existence was the then common belief that governments could make better economic allocation decisions than markets. Removing the FPR provides pension plans with greater opportunity for risk adjusted returns as well as responsibilities. Relevant issues that arise include the degree of foreign currency exposure that is desirable and the degree of active management desired in foreign assets, and whether it makes sense to choose fund managers that are regionally focused rather than global. Pension boards will also have to rethink what a Canadian fund is and whether it should mimic Canadian production (as currently structured) or Canadian consumption patterns. An encouraging aspect of eliminating the FPR is the possibility that government ideology is changing to place greater emphasis on the positive benefits of using markets to allocate resources.
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