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* Top 10 funds now manage assets worth over C$1.1 billion
* One-third of investments are in alternative asset classes
* Strategy has mitigated volatility in global equity markets
By Matt Scuffham
TORONTO, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Canada's biggest 10 public pension funds now manage assets worth more than C$1.1 trillion ($812 billion), having tripled in size since 2003, according to a study published by the Boston Consulting Group on Thursday.
The funds have expanded rapidly in recent years, pursuing a strategy of directly investing in assets globally with an emphasis on real estate and infrastructure projects such as bridges, tunnels and roads. Some pension experts say this approach has helped them mitigate the impact of volatility in global equity markets and challenging economic conditions.
About one-third of the top 10 funds' investments are in alternative asset classes such as infrastructure, private equity and real estate, according to the study, which was commissioned by the top 10 funds.
"The top 10 have shown impressive growth in investment capabilities and scale to manage the realities of a post-financial crisis world," said Craig Hapelt, partner and managing director at BCG.
"Their investments also have a broader positive impact on Canada's prosperity," he added.
By directly investing, the Canadian funds are able to manage assets themselves, a move the funds say results in lower costs. They have also built up sufficient scale over the past two decades to acquire capital-intensive assets such as infrastructure.
At the end of 2014, the top 10 funds now manage assets worth the equivalent of over 45 percent of Canada's gross domestic product (GDP), the research showed.
However, the funds face increasing economic headwinds including falling energy prices. Separate research by RBC in November revealed they had suffered a second consecutive quarterly fall in the value of their assets for the first time since the 2007-09 financial crisis.
The 10 largest funds include the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), the Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (Caisse) and the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan Board, the three biggest Canadian funds which are also in the top 20 public pension funds globally. Seven of the funds are among the top 30 infrastructure investors in the world.
Recent investments by Canadian pension funds include the $2.8 billion acquisition of the operator of the Chicago Skyway toll road by CPPIB, Ontario Teachers and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System and the $7.5 billion purchase of an Australian electricity network by a consortium including the Caisse.
$1 = 1.3540 Canadian dollars Editing by David Gregorio