Tokyo: Japan’s Dai-ichi Life Insurance plans to bolster its holdings of yen bonds this financial year and keep risk asset holdings steady or trim them, depending on market moves, a top executive said on Thursday.

Japan’s second-largest life insurer, with total assets of ¥30.8 trillion ($373.5 billion), also said it plans to keep holdings of hedged foreign bonds steady, but it may sell them and shift back to yen bonds if overseas interest rates climb on the back of a recovering economy in the year ending March 2012.

“We’re basically planning the same moves as last year -- we’ll control the pace of adding yen bonds while observing interest rate moves," Takashi Iida, manager of Dai-ichi Life’s investment planning department, told Reuters in an interview.

The insurer expects US yields to gradually climb in line with improvements in the US economy, to around 4% next March from about 3.3% now.

“If foreign interest rates rise and Japanese rates stay steady, obviously the returns on hedged bonds will decrease, so we may consider selling foreign bonds and shift to yen bonds," Iida said.

Lower hedging costs, or a narrower spread between Japanese and overseas short-term interest rates, encouraged top insurers to move aggressively into hedged foreign bonds over the last two years as an alternative to low-yielding JGBs.

Dai-ichi often tweaks its allocations between JGBs and currency-hedged foreign bonds depending on market conditions, Iida said.

He added the insurer wants to increase its holdings of mostly superlong JGBs if yields rise, referring to 20-and 30-year debt.

Dai-ichi Life expects interest rates in Japan to edge up to 1.4% from the current 1.2%, with public finances, further strained after the 11 March earthquake, pushing rates higher.

But Iida added that the Bank of Japan will likely continue its easy monetary policy, minimizing the impact from strained public finances on rates.

Euro rally bumpy

Dai-ichi added that the euro’s rally, boosted by expectations of rate increases from the European Central Bank, may not be smooth due to concerns over sovereign debt in the euro zone’s periphery countries. It predicts the euro zone will hike rates steadily, once every few months.

It said that fiscal tightening in the euro zone may slow growth. Dai-ichi expects the euro to trade between ¥110 and ¥130 in the year to March 2012.

The insurer also said the yen will probably weaken because the Bank of Japan is expected to be the last major central bank to look to exit its stimulative policies.

Dai-ichi Life sees the dollar trading between ¥80 and ¥95 this financial year, Iida said, adding that the insurer’s forecast is for the Federal Reserve to raise US interest rates in the January-March quarter of 2012.

Reducing risk

Dai-ichi, which made its debut on the Tokyo Stock Exchange last year following an $11 billion initial public offering, would either keep steady or trim its holdings of Japanese stocks and alternative investments, as it tries to further limit its exposure to risky assets.

The company said it may either sell domestic stocks or hedge via derivatives, depending which method is cheaper. Investments in overseas equities will probably remain unchanged and there is no plan to reduce these holdings.

Japanese insurers have been reducing Japanese shares for many years ahead of the introduction this financial year of new government regulations that raise the risk weighting on stocks and other risky assets that insurers hold.

Dai-ichi declined to comment on both bonds and shares of Tokyo Electric Power Co, the operator of a crippled nuclear power plant in Fukushima.

It is one of the biggest shareholders of Tokyo Electric shares, which have tumbled 80% since the quake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis.

Dai-ichi’s shares are 16.3% down from pre-quake levels, under performing the benchmark Nikkei index’s fall of 7%.