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Strong equity markets powered an impressive rise in global pension assets in 2019, according to new research from the Thinking Ahead Institute.

The U.S.-based research group (which began at Willis Towers Watson Investments) reported that global pension fund assets in the 22 major pension markets (P22) surged by 15% in 2019 to $46.7 trillion (all figures in U.S. dollars).

The increase followed a 3.3% decline in global pension assets in the previous year.

The report said that the asset growth in 2019 was driven, partly, by equity market performance during the year, with Mexico (22.2%), Canada (18.9%) and the U.S. (17.8%) leading the way.

The research also found an ongoing shift to alternative assets.

In the seven largest markets (including Canada, along with the U.S., the U.K., Japan, Australia, the Netherlands and Switzerland) nearly one quarter (23%) of pension assets are now allocated to private markets and other alternatives, up from just 6% back in 1999.

The report said that the shift to alternative assets has come largely at the expense of equities. Equity allocations are down 16% from 1999 to 2019, it noted.

The report also found that total defined contribution (DC) assets outweighed defined benefit assets for the first time in 2019. DC pension assets now account for just over half of global assets, up from 31% in 1999.