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Pension funded status improves by $31 billion in May

June 4th, 2015 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In May, these pension plans experienced a $31 billion increase in funded status based on a $3 billion decrease in asset values and a $34 billion decrease in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions increased from 82.6% to 84.1%.

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The second quarter of 2015 has reversed the losses we saw in the first quarter. For the year these pensions have now experienced a $50 billion decrease in the funded status deficit, thanks to rising interest rates. The discount rate that determines pension liabilities is now at 3.97%, and getting back above 4% would continue to push pension funding in the right direction.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.32% by the end of 2015 and 4.92% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 91% by the end of 2015 and 105% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast with similar interest rate and asset movements (3.62% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 3.02% by the end of 2016 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 80% by the end of 2015 and 72% by the end of 2016.

Pension funded status improves by $40 billion in April

May 7th, 2015 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In April, these pension plans experienced a $40 billion increase in funded status based on a $2 billion decrease in asset values and a $42 billion decrease in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions increased from 80.9% to 82.6%.

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Someone once said April is the cruelest month, but for these pensions last month it was less cruel than what happened over the course of the first quarter. We’re still a long ways away from full funded status, but the slight rise in interest rates at least moved things in the right direction to start the second quarter of 2015.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.22% by the end of 2015 and 4.82% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 91% by the end of 2015 and 105% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast with similar interest rate and asset movements (3.42% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 2.82% by the end of 2016, with 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 78% by the end of 2015 and 70% by the end of 2016.

Pension funded status drops by $6 billion in March

April 23rd, 2015 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In March, these pension plans experienced a $6 billion decrease in funded status based on decreases in asset values and increases in pension liabilities. This month’s analysis reflects the results of the 2015 Pension Funding Study, published on April 2nd.

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Last month these pensions continued to languish in the low-interest-rate doldrums. Whether or not rates climb between now and the end of the year will likely determine whether or not these pensions can meaningfully reduce the funded status deficit before year-end.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.10% by the end of 2015 and 4.70% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 90% by the end of 2015 and 104% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast with similar interest rate and asset movements (3.20% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 2.6% by the end of 2016, with 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 75% by the end of 2015 and 68% by the end of 2016.

Milliman Hangout: 2015 Pension Funding Study

April 3rd, 2015 No comments

The funded status of the largest 100 corporate defined benefit plans declined by $131.3 billion in 2014 as measured by the 2015 Milliman 100 Pension Funding Study (PFS). Plan liability increases overwhelmed robust asset investment gains and annual contributions declined to $39.8 billion from $44.2 billion in 2013. PFS coauthors John Ehrhardt and Zorast Wadia discuss the results of the study with Amy Resnick, executive editor of Pensions & Investments, in this Milliman Hangout.

To read Pensions & Investments’ coverage of the study, click here.
To download the 2015 Milliman 100 Pension Funding Study, click here.

Discount rates deepen pension funding deficit and make 2014 a banner year for liability-driven investing

April 2nd, 2015 No comments

Ehrhardt-JohnMilliman today released the results of its 2015 Pension Funding Study, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In 2014, these pension plans experienced a funded status decline despite a 10.9% investment return, with plan liabilities for these 100 plans increasing by $189.2 billion and assets increasing by $57.9 billion. This resulted in a $131.3 billion increase in the funded status deficit, representing a funding ratio decline of 6.1%.

Pension plan sponsors may be feeling whiplash after the last three years. In 2012, plans with the heaviest investment in fixed income experienced superior returns. In 2013, we saw the opposite: Plans with heavy equity allocations fared the best. Now with these latest results, we’ve again reversed ourselves, as plans with the highest fixed income allocation once again outpaced the field despite a strong year for equities. This whiplash is the result of discount rates that hit a record low this year, and continue to define pension funding status.

Study highlights include:

Asset allocations shift toward fixed income. Equity allocations in the pension portfolios dropped to 37.3% by the end of 2014, the lowest in the 15-year history of this study. The companies included in this study have generally shifted toward higher allocations in fixed income investments.

Risk transfer trend continues. Some plan sponsors engaged in pension risk transfer activities, including two well-publicized pension buyouts conducted for two of the Milliman 100 companies (Bristol-Myers Squibb and Motorola).

New mortality assumptions increase pension liabilities by 3.4%. The magnitude of these increases is contingent on age, gender, and other demographic characteristics of each plan’s participants. Based on the footnote disclosures at year-end 2014, the new Society of Actuaries mortality tables led companies to update mortality assumptions, increasing pension liabilities by approximately $38.3 billion, or 3.4%, at least among those plans that disclosed the impact.

Contributions decline during 2014. The $39.8 billion in contributions during 2014 were the lowest level since 2008 and marked a $4.4 billion decrease from 2013 contribution levels. The lower-than-expected contributions were likely due to plan sponsors changing their contribution strategies in light of the Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 (HATFA) interest rate stabilization legislation, enacted in August 2014.

Pension expense increases. Robust investment gains in 2013 were partially offset by the impact of lower contributions and increasing discount rates during 2013, producing a net increase of $4.8 billion and resulting in a total of $37.1 billion in pension expense. Pension expense hit an all-time high at $56.1 billion in 2012.

What to expect in 2015. The passage of HATFA may result in lower contributions on par with those seen in 2014. However, for plans already engaged in liability-driven investing (LDI), higher contribution levels can be expected. The lower discount rates at the end of 2014 are expected to lead to significant 2015 pension expense increases because discount rates for the coming fiscal year are set at the start of the fiscal year. This does not factor in any possible plan de-risking activity.

Funded status improves in February from rise in interest rates and investments

March 9th, 2015 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which consists of 100 of the nation’s largest defined benefit pension plans. The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans increased by $80 billion during February, as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). After a $90 billion decrease in funded status in January, this month’s increase leaves these pensions’ funded status in approximately the same spot as they began the year.

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An increase in the corporate bond discount rates was a big driver of last month’s gains. But that needs to be put in perspective. January’s discount rate was the lowest in the history of our study, and February’s discount rate was the second-lowest. Discount rates continue to define pension funded status, and upward movement in those rates will be necessary to eliminate the funding deficit.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.13% by the end of 2015 and 4.73% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.4% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 94% by the end of 2015 and 107% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast with similar interest rate and asset movements (3.13% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 2.53% by the end of 2016, with 3.4% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 77% by the end of 2015 and 70% by the end of 2016.

Milliman Hangout: Pension Funding Index, February 2015

February 11th, 2015 No comments

The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans dropped by $90 billion during January as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). The $90 billion funded status decline was the eighth largest monthly drop in the 15-year history of the Milliman 100 PFI. The funded status deficit ballooned from $292 billion to $382 billion since December 2014, which was due to a decline of 42 basis points in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities. Pension assets had a monthly above-expected return that was due to strong fixed income asset return and this helped to counter liability losses. The funded ratio decreased from 83.5% to 79.6%.

PFI co-author Zorast Wadia discusses the index’s latest results on this Milliman Hangout.

Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index retreats to 79.6%

February 5th, 2015 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which consists of 100 of the nation’s largest defined benefit pension plans. The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans dropped by $90 billion during January, as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). The $90 billion funded status decline was the 8th largest monthly drop in the 15-year history of the Milliman 100 PFI. The funded status deficit ballooned to $382 billion from $292 billion at the end of December 2014, which was due to the decline of 42 basis points in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities.

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The projected benefit obligation (PBO), or pension liabilities, increased to $1.876 trillion from $1.775 trillion at the end of December 2014. The change resulted from a decrease of 42 basis points in the monthly discount rate to 3.38% for January from 3.80% for December 2014. January’s discount rate is the lowest in the history of the Milliman 100 PFI. The last time we observed a comparable discount rate change was in July 2012 when discount rates fell 40 basis points ending at 3.92%. January’s precipitous drop is even more impactful.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 3.93% by the end of 2015 and 4.53% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.4% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 91% by the end of 2015 and 104% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast with similar interest rate and asset movements (2.83% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 2.23% by the end of 2016 and 3.4% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 73% by the end of 2015 and 66% by the end of 2016.

Milliman Hangout: Pension Funding Index, January 2015

January 13th, 2015 No comments

The funded status for the 100 largest corporate defined benefit plans decreased by $22 billion during December 2014, according to the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). Historically low interest rates were the dominant factor in the $105 billion deficit increase during 2014. While higher than expected investment returns produced a solid $81 billion gain, pension liabilities increased by $186 billion. The funded ratio was 83.6% as of December 31, 2014, down compared with the ratio on December 31, 2013, of 88.3%.

For more perspective on January’s PFI, watch our latest Milliman Hangout featuring coauthor Zorast Wadia.

Corporate pension funding deficit grows by more than $100 billion in 2014 because of plummeting interest rates

January 7th, 2015 No comments

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which consists of 100 of the nation’s largest defined benefit pension plans. In December, these plans experienced a $19 billion increase in pension liabilities and a $3 billion decrease in asset value, resulting in a $22 billion increase in the pension funded status deficit and a funded ratio of 83.6%. For the year, despite market returns of $81 billion, these pensions experienced a $105 billion increase in the pension funded status deficit, fueled by a $186 billion increase in liabilities as interest rates fell to a historic low at year end.

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What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were celebrating a historic rally for these pensions, thanks to—surprise surprise—cooperative interest rates. This year it’s the opposite story, with interest rates falling to 3.80%, the lowest rate we’ve ever seen in the 14-year history of this study. With rates this low, the liability increase for these pensions outstripped strong asset performance by more than $100 billion.

Looking forward, if the Milliman 100 pension plans were to achieve the expected 7.4% median asset return for their pension portfolios, and if the current discount rate of 3.80% were maintained, funded status would improve, with the funded status deficit shrinking to $255 billion (85%.7 funded ratio) by the end of 2015 and to $217 billion (87.9% funded ratio) by the end of 2016. This forecast assumes 2014 aggregate contributions of $44 billion and 2015 and 2016 aggregate contributions of $31 billion.