Tag Archives: interest rates

Corporate pensions experience back-to-back monthly gains with $7 billion improvement in October

Milliman has released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In October, these pensions’ funded status experienced a $7 billion uptick, increasing for the second month in a row and bringing the total funded status gain to $32 billion since August 31. October’s improvement was the result of robust 1.19% investment returns, which saw the Milliman PFI plans’ funded ratio climb to 84.7% for the month. Cumulative investment gains in 2017 are 9.57% year-to-date; by comparison, the 2017 Milliman Pension Funding Study reported that the monthly median expected investment return during 2016 was 0.57% (7.0% annualized).

While October’s investment returns are well above expectations, funded status gains were partially offset by the continued low discount rate environment. It will be interesting to see what, if any, changes are in store to interest rate strategy with the nomination of a new Fed chair.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 3.76% by the end of 2017 and 4.36% by the end of 2018) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 87% by the end of 2017 and 100% by the end of 2018. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.56% discount rate at the end of 2017 and 2.96% by the end of 2018 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 84% by the end of 2017 and 77% by the end of 2018.

To view the complete Pension Funding Index, click here. To see the 2017 Milliman Pension Funding Study, click here.

To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

Updated mortality tables for DB plan lump-sum payments starting in 2018

As expected, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued updated mortality tables for lump-sum payments paid in plan years beginning in 2018 for defined benefit (DB) pension plans. The use of the new mortality table in 2018 will increase the value of the lump-sum payment to participants by approximately 4% to 5%, depending on the age of the participant on the date of the lump-sum payment. This new lump-sum mortality table is mandatory and cannot be delayed for lump sums paid in 2018.

Although the new mortality table increases lump sums, the 2018 lump-sum interest rates may cause the lump sum value to go up or down. The lump-sum interest rates are also published by the IRS. They are based on three segment rates. The lump sum value is derived by discounting the actual monthly benefit payments at the appropriate segment rate back to the benefit commencement date. Under IRS rules, a plan may have up to a five-month lookback when establishing the lump-sum segment rates used for lump sums paid in a plan year.

The September 2017 rates that will be used for the 2018 lump-sum payments are just slightly higher than the September 2016 rates. We do not yet have the October, November, and December 2017 segment rates, but note that September 2016 reflected the lowest segment rates for lump-sum payments in 2017. So far in 2017, the segment rates have all been lower than the December 2016 segment rates. Lower interest rates translate to higher lump sum values because the monthly benefit payments are discounted at a lower interest rate.

Even with possibly higher lump sum values in 2018, depending on interest rates, it may still be beneficial to look at lump-sum windows in DB pension plans. This is due to increasing Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums which are indexed each year. In 2017, single-employer PBGC premiums were $69 per participant and $34 per $1,000 of unfunded vested benefits. For 2018, single-employer PBGC premiums will be $74 per participant and $38 per $1,000 of unfunded vested benefits. This is an increase of approximately 7% in the per participant PBGC flat-rate premium and an increase of approximately 12% in the PBGC variable rate premium. Thus, especially for small vested terminated benefits, the cost of a lump-sum window may be less than the present value of the PBGC premiums. Also, annuity purchase rates continue to be low, so again the cost of a lump sum window may be less than buying annuities for vested participants that have left the employer. For both of these reasons, 2018 may be a good time to explore lump-sum windows.

Corporate pensions experience largest gains of the year in September

Milliman has released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In September, these pension plans experienced their largest improvement year-to-date, with a $26 billion increase in funded status. The improvement was the result of a nine-basis-point increase in discount rates coupled with market value gains, which saw the Milliman PFI plans’ funded ratio climb from 83.0% to 84.3% for the month.

While September’s positive performance is welcome news for these pensions, it’s tempered somewhat by the recent release of the new mortality tables by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Much of the fourth quarter will be spent in anticipation of how the new regulation will affect 2018 cash contribution funding, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums, and de-risking efforts.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 3.84% by the end of 2017 and 4.44% by the end of 2018) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 87% by the end of 2017 and 101% by the end of 2018. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.54% discount rate at the end of 2017 and 2.94% by the end of 2018 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 83% by the end of 2017 and 76% by the end of 2018.

To view the complete Pension Funding Index, click here. Also, to see the 2017 Milliman Pension Funding Study, click here.

To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

Corporate pensions face largest monthly loss of 2017 in August

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In August, the funded status of these plans fell by $17 billion—the largest loss year-to-date—due to a decrease in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities. The Milliman 100 PFI plans saw their deficit swell from $281 billion as of July 31 to $298 billion at the end of August. The funded ratio dropped from 83.8% to 83.0% over the same time period, and is now below where it was at the beginning of 2017 for the first time this year.

The funded ratio for the Milliman 100 plans continues to teeter up and down during 2017, and now we find it below the mark set at the beginning of the year. It will be interesting to see how discount rates will change over the next few months and how the potential release of updated mortality tables will affect pension contributions and funded status going forward.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 3.80% by the end of 2017 and 4.40% by the end of 2018) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 87% by the end of 2017 and 100% by the end of 2018. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.40% discount rate at the end of 2017 and 2.80% by the end of 2018 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 81% by the end of 2017 and 74% by the end of 2018.

To view the complete Pension Funding Index, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

July’s corporate pension funded status steady amid investment gains, discount rate decline

Milliman has released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In July, the funded status of these plans rose by $4 billion as the Milliman 100 PFI deficit shrank from $286 billion at the end of June to $282 billion at the end of July. The slight increase in funded status resulted from strong investment gains that compensated for a decrease in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities. The funded ratio inched up from 83.5% the previous month to 83.7% as of July 31. Over the past seven months the funded ratio of these plans has been teetering between 83% and 84%.

Given the relatively strong market returns contrasted with persistently low interest rates, it’s no surprise that there’s been little movement this year in the funded ratio for the Milliman 100 plans. With the lack of funded ratio improvement, we’re seeing a number of sponsors make additional contributions with an eye towards shoring up funded status in the future.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 3.96% by the end of 2017 and 4.56% by the end of 2018) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 89% by the end of 2017 and 102% by the end of 2018. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.46% discount rate at the end of 2017 and 2.86% by the end of 2018 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 81% by the end of 2017 and 74% by the end of 2018.

To view the complete Pension Funding Index, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

Despite steep Q2 discount rate decline, corporate pension funded ratio still ahead of the start of the year

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In June, the funded status of these plans fell by $4 billion, the result of lower-than-expected investment returns and a decrease in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities. The Milliman 100 PFI plans saw their deficit grow from $281 billion to $285 billion with a drop of two basis points from May to June. As of June 30, the funded ratio had inched down from 83.7% to 83.5%, though that midyear number is still slightly above where it was at the start of 2017.

While June saw lackluster investment returns of 0.35%, overall the Milliman 100 PFI assets performed better than expected in Q2—some much needed good news for these plans, whose liabilities continue to grow as discount rates decline.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.04% by the end of 2017 and 4.64% by the end of 2018) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 90% by the end of 2017 and 103% by the end of 2018. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.44% discount rate at the end of 2017 and 2.84% by the end of 2018 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 80% by the end of 2017 and 73% by the end of 2018.

To view the complete Pension Funding Index, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.