Tag Archives: John Ehrhardt

Funded status deficit increases to $390 billion after rates fall below 4%

Wadia_ZorastMilliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In March, these pension plans experienced a $20 billion decrease in funded status due to a $30 billion increase in asset values and a $50 billion increase in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 78.4% to 77.9%.

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These pensions lost $83 billion in the first quarter. We saw impressive asset performance last month, but with rates slipping back below 4% for the first time since May 2015, we have an even deeper pension funding hole. Hopefully this trip below 4% is brief—the prior visit to record-low territory lasted seven months.

This edition of the PFI reflects the annual update of the Milliman 2016 Pension Funded Study, which was released on April 7.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.23% by the end of 2016 and 4.83% by the end of 2017) and asset gains (11.2% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 86% by the end of 2016 and 98% by the end of 2017. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.33% discount rate at the end of 2016 and 2.73% by the end of 2017 and 3.2% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 73% by the end of 2016 and 66% by the end of 2017.

Milliman Hangout: 2016 Pension Funding Study

The 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans experienced a minuscule funding improvement of 0.1% in 2015, according to the Milliman 2016 Pension Funding Study. The aggregate funded ratio increased from 81.7% to 81.8% based on a $75.8 billion decrease in the market value of plan assets and a $94.5 billion decrease in the projected benefit obligation (PBO). This resulted in an $18.7 billion improvement in funded status.

In this Milliman Hangout, PFS coauthor Zorast Wadia discusses the results of the study with Amy Resnick, editor of Pensions & Investments.

To read the entire study, click here.

The 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans’ funded status improved by only 0.1% in 2015

Wadia_ZorastMilliman today released the results of its 2016 Pension Funding Study, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In 2015, these pension plans experienced a relatively small funding improvement of 0.1%, as the aggregate funded ratio increased from 81.7% to 81.8% based on a $75.8 billion decrease in the market value of plan assets and a $94.5 billion decrease in the projected benefit obligation (PBO). This resulted in an $18.7 billion increase in funded status. The miniscule improvement belies the fierce dynamics facing these pensions last year.

FIGURE 1: HIGHLIGHTS (FIGURES IN $ BILLION)
FISCAL YEAR ENDING
2014 2015 CHANGE
MARKET VALUE OF ASSETS $1,453.6 $1,377.8 ($75.8)
PROJECTED BENEFIT OBLIGATION $1,779.7 $1,685.2 ($94.5)
FUNDED STATUS ($326.1) ($307.4) ($18.7)
FUNDED PERCENTAGE 81.7% 81.8% 0.1%
NET PENSION INCOME/(COST) ($37.3) ($33.7) $3.6
EMPLOYER CONTRIBUTIONS $39.7 $30.7 ($9.0)
DISCOUNT RATE 4.00% 4.25% 0.25%
ACTUAL RATE OF RETURN 10.8% 0.9% -9.9%
Note: Numbers may not add up precisely due to rounding

What a strange year for these 100 pension plans. These pensions weathered volatile markets, unpredictable discount rate movements, adjusted mortality assumptions, pension risk transfers, and an industry-wide decline in cash contributions…and yet they still finished the year almost exactly where they began. Given all that transpired in 2015, plan sponsors may be relieved that plans did not experience funded status erosion like that of the prior year. But that doesn’t change the fact of a pension funded deficit in excess of $300 billion.

Study highlights include:

Surprising move toward spot rates. Thirty-seven of the largest 100 plan sponsor companies will record fiscal year 2016 pension expense using an accounting method change linked to the spot interest rates derived from yield curves of high quality corporate bonds. The move to spot rates will result in pension expense savings.

Actual returns well below expectations. Actual plan returns were 0.9% for the year—just a fraction of the expected 7.2%.

Impact of updated mortality assumptions. Pension obligations at the end of 2015 were further reduced to reflect refinements in mortality assumptions. While we are unable to collect specific detail regarding the reduction in PBO, a 1% to 2% decrease has been anecdotally reported. Additional revisions to mortality assumptions may be published in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Cash contributions reduced by almost $9 billion. Approximately $40 billion was contributed in 2014, with that number falling to $31 billion in 2015. The likely cause of the decline: the continuation of interest rate stabilization (funding relief) courtesy of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

Pension Risk Transfers continue. The estimated amount of pension risk transfers collected from the accounting disclosures was nominally higher in 2015 ($11.6 billion) compared to 2014 ($11.4 billion). It seems likely these transactions may increase in 2016, spurred by the significant increases during 2015 in premiums payable to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC); the extension of these premium rate increases was also courtesy of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015.

Equity allocations reach a record low. By the end of 2015, equity allocations had dropped to 36.8%, the lowest in the 16-year history of this study. In recent years, the companies in the study generally shifted toward fixed income investments. However, unlike 2014—when plans with high allocations to fixed income outperformed plans with lower allocations—2015 saw plans with higher allocations to fixed income experience the same rate of return as those with lower allocations to fixed income.

Under the radar. The 2016 Pension Funding Study also reports on the funded status of Other Postemployment Benefits (OPEB) Plans.

To download the study, click here.

Funded status deficit increases by $35 billion in February, has ballooned by $68 billion so far in 2016

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In February, these pension plans experienced a $35 billion decrease in funded status, which was due to a $5 billion decrease in asset values and a $30 billion increase in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 80.8% to 79.1%.

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The pension funding deficit continues to move in the wrong direction. In January, poor asset performance drove declining funded status. In February, interest rates were the culprits. We’re off to a rough start in 2016.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.56% by the end of 2016 and 5.16% by the end of 2017) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 89% by the end of 2016 and 102% by the end of 2017. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.56% discount rate at the end of 2016 and 2.96% by the end of 2017 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 73% by the end of 2016 and 66% by the end of 2017.

2016 begins with dismal market performance, lowering pension funded status from 82.7% to 80.9%

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In January, these pension plans experienced a $31 billion decrease in funded status that was largely due to a $25 billion decrease in asset values. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 82.7% to 80.9%.

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A 1.46% decline in asset values was the last thing these pensions needed after flat performances in 2015. About the only good news is that the market declines and expanding liabilities weren’t enough to drop these pensions below 80%, as was the case a year ago on January 31.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.74% by the end of 2016 and 5.34% by the end of 2017) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 92% by the end of 2016 and 105% by the end of 2017. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.64% discount rate at the end of 2016 and 3.04% by the end of 2017 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 74% by the end of 2016 and 68% by the end of 2017.

Pension funded status improved by 1.2% in 2015

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In December, these pension plans experienced a $7 billion decrease in funded status based on an $18 billion decrease in asset values and an $11 billion decrease in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 83.3% to 82.7%. For the year, these pensions improved their pension status by $35 billion, growing from 81.5% at the end of 2014 to 82.7% at the end of 2015.

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The good news is that pension funded status improved in 2015. The bad news is that this improvement was underwhelming and we’re basically in the same place we were a year ago, despite cooperative interest rates.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.82% by the end of 2016 and 5.42% by the end of 2017) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 95% by the end of 2016 and 109% by the end of 2017. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.62% discount rate at the end of 2016 and 3.02% by the end of 2017 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 75% by the end of 2016 and 69% by the end of 2017.

Corporate pension funded status drops by $3 billion in November

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In November, these pension plans experienced a $3 billion decrease in funded status, based on a $3 billion decrease in asset values and no movement in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 83.5% to 83.3%.

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November was another middling month for these pensions, and with the calendar flipping soon the book is nearly written on 2015. But with the Federal Reserve potentially raising interest rates at the end of the calendar year, it could be an exciting finish.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.81% by the end of 2016 and 5.41% by the end of 2017) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 97% by the end of 2016 and 111% by the end of 2017. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.51% discount rate at the end of 2016 and 2.91% by the end of 2017 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 75% by the end of 2016 and 69% by the end of 2017.

Corporate pension funded status improves by $25 billion in October

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In October, these pension plans experienced a $25 billion increase in funded status based on a $33 billion increase in asset values and an $8 billion increase in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions increased from 81.7% to 83.3%.

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October was a great month for these pensions, but it may be too little too late as far as 2015 is concerned. Overall funded status has improved by only 1.8% this year, and this would be worse if it weren’t for interest rates inching in the right direction to reduce pension liabilities.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.26% by the end of 2015 and 4.86% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 85% by the end of 2015 and 98% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast (4.06% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 3.46% by the end of 2016 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 82% by the end of 2015 and 75% by the end of 2016.

Corporate pension funded status declines by $28 billion in September

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In September, these pension plans experienced a $28 billion decrease in funded status based on a $19 billion decrease in asset values and a $9 billion increase in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 83.3% to 81.7%.

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The calendar year began with strong equity performance that seemed so promising, and yet here we are looking at an overall decline in equities for the year. It will take a massive rally in the fourth quarter for these 100 pensions to sniff their annual expected return of 7.3%.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.34% by the end of 2015 and 4.94% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 85% by the end of 2015 and 97% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast (4.04% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 3.44% by the end of 2016 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 80% by the end of 2015 and 73% by the end of 2016.

Corporate pension funded status drops by $22 billion in August

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index, which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In August, these pension plans experienced a $22 billion decrease in funded status based on a $42 billion decrease in asset values and a $20 billion decrease in pension liabilities. The funded status for these pensions decreased from 84.9% to 83.4%.

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Most of the time, interest rate movements drive pension funded status, but the stock market volatility we saw in August stole the show. For the year, these pensions had performed well on the asset side, but August erased all those gains.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.43% by the end of 2015 and 5.03% by the end of 2016) and asset gains (11.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 87% by the end of 2015 and 100% by the end of 2016. Under a pessimistic forecast (4.03% discount rate at the end of 2015 and 3.43% by the end of 2016 and 3.3% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 81% by the end of 2015 and 74% by the end of 2016.