Corporate pensions’ $61 billion funded status gain in January may cushion early February market slide

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. While market movement in February may dampen January’s gains, during the first month of 2018 corporate pensions’ experienced their largest funded status improvement in over a year.

According to Milliman’s analysis, these plans experienced a funding status increase of $61 billion in January, and saw their funded ratio rise from 84.1% at the end of December to 87.2% as of January 31. The improvement is the result of investment gains due to strong market performance and a reduction in liabilities (due to an increase in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value pension liabilities).

January’s stellar funding gains may help to cushion the effect of the current market slide witnessed in February thus far for these pensions. It will be interesting to see if the recent volatility paired with U.S. tax reform changes incentivize plan sponsors to pursue funding and de-risking strategies more aggressively than they have in the past.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.29% by the end of 2018 and 4.89% by the end of 2019) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 99% by the end of 2018 and 115% by the end of 2019. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.19% discount rate at the end of 2018 and 2.59% by the end of 2019 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 81% by the end of 2018 and 74% by the end of 2019.

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

Regulatory roundup

More retirement-related regulatory news for plan sponsors, including links to detailed information.

Pension plan limitations not affected Tax Cut and Jobs Act
The IRS has announced that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 does not affect the tax year 2018 dollar limitations for retirement plans detailed in Notice 2017-64. The tax law provides dollar limitations on benefits and contributions under qualified retirement plans, and it requires the Treasury Department to annually adjust these limits for cost of living increases. Those adjustments are to be made using procedures that are similar to those used to adjust benefit amounts under the Social Security Act.

For more information, click here.

Approval with modifications on termination of single-employer plans and missing participants requested
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) has issued a notice requesting that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approve, with modifications, under the Paperwork Reduction Act a collection of information in PBGC’s regulations on Termination of Single Employer Plans and Missing Participants and implementing forms and instructions.

For more information, click here.

Due diligence helps company win acquisition bid

Milliman recently assisted a leading provider of institutional investment products and services in determining whether to make a bid to acquire another organization. This organization provides related, but differentiated, information and analytics to institutional investment consultants, asset owners, and managers.

The acquiring firm needed information regarding the institutional investment industry and potential growth opportunities for the target’s offerings.

In this study, Jeffrey Nipp explains how Milliman helped in evaluating these opportunities and discusses the bid’s outcome.

Milliman FRM Market Commentary: January 2018

Without missing a beat, global equities continued their rally into 2018. In this month’s commentary, Milliman’s Joe Becker, Adam Schenck, and Jeff Greco address the following:

• After rising 1.5% in December and finishing the year 24% higher, the global equity market roared out of the gate in January climbing 5.5% and notching its best start to a new year since 1994.
• Emerging market equities lead the way, rising nearly 10% before finishing the month up 8.2%. That brings its 12-month return to 41.3%, its best since April 2010.
• With the exception of emerging market equities, volatility edged slightly higher around the globe in January, but remained in a historically low range. The VIX reached its highest level since August.
• In the US, consumer discretionary stocks lead all sectors, rising 9.2% on the month, while interest-rate sensitive utilities lagged as the majority of the yield curve pushed sharply higher.
• The Fed left its interest rate unchanged at its Jan. 31 meeting, but noted that, “Inflation on a 12-month basis is expected to move up this year and to stabilize around the committee’s 2 percent objective over the medium term.”

To learn more, download the full commentary at MRIC.com.

PBGC’s missing participants program now covers defined contribution plans

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (PBGC) recently released final rule updating the agency’s regulations on missing participants in terminated single-employer defined benefit (DB) plans newly extends the program to retirement plans not previously covered. These include most defined contribution (DC) retirement plans (e.g., 401(k) and profit-sharing plans), PBGC-covered multiemployer pension plans (MEPPs), and small (25 or fewer participants) professional service organizations’ defined benefit plans.

The final rule, which will include a “unified unclaimed pension database,” applies to plans – other than MEPPs – that terminate on or after Jan. 1, 2018, and gives DC plan sponsors the option to transfer the assets to the PBGC, rather than to establish individual retirement accounts at a financial institution for the missing participants. For terminating MEPPs, the rule applies to plans where the actual date of payment (i.e., plan close-out) is on or after Jan. 1, 2018. This Client Action Bulletin provides some more perspective.