Category Archives: Pensions

Pension and OPEB underfunded status after Michigan PA 202

The Protecting Local Government Retirement and Benefits Act (the Act) addressed underfunding issues associated with pension plans and retiree medical plans in Michigan that are sponsored by local governments. Prescribed actuarial assumptions used to make calculations have not yet been set. This paper by Milliman consultants Tim Herman and Jack Chmielewski aims to help stakeholders of Michigan’s many local government pension and other post-employment benefit programs develop informed expectations around the range of outcomes that could result from the state treasurer’s decisions about actuarial assumptions as they relate to the Act.

Plan-specific substitute mortality tables

In October 2017, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released final regulations prescribing new mortality tables that apply to single-employer defined benefit pension plans for the purpose of calculating the actuarial liabilities for minimum funding requirements, benefit restrictions, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) variable-rate premiums. As with the prior regulations, the new regulations give plan sponsors the option to use either the standard mortality tables developed by the IRS, or to develop plan-specific mortality tables.

The new regulations significantly revised the rules regarding plan-specific substitute mortality tables. Under the prior rules, a plan was required to have fully credible mortality experience in order to use substitute mortality tables. The new rules allow for the use of substitute mortality tables for plans with smaller populations that do not have fully credible mortality experience. As a result, Treasury and the IRS expect that significantly more plan sponsors will request approval to use substitute mortality tables.

Using substitute mortality tables should theoretically improve the fit between expected and actual mortality rates, thereby producing smaller experience gains and losses over time. In addition, for plans employing a workforce that exhibits heavier mortality than the standard tables, using substitute mortality tables could potentially lower both minimum required contributions and PBGC variable-rate premiums.

For these reasons, plan sponsors may want to consider the use of substitute mortality tables. A written request must be submitted by the plan sponsor at least seven months before the first day of the first plan year for which the substitute mortality tables are to apply.

Note that the regulations do not allow plan sponsors to use plan-specific tables for determining minimum lump-sum values; standard IRS tables continue to be used for this purpose.

Outsourcing enhances a small pension plan’s administration

When a small pension plan disaffiliated from its larger pension group, it lost access to the retirement system infrastructure that helped administer its plan. In this article, employee benefits analyst Julie Sinke explains the sponsor’s decision to fully outsource its plan administration to Milliman and how the firm provided a more efficient and streamlined solution.

Change in amortization methodology reduces pension expense

Ninety percent of one pension plan’s expense was tied to its loss amortization component. The fact that this single component of pension expense influenced the results so heavily caused Milliman consultants to look more deeply into the loss amortization method in order to address the plan sponsor’s concerns. In this article, Michael Mikhitarian explains how the firm worked with the sponsor and its auditor to change the plan’s amortization methodology to reduce pension expense.

Public pension funding improves by $36 billion in Q3

Milliman today released the third quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation’s 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q3 2017, these plans experienced a $36 billion improvement as a result of strong investment performance. In aggregate, these plans saw investment returns of 2.97%, with a spread ranging from a low of 1.63% to a high of 3.83%. The funded status of the Milliman 100 PPFI climbed from 70.7% at the end of June to 71.6% as of September 30.

These plans are moving in the right direction, with two more crossing the 90% funded mark in Q3, bringing the total to 16 plans with 90% funding or above. But that progress is hampered as plan sponsors reduce their interest rate assumptions to reflect current market expectations—something one-third of the plans in this study have done in their latest reported fiscal years.

The Milliman 100 PPFI total pension liability (TPL) increased from $4.871 trillion at the end of Q2 to an estimated $4.908 trillion at the end of Q3. The TPL is expected to grow modestly over time as interest on the TPL and the accrual of new benefits outpaces the benefits paid to retirees. Asset values for these plans have increased from $3.443 trillion to $3.517 trillion during the same time period; and while investments brought in approximately $102 billion, the plans collectively paid out $28 billion more in benefits than they took in from contributions.

To view the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Index, click here.

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

One-third of 100 largest public pensions reduced interest rate assumptions in latest reported fiscal year

Milliman today released the results of its 2017 Public Pension Funding Study (PPFS), which analyzes funding levels of the nation’s 100 largest public pension plans, including an independent assessment on the expected real return of each plan’s investments.

As of June 30, 2017, the estimated aggregate funded ratio of the nation’s largest public pension plans is 70.7%, up from 67.7% at the end of the plans’ latest reported fiscal years (generally June 30, 2016). Total assets for these plans at their fiscal year-ends were reported at $3.19 trillion, and as of June 30, 2017, are estimated to have jumped to a combined $3.44 trillion thanks to strong market performance in late 2016 and early 2017. As for Total Pension Liability (TPL), the Milliman 100 public plans reported at their latest fiscal year-ends an aggregate TPL of $4.72 trillion, covering more than 26 million members; this figure is estimated to have risen to $4.87 trillion as of June 30, 2017.

An in-depth analysis by Milliman, however, estimates these plans’ total liabilities could be even higher. Based on the market’s consensus views that long-term investment returns have been declining, the study recalibrated TPL for each plan using independently determined interest rate assumptions. For this study, we use the term “interest rate” to indicate the assumption the plan sponsor has chosen to determine contribution amounts, and the term “discount rate” to indicate the rate used to measure liabilities for financial reporting purposes. In aggregate, Milliman estimates the recalibrated TPL for the Milliman 100 plans is $4.98 trillion as of their fiscal year-ends–$260 billion higher than reported by sponsors.

In this low-interest-rate environment, market expectations on investment returns have been falling faster than plan sponsors can reassess rates. And the gap that creates between sponsor-reported and our recalibrated market-based liabilities is widening, which is all the more reason plans should continue to monitor emerging investment return expectations and adjust their assumptions as needed.

While plan sponsors report a median discount rate of 7.50% (with a spread of 6.50% to 8.50%), Milliman’s assessment of the expected real return for each plan’s investments puts the median rate at 6.71%-lower than all but six of the 100 sponsor-reported rates. Despite one-third of the plans lowering their discount rates since the last study, this gap between sponsor-reported and independently determined rates continues to widen, indicating that further reductions in discount rates will be likely in the coming years.

To view the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Study, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.