Category Archives: Defined benefit

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.

Due diligence reduces pension plan’s purchase price

A Milliman client was considering an acquisition. But first, it needed to review the target’s single-employer defined benefit pension plan. On the client’s behalf, the firm reviewed the target’s latest pension valuation report and five-year projections to make a determination. Would this potential acquisition—and its pension plan—fit in with the client?

Consultant Bret Linton explains in more detail the work that Milliman did and what it meant for the client’s bottom line in his article “Mergers & acquisitions: Pension plan due diligence.”

Corporate pensions experience stellar investment returns alongside sinking discount rates in 2017

Milliman today released the year-end results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. During 2017, despite superb investment gains, these pensions experienced an overall $2 billion decrease in funded status due to a decline in the corporate bond rates used to measure pension liabilities. In December, the Milliman 100 PFI discount rate fell 46 basis points to 3.53%, marking the lowest year-end discount rate and fifth-lowest monthly discount rate in the PFI’s 17-year history.

In contrast to declining discount rates, assets outperformed expectations in 2017 with a cumulative investment gain of 11.47% (by comparison, the 2017 Pension Funding Study reported a 7.0% annualized expected rate of return). The 2017 funding ratio for the Milliman PFI plans ticked up from 83.3% at the end of 2016 to 84.1% as of December 31, 2017—despite the overall $2 billion decrease in funded status.

There are a few items on the radar for corporate pensions in 2018. We expect pension expenses to decrease by around $2.6 billion, thanks to last year’s stellar investment experience. And with the passage of tax reform, plan sponsors may decide to take a closer look at accelerating contributions with an eye toward further de-risking efforts.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.13% by the end of 2018 and 4.73% by the end of 2019) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 97% by the end of 2018 and 112% by the end of 2019. Under a pessimistic forecast (2.93% discount rate at the end of 2018 and 2.33% by the end of 2019 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 77% by the end of 2018 and 71% 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.

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.

Corporate pension funding up $7 billion in November, $41 billion in past three months

Milliman today released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. In November, these pensions experienced a $7 billion improvement, increasing for the third month in a row and bringing the total funded status gain to $41 billion since August 31. This three-month run marks the strongest performing period of 2017.

November’s improvement was the result of robust 0.82% investment gains and pension plan liabilities that remained stagnant as the corporate bond interest rate used to value those liabilities was flat for the month. The funded ratio for the Milliman 100 plans ticked up 0.4% to 85.2% as of November 30.

Barring a calamity in the next month, 2017 has been a stellar year with strong double-digit investment returns for corporate pensions. If discount rates can hold and December investment returns mirror the past 11 months, the funded ratio for these plans will end higher than it was in 2016. Should discount rates end the year with a strong uptick, this will result in more funding optimism as we turn the corner into the new year.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.32% by the end of 2018 and 4.92% 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 (3.02% discount rate at the end of 2018 and 2.42% by the end of 2019 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 78% by the end of 2018 and 71% by the end of 2019.

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.

Should DB plan sponsors sign up for paperless records management?

There are several pros and cons for defined benefit (DB) plan sponsors to consider before moving to a paperless records management system. The DB digest article “Paper records: Can we shred them yet?” by Milliman’s Stephanie Sorenson explores the advantages of converting to a paperless system. In the article, Stephanie also discusses the regulatory guidelines and administrative questions plan sponsors need to think about before making such a conversion.