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.

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