Declining discount rates drive corporate funded status down by $10 billion in April

Milliman has released the results of its latest Pension Funding Index (PFI), which analyzes the 100 largest U.S. corporate pension plans. Despite strong investment returns of 0.84%, in April the deficit for these pension plans increased from $247 billion to $257 billion, the result of a decrease in the benchmark corporate bond rates used to value pension liabilities. The funded ratio for these pensions fell from 85.3% to 84.9% over the same time period.

Tracking these pensions lately has been like watching a game of ping pong. Robust investment returns are in a rally with interest rates, and in this metaphor we’re all waiting on interest rates to advance the game.

Looking forward, under an optimistic forecast with rising interest rates (reaching 4.28% by the end of 2017 and 4.88% by the end of 2018) and asset gains (11.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would climb to 93% by the end of 2017 and 107% by the end of 2018. Under a pessimistic forecast (3.48% discount rate at the end of 2017 and 2.88% by the end of 2018 and 3.0% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 80% by the end of 2017 and 73% 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.

Public pensions regain ground lost in Q4, experience $78 billion improvement in funded status

Milliman has released the first quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation’s 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q1 2017, the funded ratio of these plans regained ground lost at the end of last year, climbing from 70.1% at the end of December to 72.0% as of March 31, 2017. These plans saw their funded status improve by $78 billion for the quarter, the result of strong investment returns (measuring 4.29% in aggregate) that led public plan asset growth to outpace the rise in pension liabilities.

Thanks to robust market performance in Q1, the funded ratios for our Milliman 100 plans improved across the board, with five additional pensions crossing the 90% funded mark. And while quarterly investment returns dwarfed those of Q4, the wide range in performance—from a low of 2.12% to a high of 5.06%—highlights the challenge that lies ahead for many poorly funded plans.

Of the Milliman 100 plans, 15 have funded ratios above 90%, 64 have funded ratios between 60% and 90%, and 21 have funded ratios lower than 60%. The Milliman 100 PPFI total pension liability (TPL) increased from $4.659 trillion at the end of Q4 to an estimated $4.698 trillion at the end of Q1. 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.

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

Multiemployer pension funding levels experience slight uptick overall, but poor plans grow poorer

Milliman has released the results of its Spring 2017 Multiemployer Pension Funding Study, which analyzes the funded status of all multiemployer pension plans. As of December 31, 2016, these plans have an aggregate funding percentage of 77%, a 1% increase since June 2016. During that six-month period, the market value of assets increased by $17 billion while pension liabilities increased by $13 billion, resulting in a $4 billion decrease in the aggregate funding status shortfall.

But results vary by plan; while noncritical plans experienced an aggregate funding percentage of nearly 85%, the funding level for critical plans is under 60%. The gap continues to widen between critical and noncritical plans. While the funding percentage of healthier plans has increased slightly, critical plans have seen no appreciable increase. Persistent strong returns would be needed to see any appreciable improvement in funded status.

A closer look into how contributions are distributed shows that plans facing severe funding challenges only spend 38 cents of each contribution dollar on new benefit accruals, while 50 cents of every dollar goes to pay down funding shortfalls. Healthier plans spend 56 cents per contribution dollar on benefit accruals and 32 cents on funding shortfalls. The remaining 12 cents in both scenarios is spent on expenses.

This is the first of three pension funding studies Milliman will be releasing this week. To view the complete study, click here. To receive regular updates of Milliman’s pension funding analysis, contact us here.

Administrative tips for lump-sum window offerings

Lump-sum windows can present a “win-win” scenario for both defined benefit (DB) pension plan sponsors and participants. Sponsors can decrease their Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums by reducing the amount of participants within a plan. On the other side, participants in need of cash can benefit from a lump-sum payout.

Before implementing a lump-sum window, sponsors must first consider the various administrative aspects related to such an offering. The DB Digest article “Lump-sum windows: Administrative tips to consider” by Nicholas Pieper highlights these nine administrative tips that can help plan sponsors with the process.

• Identify the eligible population
• Clean up the data
• Seek legal counsel assistance
• Determine the duration of your window
• Set a manageable deadline
• Deliver an announcement mailing
• Anticipate participant inquiries
• Create the ultimate lump-sum window packet
• Prepare for special circumstances

To learn more about lump-sum windows, click here.

TIPS vs. dividends: Inflation deliberation

Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS, are often considered the ideal risk-free investment in retirement. Their government backing virtually eliminates credit risk, and the consumer price index (CPI) adjustment on the principal ensures that its value will rise with inflation. Milliman consultant Joe Becker offers more perspective at MRIC.com.

Health and welfare plan considerations for M&As

This blog post is the third in a series of six that will highlight considerations for and the impacts of employee benefit plans on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions. Click here for additional blogs in this series. To learn how Milliman consultants can help your organization with the employee benefits aspects of M&As, click here.

When considering health and welfare benefit plans as part of a merger or acquisition, remember that the due diligence you complete can impact the purchase price, uncover hidden risks, and be a critical component in the new company’s benefits strategy. Here are three steps you can take up-front to help ensure a smooth transaction and integration.

1. INITIAL DUE DILIGENCE REVIEW
A sound due diligence analysis will allow the buyer to make informative, data-driven decisions. A good analysis identifies items, such as a realistic evaluation of the cost of the health and welfare plan(s) being acquired, the baseline risk profile between the buyer and seller, an understanding of plan administration processes, including reporting and compliance risks, and any hidden risks, such as large claims or pending litigation. Specifically, this analysis should:

  • Assess the seller’s existing compliance documentation and administration
    • Plan documentation, participant notifications, and required notices
    • Collective bargaining agreements
    • Documentation of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) nondiscrimination rules compliance
    • ERISA compliance in accordance with fiduciary, plan administration, and reporting/disclosure rules
  • Identify potential liabilities, such as:
    • Benefit commitments to employees, retirees, bargaining groups, executives, and terminated business units (this may require a review of employment practices as well as formal programs)
    • Vendor relationships—contractual commitments, lawsuits regarding plan administration, and performance-related payments
    • Financial liabilities—post-retirement benefit plans, incurred but not reported (IBNR) claims calculations for health plans, claims liabilities (large claims), and tax/regulatory penalties
    • Other benefits—vacation/sick leave, severance plans
  • Include retiree health commitments and other coverage as promised by seller
    • Duration/extent of commitments and the extent of “vested” benefits as well as the buyer’s ability to amend or terminate the commitments
    • Analysis of whether retiree benefit commitments are fully insured or self-funded
    • Funded status of retiree commitments and coverages
  • Compare benefit plan designs between buyer and seller to assess potential impact of plan design differences and different levels and types of benefits offered by both organizations

2. PLANNING FOR POST-MERGER CONSOLIDATION
After a sound due diligence analysis, it’s important to determine how the benefits for the post-acquisition organization should be structured. An experienced consultant can help guide you through the evaluation process, developing solutions that fit the requirements of the new company. Here are some things to consider as you optimize your new company benefits strategy:

  • How do the workforce requirements and employee demographics vary?
  • How large is the gap between the two organizations’ benefit programs (considering plan design, cost variations, vendor differences, etc.)?
  • How different are the two company cultures and how do the benefit plans reflect those cultures?
  • To what degree should benefit design and administration vary across subsidiaries or business lines?
  • Should benefit plan administration be outsourced, co-sourced, or handled internally?

3. MANAGING THE MERGED ORGANIZATION
Once the deal closes, it’s time to look to the future and execute an optimized benefits strategy for the new company. Depending on the business decisions considered above, the buyer may steer toward a particular future benefits strategy for the combined company. Below are two possible benefits strategies and considerations for each.

  • Maintain separate plans: In a decentralized organization with multiple business units, this may be the preferred approach. It will be important to evaluate the impact of the controlled group rules when setting up the compliance strategy in this situation. A thorough review of all plan documents, contracts, and practices will be key to determine if plan amendments or other changes will be necessary. Division of responsibilities between the buyer and seller with respect to contributions, reporting, and administrative duties relating to the current plan year and the preceding plan year will need to be determined. The buyer will need to consider whether it wants to take the responsibility for the prior operation of a plan. This would include any penalties from prior violations, including minimum funding rules, reporting and disclosure rules, compliance with ERISA, etc.
  • Integrate plans—terminate seller’s plan and integrate seller’s employees into buyer’s plan: This strategy provides for the most cohesiveness and integration among all employees involved. It allows for greater leverage with vendor negotiations. Consideration should be given to “right to change” or “termination of benefits” provisions within the seller’s existing medical benefits program (e.g., retiree medical benefits). Consolidation of vendors could be a major task. Lastly, consideration must be given for midyear plan changes and whether they will prompt items such as termination penalties and runoff termination liabilities. Overall, there are many health and welfare factors to be considered in an M&A transaction. To the extent these health and welfare factors create a liability to the buyer, it should decrease the purchase price. Similarly, if these factors represent a hidden asset of the seller, an increased purchase price may be appropriate.