Tag Archives: public pensions

Lackluster asset performance in Q2 drops public pension funding by $23 billion

Milliman has released the 2018 second quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation’s 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q2, these plans experienced a $23 billion loss in funding, largely due to a lackluster asset performance of 0.70% in aggregate. The plans earned approximately $45 billion for the quarter, below assumed investment returns reflected in liability calculations. This shortfall is exacerbated by $28 billion flowing out of the plans, as benefits paid out exceeded contributions coming in from employers and plan members. The PPFI funding ratio dipped slightly from 71.4% in Q1 2018 to 71.2% in Q2.

Without the strong investment performance we saw in 2017, it’s difficult for these public pensions to gain ground. If a plan’s benefits paid out exceed contributions coming in, reliance on the market is even more crucial to buttress funding.

As of June 30, 2018, the PPFI deficit stands at $1.448 trillion, the largest since the index began in September 2016. The total pension liability (TPL) topped the $5 trillion mark for the first time in Q2, at an estimated $5.025 trillion at the end of the quarter, up from $4.985 trillion at the end of Q1. Funded ratios did not move much this quarter, with one more plan dropping below the 90% funded mark; there are now just 14 plans above this mark, 26 plans whose funded ratios fall below 60%, and 11 plans remain below 40% funded.

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

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

Public pension funding falls back to 71.4% in the first quarter of 2018

Milliman has released the 2018 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, these plans experienced a $93 billion loss in funding, largely resulting from volatile equity markets that produced an aggregate -0.75% investment return for these plans. In comparison, the PPFI investment return for 2017 Q4 was 3.24%. From January 1, 2018, to March 31, 2018, the PPFI pensions saw their funded status drop from 73.1% to 71.4%.

After more than a year of running smoothly, the market stubbed its toe in Q1. As a result, much of last year’s robust pension funding gains were washed away in early 2018.

No plans in our index seem to have made it through the first quarter of 2018 unscathed, with estimated returns ranging from a low of -1.91% to a high of -0.03%; the Milliman 100 PPFI deficit grew from $1.332 trillion to $1.425 trillion during Q1. The losses resulted in six plans dropping below the 90% funded mark, with 15 plans now over 90% funded, down from 21 as of 2017 Q4. At the other end of the spectrum, 26 of the 100 plans now have funded ratios below 60%, with 10 plans that remain below 40% funded.

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

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

Public pension funding improves by $60 billion, funded ratio climbs to 73.1% in 2017 Q4

Milliman has released the 2017 fourth quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation’s 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q4, these plans experienced a $60 billion improvement in funded status, the result of the continued robust trend in equity returns in 2017. In aggregate, these plans saw investment returns of 3.24%, with a spread ranging from a low of 1.55% to a high of 4.32%. The funded ratio of the Milliman 100 PPFI climbed from 71.6% at the end of September to 73.1% as of December 31. The fourth quarter’s stellar investment returns helped propel five more public pensions across the 90% funded mark, bringing the total to 21 plans—over one-fifth of the PPFI—that have crossed that significant threshold.

While a lot of media attention has been paid to the recent market volatility in early February, it’s not a reason to panic when it comes to public pensions. Equity gains and losses are typically smoothed out over a number of years when calculating pension funding, making short-term market volatility less of a concern on funding than, say, interest rate assumptions—which carry greater long-term implications for these pensions.

The Milliman 100 PPFI total pension liability (TPL) increased from $4.908 trillion at the end of 2017 Q3 to an estimated $4.947 trillion at the end of Q4. 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 $3.517 trillion to $3.615 trillion during the same time period; and while investments brought in approximately $126 billion, the plans collectively paid out approximately $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.

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.

Public pension funding ticks upward in Q2 amid strong investment returns

Milliman today released the second quarter results of its Public Pension Funding Index (PPFI), which consists of the nation’s 100 largest public defined benefit pension plans. In Q2 2017, the funded ratio of these plans ticked upward, climbing from 72.0% at the end of March to 73.0% as of June 30, 2017. These plans saw their funded status improve by $33 billion for the quarter, the result of strong investment returns (measuring 3.06% in aggregate) that led public plan asset growth to outpace the rise in pension liabilities.

The Milliman 100 PPFI total pension liability (TPL) increased from $4.698 trillion at the end of Q1 to an estimated $4.737 trillion at the end of Q2. 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. The second quarter also saw four more Milliman 100 plans cross the 90% funded mark; as of the end of Q2, 19 plans have funded ratios above 90%, 60 have funded ratios between 60% and 90%, and 21 have funded ratios lower than 60%.

During the first half of 2017, the number of PPFI plans funded at 90% or above has almost doubled. But while strong market returns have helped plans across the board this spring, the lowest funded plans simply do not have enough dollars in the market for these favorable conditions to boost their funded ratios appreciably. In the absence of more contributions from plan sponsors, these poorly funded plans might find themselves in a position where benefit reforms are necessary in order to maintain their ability to pay benefits.

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