Softening Investment Expectations Signal Accelerating Budget Pressure from Pensions

Source: Thomas Aaron, Timothy Blake, Moody’s, Sector InDepth, State and Local Government – US, February 16, 2017
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State and local governments have held down annual pension contributions with high assumed discount rates, which in turn reflect high assumed returns on their pension assets. Generally, the higher the assumed discount rate, the lower the annual contribution requirement. Facing investment conditions that increasingly suggest lower future returns, however, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS, Aa2 stable) and many of its national peers are gradually lowering their assumed discount rates. Such moves will generally result in governments making higher pension contributions, incrementally improving their discipline in funding their pension promises earlier in time. But these higher contributions also mean that budgetary pressure from pensions, already on the rise in many cases, is accelerating. Meanwhile, pension investment volatility risk remains high.