Infographic: Pension liabilities continue to trouble Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut, New Jersey and others

Source: Moody’s Investors Service, October 3, 2019

Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) declined in states’ fiscal year 2018 reporting due to healthy investment returns in fiscal 2017, though unfunded pension liabilities remain high for some states.

Pension liabilities continue to trouble Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut, New Jersey and others

Medians – Adjusted net pension liabilities spike in advance of moderate declines
Source: Pisei Chea, Marcia Van Wagner, Timothy Blake, Nicholas Samuels, Emily Raimes, Tenzing T Lama, Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, August 27, 2019
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Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPL) spiked in states’ fiscal year 2017 reporting due to poor investment returns in fiscal 2016, according to our state pension medians data. States typically report their pension funding levels with a one-year lag. Thus, favorable investment returns in fiscal 2017-18 will lead to a decline in pension liabilities in fiscal 2018-19 reporting.

Adjustments to Pension and OPEB Data Reported by GASB Issuers, Including US States and Local Governments Methodology
Source: Moody’s, Cross Sector Methodology, October 7, 2019

Credit FAQ: How S&P Global Ratings Will Implement Pension And OPEB Guidance In U.S. Public Finance State And Local Government Credit Analysis
Source: S&P, October 7, 2019
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On Oct. 7, 2019, S&P Global Ratings published “Guidance: Assessing U.S. Public Finance Pension And Other Postemployment Benefit Obligations For GO Debt, Local Government GO Ratings, And State Ratings Methodology.” Here, we answer the most frequently asked questions from investors and other market participants.

Elsewhere, we have also provided an overview on our approach to U.S. state and local government pensions within the context of our three government criteria: See “Credit FAQ: Quick Start Guide To S&P Global Ratings’ Approach To U.S. State And Local Government Pensions,” published May 13, 2019.

U.S. State Pension Reforms Partly Mitigate The Effects Of The Next Recession Primary Credit
Source: Carol H Spain, S&P, September 26, 2019
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Table of Contents:
• Average State Funding Levels Plateau With Notable Exceptions
• Many States Continue With Pension Reforms, Avoiding Backward Measures
• Most States Still Fall Short Of Minimum Funding Progress
• Despite Reforms Despite Improved Assumptions, Plans Remain Vulnerable To Market Volatility
• Demographics Influence The Funded Ratio And Budgetary Vulnerability
• Pension Costs Remain Affordable For Most States, With Notable Exceptions
• Policy Decisions, Not Markets, Will Likely Pose Greatest Future Risks
• Survey Methodology
• Related Research

Despite investment gains in 2018, U.S. states have made relatively slow progress since the Great Recession in improving funded ratios, with S&P Global Ratings’ most recent survey data indicating that the average weighted pension status across state plans was 72.5% compared with 83% in 2007. However, looking at the funded ratios alone falls short of understanding whether or not states have made progress toward improving the overall pension funding picture. Indeed, poor investment returns in select years and maturing pension plan populations have stunted state funding progress. Also, in the years immediately following the Great Recession, many states had reduced plan contributions as a short-term means of balancing budgets, resulting in funding setbacks from which many have yet to recover.

However, in recent years, many states have made conservative changes to actuarial methods and assumptions that, while hindering actuarial funding ratios, show a more realistic assessment of market risk tolerance for states, thus better enabling them to make funding progress. We have also witnessed that many states have learned lessons from funding discipline mistakes over the past ten years and better understand sources of pension liability and costs, and have therefore demonstrated a commitment to actuarially based funding. In this sense, states may be better prepared heading into the next recession despite weaker funded ratios. Yet, in our view, despite some progress, many plans’ current contributions, discount rate assumptions, and investment allocations still fall short of fully mitigating the market volatility that increasingly appears to lie ahead….