Category Archives: Pensions

Detroit’s bond redemption a credit positive step toward addressing rising fixed costs

Source: David Levett, Rachel Cortez, Alexandra S. Parker, Moody’s, Issuer Comment, March 21, 2018
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The retirement of $52 million of principal and $2 million of interest on its financial recovery bonds is the latest example of the city’s effort to strengthen its financial position as it prepares for a $140 million increase in pension contributions in fiscal 2024.

U.S. tax law fuels changes to employee benefit and compensation programs

Source: Willis Towers Watson, February 21, 2018

Willis Towers Watson’s recent pulse survey on impacts from the new tax law reveals that the most common changes organizations have made or are planning or considering include expanding personal financial planning, increasing 401(k) contributions, and increasing or accelerating pension plan contributions. Other potential changes include increasing the employer health care subsidy, reducing or holding flat the employee payroll deduction, or adding a new paid family leave program in accordance with the Family Medical and Leave Act’s tax credit available for paid leave for certain employees.

Related:
Press Release

Milliman Analysis: Public pension funded ratio surges to 73.1% in Q4

Source: Rebecca A. Sielman, Milliman, February 2018

From the summary:
In the fourth quarter, there was a $60 billion improvement in the estimated funded status of the 100 largest U.S. public pension plans as measured by the Milliman 100 Public Pension Funding Index. From the end of September through the end of December, the deficit shrank from $1.392 trillion to $1.332 trillion. As of December 31, the funded ratio stood at 73.1%, up significantly from 71.6% at the end of September.

Related:
Milliman analysis: Corporate pensions’ $61 billion funding gain in January may cushion early February market slide
Source: Charles J. Clark, Zorast Wadia, Milliman, February 2018

From the summary:
In January, the funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans improved by $61 billion as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). As of January 31, the funded status deficit narrowed to $221 billion due to investment and liability gains incurred during January. As of January 31, the funded ratio rose to 87.2%, up from 84.1% at the end of December. January’s impressive funded status improvement was greater than that seen in any of the prior months of 2017.

The market value of assets grew by $13 billion as a result of January’s investment gain of 1.20%. The Milliman 100 PFI asset value increased to $1.505 trillion from $1.492 trillion at the end of December. The projected benefit obligation decreased to $1.725 trillion at the end of January.

Over the last 12 months (February 2017-January 2018), the cumulative asset returns for these pensions has been 11.88% and the Milliman 100 PFI funded status deficit only improved by $50 billion. The funded ratio of the Milliman 100 companies has increased over the past 12 months to 87.2% from 83.8%.

Retirement Reform Lessons: The Experience of Palm Beach Public Safety Pensions

Source: Diane Oakley, Issue Brief, February 2018

From the summary:
A new case study examines the impacts of the actions of the Town of Palm Beach when substantial changes were made to the retirement plans offered to the town’s employees. The case study details the 2012 decision by the Palm Beach Town Council to close its existing defined benefit (DB) pension systems for its employees, including police officers and firefighters. Retirement Reform Lessons: The Experience of Palm Beach Public Safety Pensions outlines how the “combined” retirement plans offered dramatically lower DB pension benefits and new individual 401(k)-style defined contribution (DC) retirement accounts. Following a large, swift exodus of public safety employees to neighboring employers that increased costs in human resource areas, the town reconsidered the changes. In 2016, the Town Council voted to abandon the DC plans and to improve the pension plan.

The Attack on Workers’ Retirement

Source: Dean Baker, Labor Notes, January 12, 2018

While many current retirees are reasonably comfortable because they have pensions, the future does not look bright for those yet to retire.

Traditional defined-benefit pensions are rapidly disappearing in the private sector—less than 15 percent of workers have them. Most public sector workers still have them—more than 20 million are either now receiving or looking forward to a pension. However, public sector pensions are coming under attack from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and other right-wing groups.

Over the last four decades employers have been anxious to convert the traditional defined-benefit pensions into defined-contribution 401(k) plans.

The difference is that with a defined benefit, the worker is secure while the employer does not know exactly how much it will have to pay in. Workers are guaranteed a lifetime benefit based on their salary and years of service; the employer’s bill depends on the worker’s longevity and on stock market performance.

With a defined-contribution plan, the employer knows just how much it will pay each year, and the worker shoulders all the uncertainty. This means that workers face the risk that the market will plunge just after they retire—and they may quite possibly outlive their savings.

By getting rid of defined-benefit plans, employers are transferring risk to workers. In addition, they often contribute less to a defined-contribution plan than to the defined-benefit plans they replaced, in effect cutting workers’ pay. ….

Adjustments to US State and Local Government Reported Pension Data

Source: Moody’s, December 19, 2017
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This cross-sector rating methodology replaces the Adjustments to US State and Local Government Reported Pension Data methodology published in April 2013. We have updated the description of our standard balance sheet adjustment and included a description of our standard income statement adjustment. Both of these reflect the implementation of Governmental Accounting Standards Board Statement 68 accounting standards, which requires adjustments that were not previously necessary. We have retired the concept of amortizing adjusted net pension liabilities on a level dollar basis over 20 years, a cost metric not included in any scorecards of primary rating methodologies. We have also added a description of how we calculate the “tread water” indicator….

Pension risks remain high for most of the 50 largest local governments

Source: Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, December 14, 2017
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Adjusted net pension liabilities (ANPLs) rose in fiscal 2016 for 42 of the 50 largest local governments, ranked by debt outstanding. Pension pressures will remain elevated due to coming ANPL spikes in 2017, even with moderate declines expected to follow in fiscal 2018. Most governments are contributing insufficient amounts to contain growth in net liabilities, and some are exposed to sizeable investment losses in the event of a market downturn. Retiree healthcare and other post-employment benefit (OPEB) liabilities are also significant for a handful of governments, and will likely increase due to lower discount rates under new accounting….

How Have Municipal Bond Markets Reacted to Pension Reform?

Source: Jean-Pierre Aubry, Caroline V. Crawford, Alicia H. Munnell, Center for State and Local Government Excellence, October 2017

From the summary:
This issue brief examines whether state and local borrowing costs have become more sensitive to pensions since the financial crisis.

The brief’s key findings include:
Rating agencies have begun to explicitly account for pensions in their methodologies;
Several governments have experienced downgrades attributable, in part, to their pension challenges;
Pension funded status can have a meaningful impact on the borrowing costs for a municipality; and
Adequate funding, monitoring, and management of public pensions should be an important component of state and local governments’ fiscal management.