Sources Pin DB Funded Status at 77% for October

Mercer data shows the funding ration as flat from September to October, while Wilshire and Legal & General Investment Management America show a slight uptick.

The estimated aggregate funding level of defined benefit (DB) pension plans sponsored by S&P 1500 companies remained at 77% at the end of October, as an increase in discount rates was offset by negative equity markets, according to Mercer data.

As of October 31, the estimated aggregate deficit of $530 billion represents a decrease of $21 billion as compared to the end of September. The aggregate deficit is up $126 billion from the $404 billion deficit measured at the end of 2015, Mercer notes.

The S&P 500 index lost 1.9% and the MSCI EAFE index lost 2.1% in October. Typical discount rates for pension plans as measured by the Mercer Yield Curve increased by 20 basis points to 3.66%.

“The past few months have been unusually quiet for pensions,” says Matt McDaniel, a partner in Mercer’s retirement business. “It could be that this is the calm before the storm, as markets await the outcome of next week’s elections. Plan sponsors who are worried about fluctuations in funded status would do well to have a plan in place to mitigate risks when the inevitable future shock occurs.”

According to Wilshire Consulting, the institutional investment advisory and outsourced-CIO business unit of Wilshire Associates Incorporated, the aggregate funded ratio for U.S. corporate pension plans increased by 0.5 percentage points to end the month of October at 77.5%, narrowing its year-to-date decline to 3.9 percentage points.

The monthly change in funding resulted from a 2.9% drop in liability values more than offsetting a 2.3% decrease in asset values. This narrowed the year-to-date decline in funding ratios, which has been driven by a 9% increase in liability values. 

“Asset values fell due to negative returns for most asset classes during the month. The fall in asset values was more than offset by the fall in liability values resulting from the significant rise in bond yields during the month. This is the fourth consecutive month of either flat or rising funded ratios,” says Ned McGuire, vice president and a member of the Pension Risk Solutions Group of Wilshire Consulting. “The Wilshire 5000 Total Market Index declined by just over 2% during the month, while rising corporate bond yields pushed liability values lower for the third consecutive month.”

NEXT: Plan sponsor actions

Legal & General Investment Management America (LGIMA) also estimates that pension funding ratios increased approximately 0.9% over October to 77.5%. Global equity markets decreased by 1.7% and the S&P 500 decreased 1.9%. LGIMA estimates plan discount rates rose 20 basis points, as Treasury rates rose 24 basis points and credit spreads tightened 4 basis points. Overall, liabilities for the average plan were down 2.4%, while plan assets with a traditional “60/40” asset allocation decreased by 1.3%.

LGIMA says there is continued interest and flows into customized liability hedging strategies by DB plan sponsors (liability benchmarking and completion management) driven by:

  • Volatile interest rate environment;
  • Little improvement in funding ratios despite the extended rally in equities;
  • Cost of being underfunded is going up due to increased Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) premiums; and
  • Greater interest in end-game solutions.

There is also increased use of derivative strategies to shape funded status outcomes. Plan sponsors are monetizing decisions already made within a glidepath utilizing swaption and equity option strategies; utilizing dynamic protection strategies; benefiting from market pricing dislocations (i.e. skew and calendar events); and using synthetic equity strategies.

LGIMA also says there is increased interest in synthetic risk premia (alternative beta) strategies for both hedge fund replication and/or factor completion. Institutional investors are increasingly looking to alternative allocations for diversification rather than “alpha.” Synthetic risk premia strategies offer similar exposures with greater transparency, lower fees, and increased liquidity, LGIMA contends.