The funding ratio of state pension plans rose 2.8 percentage points to 70.2% in fiscal year 2017, according to Wilshire Consulting.
A year ago, Wilshire Consulting’s annual state funding report uncovered a funding ratio of 67.4%, and this year’s increase notably reverses two consecutive years of aggregate funded ratio declines.
“A primary driver of the improvement in the funding ratio was the increase in global equity values for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2017,” notes Ned McGuire, managing director and a member of the Pension Risk Solutions Group of Wilshire Consulting. “In fact, the estimated aggregate asset value is the highest since Wilshire began reporting on state retirement system funding levels.”
According to the report, for the 71 state-based retirement systems that reported actuarial data for 2017, pension assets grew by over 9% to reach $3,170 billion, from $2,901.7 billion in 2016. The aggregate Total Pension Liability (TPL) increased nearly 5% to $4,518 billion, from $4,304 billion in 2017.
Despite the increase in aggregate TPL, the aggregate shortfall is estimated to have decreased by $54 billion to $1,348 billion, down from $1,402. This decline in the aggregate shortfall is the result of the significant increase in aggregate assets to $3,170 billion, from $2,901.7 billion, Wilshire says.
Discount rates have trended lower over the past several years. This trend continued this year as nearly half of the plans studied lowered their discount rate. The range for discount rates in 2017 was 4.21% to 8.00% with a median of 7.25%, which is down 25 basis points from 2016.
Asset allocation varies greatly by retirement system. In aggregate, state pension plans had allocations to equity, including private equity, equal to 57.6% in 2017. Allocations to fixed income were equal to 22.8%, with the remaining 19.8% allocated to real assets, alternatives and cash.
The Wilshire 2018 Report on State Retirement Systems: Funding Levels and Asset Allocation is based on data gathered by Wilshire Consulting from the most recent financial and actuarial reports issued by 130 retirement systems sponsored by the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Of the 130 systems studied, 71 systems reported actuarial values on or after June 30, 2017 and the remaining 59 systems last reported prior to that date.