Pension Funding Index February 2015

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By John W. Ehrhardt, Zorast Wadia | 05 February 2015

The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined pension plans fell by $90 billion during January as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). This decline was the eighth largest monthly drop in the 15-year history of the Milliman 100 PFI. The funded status deficit ballooned to $382 billion from $292 billion at the end of December 2014. Pension assets, however, had a monthly above-expected return. As of January 31, the funded ratio decreased to 79.6%, down from 83.5% at the end of December 2014.

The projected benefit obligation (PBO), or pension liabilities, increased to $1.876 trillion from $1.775 trillion at the end of December 2014. The change resulted from a decrease of 42 basis points in the monthly discount rate to 3.38% for January from 3.80% for December 2014. January’s discount rate is the lowest in the history of the Milliman 100 PFI. The market value of assets increased by $11 billion as a result of January’s investment return of 1.07%. The Milliman 100 PFI asset value rose to $1.493 trillion.

Over the last 12 months (February 2014 – January 2015), the cumulative asset return for these pensions has been 11.04%, but the Milliman 100 PFI funded status deficit has deteriorated by $135 billion. The funded ratio of the Milliman 100 companies has decreased over the past 12 months to 79.6% from 84.9%.

If the Milliman 100 PFI companies were to achieve the expected 7.4% (as per the 2014 Milliman Pension Funding Study) median asset return for their pension plan portfolios and the current discount rate of 3.38% was maintained in 2015 and 2016, we forecast that the funded status of the surveyed plans would increase. This would result in a projected pension deficit of $347 billion (funded ratio of 81.5%) by the end of 2015 and a projected pension deficit of $308 billion (funded ratio of 83.7%) by the end of 2016.