Pension Funding Index January 2015

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By John W. Ehrhardt, Zorast Wadia | 07 January 2015

The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined pension plans fell by $22 billion during December as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). In 2014, historically low interest rates were the dominant factor in the $105 billion deficit increase. Pension liabilities increased by $186 billion, while higher than expected investment returns produced an $81 billion gain. The funded ratio was 83.6% as of December 31, 2014, down compared with the ratio of 88.3% on December 31, 2013.

Discount rates dropped by 88 basis points to 3.80% at the end of 2014 from 4.68% at the end of 2013. The story for 2014 is very similar to that of 2012 with declining discount rates driving the funded ratio down despite investment gains of approximately 9.5% in both years. The funded status drop for the month of December was due to higher liabilities based on a decrease in corporate bond interest rates that are the benchmarks used to value pension liabilities and underperformance.

December’s $3 billion decrease in market value brings the Milliman 100 PFI asset value to $1.484 trillion, down from $1.487 trillion at the end of November, an investment gain of 0.06% for the month. Pension liabilities increased by $19 billion during December, raising the Milliman 100 PFI value to $1.775 trillion from $1.756 trillion at the end of November.

As for 2015, 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 3.80% were maintained during 2015 and 2016, it’s projected that the funded status of the surveyed plans would increase.