Connecticut starts new year with better pension funding

Link: https://insideinvestigator.org/connecticut-starts-new-year-with-better-pension-funding/

Excerpt:

According to the latest valuations, Connecticut’s State Employees Retirement System (SERS) increased its overall funded ratio from 48.5 percent in 2022 to 52 percent in 2023, and the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) increased its funded ratio from 57 percent to 59.8 percent.

Although neither is considered healthy in terms of pension funding, it does mark a turnaround following years of increasing unfunded liabilities and, therefore, increasing annual payments toward the debt, increased taxes and contract negotiations with state employees that increased their contributions and lowered benefits to make up the difference.

Former Gov. Dannel Malloy had stated that Connecticut’s tax increases in 2011 and 2015 went entirely to pay for the escalating cost of state employee and teacher pensions.

While the year-over-year change seems somewhat small, the change in funding ratio over the past eight years is much more substantial. In 2016, SERS was only 36 percent funded with $20.3 billion in unfunded liabilities. While SERS continues to have roughly $20 billion in unfunded liabilities, its assets have grown by $10 billion during that period, significantly increasing the funding ratio.

Meanwhile, the unfunded liability for TRS has increased by $3.3 billion over that same time frame, but assets increased by nearly $8 billion, increasing the funded ratio from 56 percent to nearly 60 percent. The total unfunded debt for TRS currently stands at $16.4 billion.

Author(s): Marc E. Fitch

Publication Date: 2 Jan 2024

Publication Site: CT Inside Investigator

MBTA retirement fund is headed for a financial reckoning

Link: https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/06/19/opinion/mbta-retirement-fund-finances/

Excerpt:

The MBTA Retirement Fund is going over a cliff, and the reasons why are well known. But neither the T nor its unions are in a hurry to do anything about it.

The new MBTA Retirement Fund Actuarial Valuation Report shows the fund’s balance as of Dec. 31, 2022, was $1.62 billion — about $300 million less than what it was just 12 months earlier. Its liability — the amount it will owe current and future T retirees — is over $3.1 billion, meaning the fund is about 51 percent funded. In 2006, it was 94 percent funded. A “death spiral” generally accelerates when retirement system funding dips below 50 percent.

In April, the Pioneer Public Interest Law Center got the MBTA to hand over an August 2022 arbitration decision regarding a pension dispute between the T and its biggest union. It contained a critical win for the authority: Arbitrator Elizabeth Neumeier decided that most employees would have to work until age 65 to earn a full pension, saving the MBTA at least $12 million annually.

But the Carmen’s Union sued to invalidate that portion of the decision, and the parties returned to the bargaining table. The new pension agreement they hammered out doesn’t include the historic retirement age victory; T management negotiated it away.

….

As of Dec. 31, 2022, 5,555 active employees paid into the fund, but 6,783 retirees collected from it. The biggest reason for the mismatch is the age at which T employees retire. Those hired before December 2012 can retire with a full pension after 23 years of service, regardless of age. Those hired after December 2012 can retire with a full pension at age 55 after 25 years.

The arbitrator finally gave the MBTA the win it so desperately needed, and T management promptly gave it back. Many MBTA managers have long opposed changing the age at which employees can earn a full pension, fearing the reaction of T unions.

….

Hard as it may be to believe, the T retirement fund’s financial outlook is even worse than it appears. Financial projections assume the fund’s assets will earn 7.25 percent annually. Over time, actual returns have been more like 4 percent to 7 percent.

These misleading projections are based on other faulty assumptions. In her 2022 decision, Neumeier refused the MBTA’s request to use newer actuarial tables, ruling that changing would be costly and that there was no compelling reason to update the tables. The ones in place are from 1989 — so old that they assume all T employees are men. Since women tend to live longer, the tables materially understate the retirement fund liability.

Author(s): Mark T. Williams, Charles Chieppo 

Publication Date: 19 Jun 2023

Publication Site: Boston Globe

Public Pension Funding Status Rose in 2022, NCPERS Says

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/public-pension-funding-status-rose-in-2022-ncpers-says/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Capital markets had a tough time in 2022, but public pension funds managed to increase their funded status, according to a report from the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems

The funded ratio at public pension funds increased to 77.8% last year, compared with 74.7% in 2021, per a survey of almost 200 funds conducted by NCPERS, the largest trade association for public funds in the U.S. and Canada, in partnership with Cobalt Community Research.

The vast majority of survey respondents, 92%, represent defined benefit plans, 8% defined contribution plans, 10% combination plans and 5% cash balance plans. The total exceeds 100% because of multiple responses, according to NCPERS.

Public pension programs scored an average one-year return of around 11.4%. By contrast, the S&P 500 was down around 19% and the Bloomberg US Agg, which tracks bonds, was off 13% in 2022. Heavy concentration in real estate and private equity were the key to the funds’ outperformance, the report says.

The study’s findings highlight public pensions’ “resiliency in the face of volatile markets, rising interest rates, and disruption in the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Hank Kim, NCPERS executive director and general counsel, in a statement. “It’s clear that public pensions remain dedicated to maximizing returns while managing risks in order to efficiently deliver retirement benefits to public servants all over the country.”

Higher contribution income helped. Investment returns were the largest component of the gains, accounting for slightly more than two-thirds of them, but the stronger average member and employer contributions also played a role. Each rose by one percentage point, to 9% and 24%, respectively.

Author(s): Larry Light

Publication Date: 6 Feb 2023

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Impact of COVID-19 on Defined Benefit Pension Plan Funding

Link: https://www.theactuarymagazine.org/impact-of-covid-19-on-defined-benefit-pension-plan-funding/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Higher interest rates already have translated into higher discount rates for solvency and accounting valuations, which means good news (lower liabilities) for DB pension plans. The sensitivity of a pension plan’s liabilities to the discount rate used to determine their value depends on the demographics of the plan members, the type of valuation and level of discount rates being used. Generally, the “duration” for most pension plan liabilities (defined here as the percentage decrease in liabilities for a 1% increase in discount rates) will range from 10 to 25.

In the United States, the average accounting funded ratio increased from 94.6% in July 2021 to 104.5% in July 2022, according to the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index, despite significant decreases in plan assets during that time. This is because the average accounting discount rate (typically based on long-term, high-quality bond yields) increased from 2.59% to 4.25% during that same period, driving down accounting liabilities at a faster pace than asset losses. Figure 1 demonstrates this effect in more detail.

Author(s): John Melinte

Publication Date: November 2022

Publication Site: The Actuary at SOA

5500 – Central States – 2021

Link: https://burypensions.wordpress.com/2022/10/20/5500-central-states-2021/

Graphic:

Excerpt:

With the 5500 filing season done it is time to tentatively get back to some blogging – starting with the plan that was likely to bring the PBGC (and the entire private pension system) down before the SFA bailout and now will be another cog in the hyperinflation wheelbarrow.

We had some 5500 history in an earlier blog through 2016. This is where the plan was last year based on their 5500 filing for 2021:

Plan Name: Central States, Southeast & Southwest Areas Pension Plan

EIN/PN: 36-6044243/001

Total participants @ 12/31/21: 357,056 including:

  • Retirees: 189,449
  • Separated but entitled to benefits: 117,511
  • Still working: 50,096

Asset Value (Market) @ 1/1/21: 10,409,440,502

Value of liabilities using RPA rate (2.43%) @ 1/1/21: $58,623,837,073 including:

  • Retirees: $34,084,275,398
  • Separated but entitled to benefits: $15,801,905,005
  • Still working: $8,736,875,945

Funded ratio: 17.76%

Author(s): John Bury

Publication Date: 20 Oct 2022

Publication Site: burypensions

Appeals Court Rules In City’s Favor Following Challenge From The Houston Fire Firefighters’ Relief And Retirement Fund

Link: https://cityofhouston.news/appeals-court-rules-in-citys-favor-following-challenge-from-the-houston-fire-firefighters-relief-and-retirement-fund/

Excerpt:

Today, the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas reversed and rendered a decision in favor of the City of Houston against the Houston Firefighters’ Relief and Retirement Fund (HFRRF).

HFRRF had challenged the constitutionality of a Texas statute designed to reform the City’s firefighter pension system that ensures that the actuarial assumptions for determining the City’s contribution rates are based on sound actuarial principles and establishes a process for setting the contribution rate when the City’s and HFRRF’s proposed contribution rates differ by more than two percentage points.

“The City of Houston has consistently maintained the constitutionality of the historic pension reform and welcomes the appeals court ruling,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “The firefighters’ pension is now 93 percent funded – compared to just 80 percent funded pre-pension reform – and is actuarially sound. It is important to note that the three pension systems – municipal, police, and fire – are healthier today because of the pension reform we have put in place.”

The latest ruling is the second time the Court of Appeals has upheld the constitutionality of the statute reforming the firefighter pension system, making the pension system more secure for Houston’s firefighters, both now and in the future.

The estimated unfunded pension liability reached as high as $8.2 billion before the 2017 reforms. Today, the unfunded liability of the City’s three pension plans is less than $1.5 billion.

Author(s): MAYOR’S OFFICE FILED UNDER: MYR – OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

Publication Date: 30 Aug 2022 (updated 14 Sept 2022?)

Publication Site: City of Houston, Texas

The State Pension Funding Gap: Plans Have Stabilized in Wake of Pandemic

Link: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2021/09/the-state-pension-funding-gap-plans-have-stabilized-in-wake-of-pandemic

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Since the fiscal 2019 reporting period ended, an unprecedented $5 trillion in federal stimulus and other government interventions have buoyed financial markets and strengthened plan balance sheets.2 As a result, state plans earned returns of over 25% in fiscal 2021—a highwater mark not seen since the 1980s. Pew estimates that total unfunded liabilities dropped below $1 trillion by the end of fiscal 2021, which would push state plans to be more than 80% funded for the first time since 2008. (See Figure 1; for more detail, see also Appendix G.) The significant improvement in plans’ fiscal position is due in large part to dramatic increases in employer contributions to state pension funds in the past decade, which boosted assets by more than $200 billion. Since 2010, annual contributions to state pensions have increased by 8% annually, twice the rate of revenue growth. And for the 10 lowest-funded states, the yearly growth in employer contributions averaged 15% over this period. As a result, after decades of underfunding and market losses from risky investment strategies, for the first time this century states are expected to have collectively achieved positive amortization in 2020—meaning that payments into state pension funds were sufficient to pay for current benefits as well as reduce pension debt.

An increase in pension contributions of the size seen over the past decade signals a shift in budget priorities by state policymakers and a recognition that the costs of postponing obligations are untenable if left unaddressed. Although this has improved the outlook for state pension plans, it has also crowded out spending on other important programs and services and left states with less budgetary space to sustain future rises in pension payments.

Author(s): Greg Mennis, David Draine

Publication Date: 14 Sept 2022

Publication Site: Pew Trust

Measuring Public Pension Health

Link: https://www.ncpers.org/files/ncpers-pension-metrics-2022.pdf

Webinar slides: https://www.nirsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/FINAL-Pension-Health-Webinar-September-2022.pdf

Webinar video:

Graphic:

Excerpt:

This report describes a “scorecard”, a standardized summary of pension valuation results (shown on next page), as well as three new metrics, of varying degrees of novelty, to appear on it:


 The Scaled Liability is a measurement of pension liabilities against the size of the economy that supports these liabilities.
 The UAL Stabilization Payment (USP) is an objectively defined cash flow policy standard comparable to
the funding ratio, an objectively defined balance sheet policy standard.
 Risk-Weighting Assets is a proposed method to assess the value of a plan’s assets, taking into account
its capacity to endure the downside risk it has taken on through its allocation of investments.


Author(s): Tom Sgouros

Publication Date: September 2022

Publication Site: NCPERS

New Report Measures Public Pension Health

Link: https://www.ai-cio.com/news/new-report-measures-public-pension-health/

Excerpt:

The National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems recently released a report entitled “Measuring Public Pension Health: New Metrics, New Approaches” that introduces new mechanisms to account and judge the sustainability of pension plans.

To create these, the report’s author, Tom Sgouros, fellow and co-chair at The Policy Lab at Brown University, formed and hosted the Pension Accounting Working Group, a group made up of actuaries and public pension experts. The group assembled to measure the health of plans, and create new metrics to generate greater insights into a pension’s sustainability, so that trustees and policymakers could make better and more informed decisions.

The working group came up with three new metrics. The first is “scaled liability,” a measurement of pension liabilities against the size of the underlying supporting economy. The second is “unfunded actuarial liability (UAL) stabilization payment,” an objectively defined cash-flow policy standard comparable to the funding ratio. And last is “risk-weighting asset values,” a method to assess the value of a plan’s assets that accounts for a plan’s capacity to endure the downside risk it has taken through the allocation of its assets.

The scaled liability measurement uses economic strength as a proxy for tax capacity. This measurement helps decisionmakers get a read on a plan’s sustainability by providing a comparison between a pension plan and the economic strength of its sponsor. The Federal Reserve includes a comparison of net pension liability with measures of GDP and state revenues in the “Enhanced Financial Accounts” component of its “Financial Accounts of the United States” report.

Author(s): Dusty Hagedorn

Publication Date: 23 Sept 2022

Publication Site: ai-CIO

Retirees plead for extra pension funding in new state budget

Link: https://newschannel20.com/news/local/retirees-plead-for-extra-pension-funding-in-new-state-budget

Excerpt:

Retired public service workers gathered Monday to urge lawmakers to put more money into state pension funds.

The pension situation in Illinois is often referred to as a crisis because as of June 2021, the unfunded pension liabilities were almost $140 billion, according to a Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability report.

That is money the state has promised to retirees who say they need it to live.

There’s a proposal in this year’s budget to put half a billion dollars toward pension debt on top of the required payments from the state.

Author(s): Jordan Elder

Publication Date: 7 Mar 2022

Publication Site: News Channel 20

Riverside County’s Unfunded Pension Gap Closes

Link: https://patch.com/california/lakeelsinore-wildomar/rivcos-unfunded-pension-gap-closes-report

Excerpt:

It noted the county’s retirement apparatus is now 76.4 percent funded, compared to 71 percent a year ago. The key metric that reflects a sound pension system is considered 80 percent funded status.

The county’s unfunded pension gap is $2.24 billion, compared to $2.49 billion estimated in the prior year, according to PARC.

Publication Date: 1 Mar 2022

Publication Site: Patch.com

Providence Pension Working Group

Link:https://www.providenceri.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/01/PVDPensionWorkingGroup_Jan312022.pdf

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Decisions made more than 30 years ago drive challenges. The seeds of the City’s
pension problems were sown more than three decades ago when the City promised
unsustainable benefit increases to members of the retirement system without
funding the associated annual Actuarily Determined Contribution (ADC).2


The severity of the situation makes Providence an outlier. The City of Providence’s
Employee Retirement System (ERS) is among the lowest funded pension plans in
the nation. Since 1991, the City’s unfunded pension liability increased by more than
$1 billion. In addition to the pension liabilities, and over and above the pension
shortfall, the City’s retiree health benefits are underfunded by approximately $1.1
billion.3
The unfunded liability of the ERS drives costs to City that outpace revenue
growth, limiting investments in other priorities. As of June 30, 2020, the ERS was
only 22.2 percent funded.4 Total pension liabilities equated to $8,518 per resident –
of which $6,629 is not funded.5 In the last twenty years, the City’s unfunded liability
per capita increased by $4,000 per resident.

Publication Date: January 2022

Publication Site: Providence RI