22 September 2021

U.S. Corporate Pension Funding Inches Up in April – 3 Reports

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Funding ratios for U.S. corporate pension plans increased in April, according to reports from Wilshire Associates, Legal & General Investment Management America and Mercer.

All three firms noted strong equity markets as the primary driver for the increases, partially offset by a decrease in discount rates leading to rising liability values.

Wilshire's monthly report said U.S. corporate pension plans' aggregate funding ratio rose 0.6 percentage points to 92.9% in the month ended April 30. The change was the result of a 2.2-percentage-point increase in asset values partially offset by a 1.7-percentage-point increase in liability values.

April's funding ratio was the highest Wilshire had estimated since September 2018, said Ned McGuire, managing director and a member of the investment management and research group of Wilshire Associates, in a news release announcing the results.

"April's increase in funded ratio was driven by positive monthly returns for nearly all asset classes, led by the Wilshire 5000 Total Market index, due to optimism around states beginning to reopen and improving economic data," Mr. McGuire said.

LGIMA found in its monthly pension solutions monitor that the funding ratio of a typical corporate pension plan increased by 0.4 percentage points to 91.1% in April. LGIMA estimated U.S. Treasury rates fell by 12 basis points while credit spreads tightened by 8 basis points, resulting in the average discount rate dropping by 20 basis points.

Liabilities for the typical plan increased by 2.6%, while plan assets with a traditional 60% equity/40% bond asset allocation increased by about 3%, LGIMA said.

Finally, as measured by Mercer, the monthly estimated aggregate funding ratio of defined benefit plans sponsored by S&P 1500 companies increased by 1 percentage point to 96% as of April 30 because of continued strong performance of equity markets, partially offset by a drop in discount rates to 2.89% from 3.01%.

The estimated aggregate deficit of pension fund assets of S&P 1500 companies totaled $102 billion as of April 30, down $118 billion from the end of March.

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