Moody’s: Modest Downside Could Spark $3 Trillion Surge In Pension Liabilities, by Tyler Durden

Trader’s intuition says the long festering debt and pension crisis will erupt soon, indeed, in Detroit, Puerto Rico, and Illinois, it already has.. From Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com:

Some very simplistic math from Moody’s helps to shed some light on just how inevitable a public pension crisis is in the United States.  Analyzing a basket of 56 public plans with net liabilities of $778 billion, Moody’s found that just a modest downside return scenario over the next three years (2017: +7.2%, 2018: -5.0%, 2019: 0%) would result in a 59% surge in new unfunded liabilities.  Moreover, given that total unfunded public pension liabilities are roughly $5 trillion in aggregate, this implies that a simple 5% drop in assets in 2018 could trigger a devastating ~$3 trillion increase in net liabilities.

Meanwhile, Moody’s found that even if the funds return 19% over the next three years then net liabilities would still increase by 15%.  Per Pensions & Investments:

In its report, Moody’s ran a sample of 56 plans with $778 billion in aggregate reported net pension liabilities through three different investment return scenarios. Due to reporting lags, most 2019 pension results appear in governments’ 2020 financial reporting, Moody’s noted. The plans had $1.977 trillion in trillion assets.

Under the first scenario with a cumulative investment return of 25% for 2017-’19, aggregate net pension liabilities for the 56 plans fell by just 1%. Under the second scenario with a cumulative investment return of 19% for 2017-2019, net pension liabilities rose by 15%. Under the third scenario with a 7.2% return in 2017, -5% return in 2018 and zero return in 2019, net pension liabilities rose by 59%.

In 2016, the 56 plans returned roughly 1% on average and would have needed collective returns of 10.7% to prevent reported net pension liabilities from growing.

Of course, as we pointed out before, the problem is that the pending doom surrounding these massive public pension obligations often get clouded over by complicated actuarial math with a plan’s funded status heavily influenced by discount rates applied to future liability streams.  Translation, they can “kick the can down the road” for a very long time before having to actually admit there’s a problem.

Take Chicago’s largest pension fund, the Municipal Employees Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago (MEABF), as an example.  Most people focus on a funds ‘net funded status’, which for the MEABF is a paltry 20.3%.  But the problem with focusing on ‘funded status’ is that it can be easily manipulated by pension administrators who get to simply pick the rate at which they discount future liabilities out of thin air.

To continue reading: Moody’s: Modest Downside Could Spark $3 Trillion Surge In Pension Liabilities

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