Moody’s: Strong Returns Can’t Keep Up With Obligations

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

Moody’s released a strongly-worded report today on the state of public pension funds in the U.S. The report claimed that strong investment returns haven’t improved the funding gap facing pension systems, because unfunded liabilities have grown even more than assets.

From Bloomberg:

The 25 largest U.S. public pensions face about $2 trillion in unfunded liabilities, showing that investment returns can’t keep up with ballooning obligations, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

The 25 biggest systems by assets averaged a 7.45 percent return from 2004 to 2013, close to the expected 7.65 percent rate, Moody’s said in a report released today. Yet the New York-based credit rater’s calculation of liabilities tripled in the eight years through 2012, according to the report.

“Despite the robust investment returns since 2004, annual growth in unfunded pension liabilities has outstripped these returns,” Moody’s said. “This growth is due to inadequate pension contributions, stemming from a variety of actuarial and funding practices, as well as the sheer growth of pension liabilities as benefit accruals accelerate with the passage of time, salary increases and additional years of service.”

U.S. states and cities are contending with underfunded worker retirement systems. The 18-month recession that ended in June 2009 wiped out asset values and forced cuts to contributions. Now, liabilities are crowding out spending for services, roads and schools.

For the report, Moody’s gathered data on the 25 largest pension funds in the country, which control about 40 percent of all pension assets in the U.S..

The New York Common Retirement Fund had the best average return over the past 10 years. The fund returned 8.67 percent annually.


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