We are pleased to share with you the Q4’21 Ryan ALM Pension Monitor, which is a look at how pension assets and liabilities performed during 2021. As you will note, there are significant differences in the relationship of assets to liabilities based on the type of plan. Corporate pension plans use a FAS (ASC 715) AA corporate discount rate to value pension liabilities. Using this approach produces a -4.6% return for pension liabilities in 2021 for a pension plan with a 12-year duration. Despite lower returns among the average corporate plan due to their much greater fixed income exposure (P&I’s asset allocation survey of the top 1,000 plans), corporate plan assets outperformed plan liabilities by 12.5%.
Public and multiemployer plans that use the return on asset assumption (ROA) for their liability discount rate don’t benefit from the rising US interest rate environment, as liability growth is a static or plugged number. We are using 7.25% as the average discount rate among these plan types. Given the 7.3% return on liabilities in 2021 for plans using this ROA discounting methodology, assets only outperformed liabilities by 6.5% for public plans and 6.3% for multiemployer plans. As a reminder, liabilities are bond-like in nature and move daily with changes in the interest rate environment. The 39-year bull market for bonds crushed pension funding, as US interest rates plummeted causing the PV of liabilities to grow significantly. We may very well be entering a period of time that will prove beneficial to Pension America as liability growth could be muted as rates rise. But will public and multiemployer plans even notice?
Lastly, the primary objective for any pension plan should be to SECURE the promised benefits in a cost-efficient manner and with prudent risk. The only way that this can be achieved is through cash flow matching of assets versus the plan’s liability cash flows. Not focusing on or masking the true value of a plan’s liabilities makes this process nearly impossible.