Corporate Pension Funding Rises to 92.6%

The funded status of the typical U.S. corporate pension plan improved 1.7% in February to reach 92.6%, as most asset classes gained during the month.

The BNY Mellon Investment Strategy & Solutions Group (ISSG) notes that for February the gains in asset values outpaced the rise in liabilities, which resulted from falling interest rates. Year to date, the funded status of the corporate plans is down 2.6%, according to ISSG’s Institutional Scorecard.

”The financial status of pensions, endowments and foundations in February recovered a significant amount of the ground they lost in January, as most asset classes recovered,” says Andrew D. Wozniak, director of portfolio management and investment strategy for ISSG, based in New York. “Concerns about global growth fundamentals that had surfaced in January appeared to abate somewhat in February.  Commodities were the best performing asset class in February, rising 6.24%.”

For U.S. corporate plans, assets increased 3.3% and liabilities increased 1.4% during the month, according to ISSG. The increase in liabilities in February was due to an eight-basis-point decline in the Aa corporate discount rate to 4.58%. Plan liabilities are calculated using the yields of long-term investment grade bonds. Lower yields on these bonds result in higher liabilities.

For endowments and foundations, the real return for the month was 3%, which exceeded the target for spending plus inflation, says ISSG. Investments in commodities and real estate helped endowments and foundations to strong performance in February.

Mellon Capital Management, BNY Mellon’s San Francisco-based multi-asset manager, attributed the spike in commodities to unusual weather conditions in the U.S. and abroad, setting off concerns about potential grain shortages.

“We do not view the rise in commodities as a signal of future excessive inflation,” says Suzanne Ly, vice president, asset allocation portfolio management, Mellon Capital. “The strength in the commodity markets should abate as the weather normalizes and inflationary pressures remain low.”

Wozniak concludes that plan sponsors continue to show interest in strategies to hedge their portfolios against market volatility. “Many sponsors view the continuing financial strength of corporate pensions as an opportunity to lower the risks they face,” he says.