Union Pension Underfunding Time-Bomb Soars By 75% In One Year, Nears $400 Billion
April 9, 2012 by admin
The shortfall in US labor union pension funds is huge and growing rapidly. The latest data, from 2009, from the PBGC showed that these multi-employer plans were 48% underfunded with $331bn of assets to support $686bn of liabilities – and it has hardly been a good ride for those asset values since then. Critically, as the FT notes today, recent changes by FASB has enabled Credit Suisse to estimate shortfalls more accurately and it paints an ugly picture. The critical difference between reality and what is being reported is the ability for firms to use actuarial ‘facts’ to discount liabilities or compound assets at a 7.5% annual growth rate – as opposed to the sad reality of a financially repressed investing environment where returns swing from +20% to -20% in a flash forcing all funds into market timers and not long-term buy-and-hold growth players. These multi-employer pension schemes cover over 10 million people concentrated in industries with highly unionized workforces such as construction, transport, retail and hospitality but of the shortfall only $43bn lies with firms of the S&P 500 – leaving the bulk of the burden on small- and medium-sized businesses once again. It seems the number and size of unfunded (implicitly government) liabilities continues to rise or does this force pensions to follow Ben’s path and increase exposure to hedge funds (which are underperforming in this serene rally so far this year) in an effort to meet these hurdle rates? Either way it appears this under-appreciated drag on the real-economy as one after another small-, medium-, and large- (Safeway faces shortfalls larger than its market cap) businesses will need to eat into earnings to fund this shortfall.