Ok, so I was getting asked about this the other day both in person and in the comments about why the pensions are really in such bad shape and what the latest GASB positions mean to the funds. GASB first.
I did some poking around and the recent GASB changes really mean nothing.
After six years of research and about 400 pages of text, GASB’s statements 67 and 68 do little to provide enough meaningful information about the potential retirement costs faced by the taxpayers. The statements will force the worst of the worse, such as Illinois, to recognize a much larger liability.
That’s like throwing the zombified Walking Dead under the bus to give the appearance of taking a serious step in providing transparency. Zombies are already dead. You can throw them under a bulldozer; it doesn’t make them more dead. …
The new standards still allow most pension funds to choose their discount rates when determining their pension liabilities. In other words, the sworn and civilian plans of the City of Los Angeles can wantonly throw caution to the wind and assume a 7.75% earnings assumption going forward, avoiding any consideration of risk.
via City Watch LA.
You can read the policy papers. It’s pages and pages of nonsense summarized nicely with the zombie analogy above.
But what the lastest GASB changes point out to us is the danger regarding the assumed internal rate of return.
Interest Rate Issue
For giggles I found the 2011 annual report of the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund. It’s 116 pages detailing a underfunded, mismanagement, no financial understanding pension time-bomb with some lipstick.
From page 13:
As of June 30, 2011, investments at fair value plus cash totaled $10,456,912,118. This reflects a 16.8% increase from the $8,949,590,783 value of June 30, 2010. The Fund’s investment performance rate of return for the year ended June 30, 2011, was 24.8%, exceeding the projected return of 8% and reflecting a 82.3% increase from the 13.6% performance rate of return as of June 30, 2010. The ten-year rate of return posted by the Fund for the period ended June 30, 2011, was 5.7%, and fell short of the actuarial assumption of 8%.
That’s a lot of information. I draw your attention to the incredible swings in the rate of return of the fund over the years. 24.8% one year, 13.6% another, however the 10-year average is a mere 5.7%. On page 25 we learn that the 5-year average is only 4.7%. Yikes!! But the fund assumes that over the long term it will average 8%.
But what does that mean? So what?
Well, the fund currently has net assets of $10.344 billion. When invested at the given rate of returns at the end of 5 years we have:
||Value @ 4.7%
||Value @ 5.7%
||Value @ 8%
If the next 5 years are like the past 5 years the fund will earn 4.7% on its assets. So in 5 years it will have $13.014 billion.
In the next 5 years are like the past 10 years the fund will earn 5.7% on its assets. So in 5 years it will have $13.646 billion.
However the plan assumes that over the next 5 years it will follow the 8% column and have $15.1 billion. History is against them.
If the fund earns 5.7% over the next 5 years it will be $1.55 billion short of projections. That’s 10% less money available.
If the fund earns 4.7% over the next 5 years it will be $2.18 billion short of projections. That’s 14% less money available.
If all the assumptions go on for 10 years:
||Value @ 4.7%
||Value @ 5.7%
||Value @ 8%
Earning 5.7% the fund is $4.33 billion short or 19.3%.
Earning 4.7% the fund is $5.95 billion short or 26.6%.
So if the next 10 years are anything like the past 10 years from an investment standpoint we can expect the all the state pension funds to have about 20% less money than they’re projecting. That could easily be another $40-50 billion that someone’s going to come looking for.
– – –
Now in all fairness, a historic average suggest that a return rate of 8% could be reasonable. i.e. These funds may be able to earn an 8% return in the next 5 years. Why?
Interest Rates & Inflation. In the last 5 – 10 years there has been very little inflation and interest rates have been low. That’s generally accepted to be a good thing. However it messes with the long-term analysis as to what something will be worth in the future.
Given the amount of debt carried by the Feds, and the quantitative easing (a/k/a money printing) that been happening, it’s safe to say that very soon interest rates are going to start going up… fast and dramatically.
When interest rates go up, the rate of return on these pension funds should go up as well. If they get close to the 8%, then we’ll only have to worry about the current short fall of billions and billions and billions.