The funded status of the 100 largest corporate defined benefit pension plans worsened by $4 billion during August, as measured by the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index (PFI). Asset losses outweighed liability gains, which dropped the funding surplus to $43 billion. Pension liabilities fell due to an increase in the benchmark corporate bond interest rates used to value those liabilities. As of August 31, the funded ratio declined to 103.3% from 103.6% at the end of July.
The market value of PFI plan assets decreased by $27 billion because of August’s -1.55% investment return. The Milliman 100 PFI asset value dropped to $1.327 trillion as of August 31, 2023, from $1.354 trillion as of July 31, 2023. By comparison, the 2023 Milliman Pension Funding Study reported that the monthly expected investment return during 2022 was 0.47 (5.8% annualized). The full results of the annual 2023 study can be found at www.milliman.com/pfs.
The Milliman 100 PFI projected benefit obligation decreased by $23 billion during August, to $1.284 trillion. The change resulted from an increase of 16 basis points (bps) in the monthly discount rate, to 5.41% for August from 5.25% in July. August’s discount rate is 19 bps above the 5.22% discount rate seen at the start of 2023.
Over the last 12 months (September 2022-August 2023), the cumulative asset return for these plans was only 2.6%, yet the Milliman 100 PFI funded status deficit improved by $29 billion. This funded status gain is primarily the result of significant increases in discount rates over the past 12-month period. Discount rates increased by 80 bps to 5.41% from 4.61% one year ago. The funded ratio of the Milliman 100 plans improved over the past 12 months, to 103.3% from 101.0%.
|MV||PBO||FUNDED STATUS||FUNDED PERCENTAGE|
Note: Numbers may not add up precisely due to rounding
Figure 1: Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index — Pension surplus/deficit
Figure 2: Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index — Pension funded ratio
If the Milliman 100 PFI companies were to achieve the expected 5.8% average asset return (as per the 2023 PFS), and if the current discount rate of 5.41% were maintained during 2023 and 2024, we forecast that the funded status of the surveyed plans will increase. The funded status is projected to rise to a surplus of $48 billion (funded ratio of 103.8%) by the end of 2023 and to $66 billion (funded ratio of 105.2%) by the end of 2024. For purposes of this forecast, we have assumed 2023 and 2024 aggregate annual contributions of $25 billion.
Under an optimistic forecast, with rising interest rates (reaching 5.61% by the end of 2023 and 6.21% by the end of 2024) and asset returns of 9.8% per year, the funded ratio would climb to 107% by the end of 2023 and 120% by the end of 2024. Under a pessimistic forecast, with similar interest rate and asset movements (5.21% discount rate at the end of 2023 and 4.61% by the end of 2024 and 1.8% annual returns), the funded ratio would decline to 100% by the end of 2023 and 91% by the end of 2024.
Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index - August 2023 (all dollar amounts in millions)
Pension asset and liability returns
About the Milliman 100 monthly Pension Funding Index
For the past 23 years, Milliman has conducted an annual study of the 100 largest defined benefit pension plans sponsored by U.S. public companies. The Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index projects the funded status for pension plans included in our study, reflecting the impact of market returns and interest rate changes on pension funded status, utilizing the actual reported asset values, liabilities, and asset allocations of the companies’ pension plans.
The results of the Milliman 100 Pension Funding Index were based on the actual pension plan accounting information disclosed in the footnotes to the companies’ annual reports for the 2022 fiscal year and for previous fiscal years. This pension plan accounting disclosure information was summarized as part of the Milliman 2023 Pension Funding Study, which was published on April 20, 2023. In addition to providing the financial information on the funded status of U.S. qualified pension plans, the footnotes may also include figures for the companies’ nonqualified and foreign plans, both of which are often unfunded or subject to different funding standards than those for U.S. qualified pension plans. They do not represent the funded status of the companies’ U.S. qualified pension plans under ERISA.