CalPERS Pension Return 1%. Illinois? Bloody Mess
Anne 18 July 2012 No Comment
[This article was syndicated via RSS from BackyardConservative. The views represented do not necessarily represent those of the Chicago Daily Observer.]LA Times:
The nation's two biggest public pension funds reported meager returns for the last fiscal year, raising the prospects that state and local governments and school districts may have to contribute more toward their workers' retirements.Ya think?
This is what Gov. Scott Walker foresaw and successfully fought to fix. They're on their way but not out of the woods yet. Other states in thrall to Big Union clout haven't even scratched the surface.
Most states use a discount rate of 8%. (Moody's is looking to shift to 5.5%) This is nuts, even if you were judging by the market returns on the assets, but the rate that should be used is the risk of the obligations:
As any individual who receives a passing grade in my finance courses should be able to explain, the appropriate discount rate to use when computing the present value of a stream of cash flows depends on the riskiness (generally defined as the correlation of those cash flows with the market) of those cash flows. In the context of pensions, the discount rate depends on the risk of the pension payments to beneficiaries. In many states – such as Illinois and California – there are strong constitutional protections in place that make already-accrued benefits risk free. Thus, what Novy-Marx and Rauh do in their research is to apply basic finance principles to come up with a more accurate measure of pension liabilities than what one gets from using official government statistics. Cate Long fell into the same trap that so many others have – including the Government Accounting Standards Board (about which I have previously blogged here and here) – of thinking that the right discount rate is a function of the risk of the assets, instead of the risk of the liabilities. As a result, she – like GASB – completely ignores an enormous implicit put option that is being dumped onto taxpayers. Her piece also contained other problems that are discussed Josh Rauh’s response.Of course who really thinks the state of Illinois paying its bills is a risk-free bet? It's been stiffing vendors for years and that's barely budged, despite the horrendous tax increase we endured last year. Illinois has even been raiding funds earmarked for charity by taxpayers in good faith, not to mention the Bright Start college fund fiasco:
Illinois' prepaid tuition program, a 12-year-old financial plan enabling children to attend state colleges at today's prices when they have grown up, has the deepest shortfall of any such fund in the United States and is plowing money into unconventional — and some financial experts say high-risk — investments to close the gap. The deficit of the College Illinois Prepaid Tuition Program also is far larger than the fund is declaring. Administrators recently adopted new calculations that mask its size. The performance of the $1.1-billion fund is crucial to ensuring that the prepaid plan's nearly 55,000 family participants get what they have paid for. That's because, unlike in five other states, Illinois doesn't promise to bail out the fund if it runs short of cash, contrary to what even some savvy investors and financial planners think. Instead, state law requires only that the governor ask the Legislature for help if the program can't meet its commitments. Lawmakers are under no obligation to act.Emphasis mine. Laugh or cry.
Northwestern Prof Rauh's paper in 2009 The Liabilities and Risks of State-Sponsored Pension Plans, I summarized from his table:
In 2009, for example, Illinois, with its 4 funds, had a stated obligation of $151.1 billion, but using the Treasury rate to discount it the underfunded obligation balloons to 284.8 billion.