Pension Crisis In U.S. and Globally Is Unavoidable
by Lance Roberts
There is a really big crisis coming.
Think about it this way. After 8 years and a 230% stock market advance the pension funds of Dallas, Chicago, and Houston are in severe trouble.
But it isn’t just these municipalities that are in trouble, but also most of the public and private pensions that still operate in the country today.
Currently, many pension funds, like the one in Houston, are scrambling to slightly lower return rates, issue debt, raise taxes or increase contribution limits to fill some of the gaping holes of underfunded liabilities in their plans. The hope is such measures combined with an ongoing bull market, and increased participant contributions, will heal the plans in the future.
This is not likely to be the case.
This problem is not something born of the last “financial crisis,” but rather the culmination of 20-plus years of financial mismanagement.
An April 2016 Moody’s analysis pegged the total 75-year unfunded liability for all state and local pension plans at $3.5 trillion.
That’s the amount not covered by current fund assets, future expected contributions, and investment returns at assumed rates ranging from 3.7% to 4.1%. Another calculation from the American Enterprise Institute comes up with $5.2 trillion, presuming that long-term bond yields average 2.6%.
With employee contribution requirements extremely low, averaging about 15% of payroll, the need to stretch for higher rates of return have put pensions in a precarious position and increases the underfunded status of pensions.
With pension funds already wrestling with largely underfunded liabilities, the shifting demographics are further complicating funding problems.
One of the primary problems continues to be the decline in the ratio of workers per retiree as retirees are living longer (increasing the relative number of retirees), and lower birth rates (decreasing the relative number of workers.) However, this “support ratio” is not only declining in the U.S. but also in much of the developed world. This is due to two demographic factors: increased life expectancy coupled with a fixed retirement age, and a decrease in the fertility rate.
In 1950, there were 7.2 people aged 20–64 for every person of 65 or over in the OECD countries. By 1980, the support ratio dropped to 5.1 and by 2010 it was 4.1. It is projected to reach just 2.1 by 2050. The table below shows support ratios for selected countries in 1970, 2010, and projected for 2050 (see table above).
Which means that when the next major bear market comes growling, the real crisis won’t be secluded to just subprime auto loans, student loans, and commercial real estate. The real crisis comes when there is a “run on pensions” when “fear” prevails benefits will be lost entirely.
It’s an unsolvable problem. It will happen. And it will devastate many Americans.
It is just a function of time.
As George Will recently wrote:
“The problems of state and local pensions are cumulatively huge. The problems of Social Security and Medicare are each huge, but in 2016 neither candidate addressed them, and today’s White House chief of staff vows that the administration will not ‘meddle’ with either program.
Demography, however, is destiny for entitlements, so arithmetic will do the meddling.”
Whatever amount you are saving for retirement is probably not enough.
Full article on Realinvestmentadvice.com
Editors note: Real diversification and an allocation to gold bullion will protect pension and investment portfolios when the pension timebomb explodes.
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