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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Pensions: Another Trillion Dollar Bailout?

by Calculated Risk on 3/03/2009 05:25:00 PM

From David Evans at Bloomberg: Hidden Pension Fiasco May Foment Another $1 Trillion Bailout (ht James & Bob)

Public pension funds across the U.S. are hiding the size of a crisis that’s been looming for years. Retirement plans play accounting games with numbers, giving the illusion that the funds are healthy.
The misleading numbers posted by retirement fund administrators help mask this reality: Public pensions in the U.S. had total liabilities of $2.9 trillion as of Dec. 16, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Their total assets are about 30 percent less than that, at $2 trillion.

With stock market losses this year, public pensions in the U.S. are now underfunded by more than $1 trillion.
Evans points out that many pension plans have been funded based on optimistic projections of future investment returns. He gives several examples including:
The nation’s largest public pension fund, California Public Employees’ Retirement System, has been reporting an expected rate of return of 7.75 percent for the past eight years, and 8 percent before that, according to Calpers spokesman Clark McKinley.

Its annual return during the decade from Dec. 31, 1998, to Dec. 31, 2008, has been 3.32 percent, and last year, when markets tanked, it lost 27 percent.
There is much more in the article.

Note: Back in 2007 Evans wrote a great article on a Florida state run investment pool investing in SIVs.