The funding ratio of the typical US pension plan increased sharply during the second quarter of 2013, rising by six percentage points to 88%, according to the UBS Global Asset Management US Pension Fund Fitness Tracker. Combined with gains in the first quarter, the estimated year-to-date total improvement in funding ratio is close to 11 percentage points.
The improvement in funding ratio for the second quarter was driven primarily by a 6.1% drop in liability values. Asset values are estimated to have increased by a modest 0.4%, based on the average corporate plan’s reported asset allocation weightings from the UBS Global Asset Management Pension 500 Database and publicly available benchmark information.
The S&P 500 Total Return Index finished the quarter up 2.9% and the MSCI EAFE Index rose approximately 1.5%. Volatility dominated throughout the quarter amid anticipation that the US Federal Reserve (Fed) would begin tapering its quantitative easing (QE) program sooner than previously anticipated.
After Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s comments during a press conference on June 19, bond yields rose significantly. As a result, a wide range of fixed income assets lost value. In particular, US Treasury bonds and US credit bonds sold off sharply late in the quarter.
Overall, the yield on 10-year US Treasury bonds increased by 64 basis points (bps), ending at 2.49%, while the yield on 30-year US Treasury bonds increased by 40 bps, ending at 3.50%. High-quality corporate bond credit spreads, as measured by the Barclays Capital Long Credit A+ option-adjusted spread, ended the quarter 11 bps wider. As a result, pension discount rates (which are based on the yield of high-quality investment grade corporate bonds) increased, causing liabilities for a typical pension plan to decrease by 6.1%. (Please see disclosures for assumptions and methodology.)
Disclosures and methodology
Funding ratios measure a pension fund’s ability to meet future payout obligations to plan participants. The main factors impacting the funding ratio of a typical US defined benefit plan are equity market returns, which grow (or shrink) the asset pool from which plan participants’ benefits are paid, and liability returns, which move inversely to interest rates.