A decrease in the discount rate canceled out rising equity markets to leave the estimated aggregate funding level of S&P 1500 company pension plans unchanged at 91% in August, according to consulting firm Mercer.
As of the end of August, the estimated aggregate deficit of $192 billion decreased $1 billion from $193 billion at the end of July.
During the month, the S&P 500 index increased 2.9%, while the MSCI EAFE index fell 1.5%. Typical discount rates for pension plans as measured by the Mercer Yield Curve dropped seven basis points to 4.08%. This is compared to July, when the S&P 500 index increased 3.6%, and the MSCI EAFE index increased 2.4%, while discount rates for pension plans increased 1 basis point to 4.15%.
“Funded status was flat in August, with another month of favorable equity returns offset by a slight decline in rates,” Scott Jarboe, a partner in Mercer’s wealth business, said in a release. “We expect the extended bull market, coupled with an approximate 50 basis point rise in discount rates in 2018, will be a catalyst for plan sponsors to review policy and look for opportunities to lock-in some gains or transfer risk off of the balance sheet.”
Jarboe added Mercer believes this activity will accelerate for many corporate plan sponsors who are making additional tax-favored contributions before Sept. 15.
The estimated aggregate value of pension plan assets of the S&P 1500 companies as of the end of July was $1.96 trillion, compared with estimated aggregate liabilities of $2.15 trillion, according to Mercer. And estimated aggregate assets at the end of July were $1.99 trillion, compared with estimated aggregate liabilities of $2.18 trillion.