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S&P 500 Pensions & OPEB in 2018 The pension and OPEB landscape is fraught with underfunding and shrinking coverage.
BY Howard Silverblatt

Providing Americans with adequate retirement income and affordable medical care remains one of the country's most hotly debated social and political topics of the 21st century. However, the times have changed, as the medical cost of prolonged longevity has risen, and corporations’ ability to absorb the risks associated with multi-decade portfolios to finance those commitments has fallen. Over the past three decades, corporations in the private sector have successfully shifted the responsibility of retirement to individuals, as programs have been frozen or closed to new employees, with 401(k)-type saving programs acting as substitutes. What remains is a lingering program of the past that will slowly decline in size and number of covered retirees over the coming decades. For now, both S&P 500 pensions and OPEB remain a manageable cost with sufficient resources and cash flow to support them—even as decreasing interest rates could worsen the funding levels and ratios via higher discounted liabilities for 2019. For 2018, corporate pension underfunding stood at USD 270 billion—11.2% lower than the USD 304 billion level of 2017, as markets declined and interest rates used for liability discounting increased. The funding level increased to 86.35% in 2018 from 85.62% in 2017, 80.75% in 2016, 81.14% in 2015, and 81.12% in 2014. The most recent low-funding level was in 2012, at 77.26%, with the last full-funding level occurring in 2007, at 104.40%.

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