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S&P 500 Pensions & OPEB in 2017 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 was one of the country's most hotly debated social and political topics of the 20th century. However, the times have changed, along with longevity, as the medical cost of that 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—as slowly increasing interest rates could improve funding via lower discounted liabilities for 2018. For 2017, corporate pension underfunding stood at USD 304 billion—22.1% lower than the USD 391 billion level of 2016, as markets posted a second year of impressive double-digit gains. The funding level increased to 85.62% in 2017 from 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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