The Wall Street Journal article looks at the problems facing pension funds due to the extended period of low interest rates.
“Interest rates have never been so low,” said Corien Wortmann-Kool, chairwoman of the Netherlands-based Stichting Pensioenfonds ABP, Europe’s largest pension fund. It manages assets worth €381 billion, or $414 billion. “That has put the whole system under pressure.” Only about 40% of ABP’s 2.8 million members are active employees paying into the fund. Pension funds around the world pay benefits through a combination of investment gains and contributions from employers and workers. To ensure enough is saved, plans adopt long-term annual return assumptions to project how much of their costs will be paid from earnings. They range from as low as a government bond yield in much of Europe and Asia to 8% or more in the U.S. The problem is that investment-grade bonds that once churned out 7.5% a year are now barely yielding anything. Global pensions on average have roughly 30% of their money in bonds. Low rates helped pull down assets of the world’s 300 largest pension funds by $530 billion in 2015, the first decline since the financial crisis, according to a recent Pensions & Investments and Willis Towers Watson report. Funding gaps for the two biggest funds in Europe and the U.S. have ballooned by $300 billion since 2008, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.