Retirement Plans

Brexit Jolts U.S. Pension Plan Funding Levels

A Mercer survey finds the funded status of S&P 1500 plans dropped to 76% after the U.K.'s vote to leave the EU.
Christopher HosfordJuly 6, 2016

The estimated funding level of pension plans sponsored by S&P 1500 companies dropped three percentage points to 76% as of the end of June, reflecting turbulent markets and decreased discount rates following the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union.

The estimated aggregate funding deficit of $568 billion increased by $70 billion compared with the end of May, according to Mercer. Funded status is now down by $164 billion from the $404 billion deficit at the end of 2015, the consulting firm said.

“The events in June provide a reminder of how quickly pension funded status can move when there are shocks in the market,” Matt McDaniel, a partner in Mercer’s retirement practice, said Wednesday in a news release.

He noted that in the two trading days following the U.K.’s June 23 “Brexit” vote, funded status fell four percentage points before partially recovering by the end of the month.

“This drives home the point that plan sponsors need to monitor funded status regularly, ideally on a daily basis,” McDaniel said.

The estimated aggregate value of pension plan assets of S&P 1500 companies as of May 31 was $1.82 trillion, compared with estimated aggregate liabilities of $2.32 trillion, Mercer reported. Allowing for changes in financial markets, changes within the S&P 1500, and newly released financial disclosures, the estimated aggregate assets were $1.83 trillion through June, compared with estimated liabilities of $2.40 trillion.

Mercer’s estimates of the aggregate funded status position of S&P 1500 plans are based on each company’s latest available year-end statement and projections through the end of June, in line with financial indices.

During June, the S&P 500 index gained 0.1% while the MSCI EAFE index lost 3.6%. Typical discount rates for pension plans, as measured by the Mercer Yield Curve, decreased by 28 basis points to 3.47%.

Mercer previously reported that pension deficits at the U.K.’s 350 largest listed companies soared to a record 119 billion pounds ($154 billion) in the wake of Brexit and liabilities hit a record high of 813 billion pounds ($1.05 trillion).