Retirement Plans

PBGC to Oversee Sears Pension Plans

The pension insurance fund is stepping in because “it is clear that Sears’ continuation of the plans is no longer possible.”
Matthew HellerJanuary 22, 2019

This story was corrected to fix a mistake in the stated dollar size of Sears’ pension plan assets.

The federal pension insurance fund is preparing to assume responsibility for Sears’ two pension plans in the wake of the retailer’s bankruptcy.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. said it was stepping in to become responsible for the plans because “it is clear that Sears’ continuation of the plans is no longer possible.”

The plans cover about 90,000 Sears and Kmart employees and retirees but according to the PBGC, they are underfunded by about $1.4 billion, meaning the money in the pension plans is about $1.4 billion less than the value of future benefits payable by the plans to current and future retirees. (As of Nov. 30, 2017, one plan had assets of $1.84 billion while the other had assets of $778.7 million.)

“Our mission is to protect the retirement income of plan participants and their families,” PBGC Director Tom Reeder said in a news release. “When it’s no longer possible for plan sponsors to maintain their pension plans, PBGC plays the crucial role of providing lifetime retirement income for the workers and retirees.”

The PBGC noted that it has worked with Sears for several years to improve the plans’ funding. In November 2017, it agreed to allow the sale of 140 properties that it had required Sears to put up as collateral against the plans.

Those sales were expected to raise $407 million, which Sears would then contribute to the plans. In return for that contribution, it would be freed from making further contributions to the plans for approximately two years — other than a $20 million supplemental payment due in 2018.

Sears filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in October 2018. It announced last week that Chairman Eddie Lampert won an auction to buy the company’s assets, including more than 400 stores, after presenting an improved offer of $5.2 billion.

The PBGC is seeking to terminate the pension plans as of Jan. 31. It will become responsible when Sears agrees or a court orders plan termination.