Nineteen percent of defined benefit plan sponsors in a survey released Tuesday by investment consulting firm NEPC reported funded status of more than 101%, up from 9% a year ago.
NEPC noted that this was the highest funded status since it inaugurated the survey in 2011.
Of the overfunded plans, 65% invest in alternatives, and 55% use liability-driven investment strategies, with a majority of users executing with derivatives.
The rising of variable rate premiums, implemented by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., also had a strong effect on the improved funded status, according to NEPC. In its 2016 survey, a quarter of plan sponsors said they were considering additional contributions.
Many Americans could suffer an insecure and undignified retirement if changes aren't made, the office says.
The new survey found that plan sponsors have become more amenable to reviewing and changing their glide paths. Seventy percent of respondents reviewed their glide path in 2017, and 35% of these made a change by modifying future trigger points. Twelve percent de-risked the portfolio.
“The PBGC rate premium decision has had a major and lasting impact on plan sponsors and their strategies,” Brad Smith, a partner in NEPC’s corporate practice, said in a statement.
“Not only have we seen an increase in overfunded plans to help hedge against these premiums, we’re also seeing plans accelerate the de-risking process and move down the glide path more quickly. With so much at stake, we don’t expect plan sponsors’ anxiety toward rate premium increases to subside.”
The 2017 NEPC survey, conducted online in August, captured 143 plan sponsors’ views, including several NEPC clients representing approximately $169 billion in defined benefit assets. The median plan assets among respondents was $750 million and the average plan assets were $1.2 billion.
According to survey results, use of liability reduction strategies decreased this year to 75%. In 2016, 87% of plan sponsors considered or implemented lump-sum payouts, the most popular choice.
NEPC said the decrease in liability reduction was likely a result of plans having issued them and seen diminishing returns. When asked whether they would consider lump-sum payouts over the next six months, only 22% of plan sponsors answered yes.
PBGC rate premium increases continued to shape plan sponsor behavior when deciding how to de-risk portfolios, the survey results showed, with 80% of respondents saying they would alter their plan strategy in the next six months.
Of these, 24% said they preferred higher contributions, and 34% said their strategy of choice was partial risk transfer.
The NEPC survey found that as plan sponsors learn from the past and begin hedging against unpredictable markets, their optimism continues to grow. Fifty-six percent of respondents were bullish on the stock market in the next 12 months, up from 51% in 2016.
Health care organizations, which comprised a quarter of survey respondents, were even more bullish on the market.