Despite investment gains, pension fund liability stagnates

Finance Director Rob Dubow (left) and Mayor Nutter. (David Swanson/Inquirer)

Despite higher-than-expected investment returns, the city's pension fund remains less than half-funded, an actuary told the city today. 

In July, the end of the last fiscal year, the pension system had enough money to cover 48.1 percent of its liabilities - the same ratio as last year - Kenneth Kent, of the actuarial firm Cheiron, said at a meeting of the city Board of Pensions and Retirement. 

But later in the meeting, the board voted to lower its expected rate of investment returns, which will have the effect of increasing the unfunded liability. City Finance Director Rob Dubow said the new liability ratio hasn't been calculated yet. (To learn more about why the assumption rate is important, read this story.)

With about $4.5 billion in assets, the pension fund grew 10.9 percent in the last fiscal year (exceeding an expectation of 7.95 percent), the actuary said. Part of the reason the good returns didn't increase the funding ratio is that the city is still making up for major losses during the recession. The fund lost $1.2 billion in 2008 alone. 

Dubow noted that, despite the stagnant unfunded ratio, the investments are now healthier from an actuarial perspective and the fund is now closer to a position where future gains will cut the unfunded liability. 

The move to lower the investment assumption rates (from 7.95 percent to 7.85 percent for most investments) will also increase the city's required payment into the pension fund, which will be $556 million next year across all budgets (up from $523 million). Thats about 37 percent of expected payroll costs.