Public Pension Funds Falling Short of Needed Returns This Year

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. state and local government pensions, already with about $2 trillion less than they need to cover all the benefits that have been promised, are falling short of their investment-return assumptions this fiscal year -- and President Donald Trump’s trade war with China isn’t helping.

The median public fund, which typically has a fiscal year ending June 30, returned 3.25% for the three quarters through March 31, according to Wilshire Associates Trust Universe Comparison Service. The average assumed rate of return for public funds is 7.3%, according to a survey by the National Association of Retirement Administrators. Pensions rely on those returns to determine how much governments and their employees need to pay into the funds each year.

Pensions rebounded from the stock market swoon in the fourth quarter, posting an 8.36% return in the first quarter, according to Wilshire. Both government bonds and riskier assets were buoyed after Federal Reserve officials signaled they wouldn’t raise interest rates this year amid concerns about slowing economic growth. April and May have brought meager returns for U.S. stocks, made worse this week after Trump escalated the U.S. trade conflict with China.

The median public fund has about 43.5% of assets in U.S. stocks and 23.5% in U.S. bonds. State and local government pensions with assets greater than $1 billion hold more international stocks and alternative investments such as private equity.

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