BI’s Article search uses Boolean search capabilities. If you are not familiar with these principles, here are some quick tips.
To search specifically for more than one word, put the search term in quotation marks. For example, “workers compensation”. This will limit your search to that combination of words.
To search for a combination of terms, use quotations and the & symbol. For example, “hurricane” & “loss”.
THE LATEST FINANCIAL results from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. are very good indeed.
The PBGC reports that its main insurance fund now enjoys an $869 million surplus, a stunning improvement from three years ago, when the agency's deficit had mushroomed to about $2.9 billion.
Indeed, the agency's financial situation once was so bleak that some members of Congress feared that the only thing preventing the PBGC from defaulting on its obligations to pay benefits to workers and retirees in failed pension plans the agency took over was a taxpayer-supported bailout.
The reasons for the PBGC turnaround are straightforward. A generally robust economy has meant that fewer big companies with hugely underfunded pension plans are going down the tubes. Indeed, it has been four years since the PBGC has taken over pension plans with anything close to jumbo-size unfunded liabilities-that is, more than $200 million.
The booming equities market also has been a key factor in the PBGC's new-found financial strength. Simply put, the agency has been racking up high rates of return on the assets it holds, such as shares of stock.
In addition, premium income has increased substantially because of changes mandated by legislation enacted several years ago that raised termination insurance premiums for employers with the most severely underfunded plans.
In the wake of the PBGC's financial recovery, some business groups, as we report on page 3, are saying it is time to reduce PBGC premiums.
Premiums, to be sure, have soared during the agency's 22 years of operation. Congress initially-and unrealistically-set the annual premium at $1 per plan participant when the PBGC was established in 1974. As losses proved higher than forecast, the premium has been raised several times and now is $19 per participant for employers with fully funded plans and is substantially higher for those with underfunded plans.
While we would like to see the premium cut, such ac tion is premature.
Much of the PBGC's financial improvement is due to the good economy and a booming stock market. But the economy will not stay strong forever and, as the past two weeks have shown, the stock market's upward momentum is not assured.
Inevitably, the economy will weaken and companies will collapse. That will result in the transfer of their underfunded pension plans to the PBGC. And, if the equities markets slip, the PBGC will not earn the high rates of return it recently has enjoyed.
When that happens, the PBGC will need its current surplus of premium income to assure it doesn't once again get into such a deep financial hole.
Eventually-perhaps five or six years from now-when legislation enacted in 1994 that imposes stiffer funding rules goes fully into effect, the PBGC will be relatively well-insulated from big losses. By then, if the funding reforms work as well as intended, a premium decrease would be welcome and in order.