Monday, January 27, 2020

PERS 2019: Zombie Edition

Zombie PERS continued to plod along as its funding level fell nearly a full point despite a $100 million bailout and a 6.8% rate of return in 2019.   Simply put, the numbers continue to go in the wrong directions as the public employees retirement system defies all attempts to shore up its finances.  PERS released the annual report at the December meeting of the Board of Trustees.  The report is posted below.   





The funding level fell by nearly a full point to 60.9% as it remains stuck between 60% and 62% since 2014 (See graph below).  An ever-growing number of retirees has been a ball and chain for PERS as their unchecked growth wreaks havoc on positive returns.   The retiree population grew to 107,844, a 36% increase in only ten years.  The growth continues unabated at an average of 3,000 new retirees every year.

The retiree population was not the only feature of PERS that grew.  The unfunded accrued actuarial liabilities went up another billion dollars to $17.9 billion.   It was only $14.5 billion in 2012.  Posted below is a snapshot of the financial picture.

Credit: PERS 2019 Actuarial Report


 As investments lagged, the "cost of living adjustment" (COLA) shot up to $700 million, more than doubling in a decade.*  The COLA is not an actual COLA but rather an annual 3% raise that is compounded another 3%.   The COLA increases become larger with each passing year. The COLA increased  $47 million in 2018 and $50 million in 2019.  It will reach $1 billion in six years at the current pace.  A far cry from $312 million in 2009.

Unprecedented growth in retirees and costs despite increases in the employer contribution rate means PERS made no progress in becoming a better-funded program. Translation: the legislature dumped $100 million in to PERS last year yet PERS fell behind. 







What about PERS investments? PERS has a portfolio of $28 billion, a sizeable sum indeed. The PERS portfolios  did earned a  rate of return of 6.8%, a solid return to be sure but it failed to meet the assumed rate of return of 7.75%. The PERS portfolio generated  $1.8 billion of investment income - $683 million less than in 2018.  Such is the difference a two point change in the markets can make.  PERS has enjoyed solid performance in the markets since the 2008 recession.  The 3-year average is 10.8% while the 10-year average is 10.53%.  Many PERS supporters said PERS would do better when the markets "came back."  The markets did come back but unfortunately, but PERS did not thanks to the growth in retirees and the COLA.  




The key problem at PERS is the deficit between contributions and benefits payments.  Simply put, employees and employers are not putting enough money into PERS to cover benefits payments.  Thus PERS must use its investment income (and assets when investments perform poorly) to cover the payments.   The deficit between contributions and payments reached $1.2 billion in 2019.  Payments grew $138 million in 2019 while contributions turtled ahead only $30 million.  The deficit is so large that PERS doesn't have to suffer a negative return to fall even further behind.  An annual rate of return of a mere two or three percent will worsen the funding level.  Indeed, The actuarial report increased the amortization period from 30 to 36 years and states PERS will reach a funding level of 80% in............. drum roll.........2047. 

Keep in mind PERS has had not one, not two, not three, but four employer contribution increases of 540 basis points in ten yearss.**  The increases have done little to save PERS.

The deficits, number of retirees, unfunded liabilities, and COLAs grow unchecked, spelling problems for PERS.  However, the Solons continue to bury their heads in the sand.  Every statewide candidate, Republican or Democrat, defended PERS last year and said to a man they would make no changes.  Retirees Association President Ann Thames issues fatwas against  any leader who dares to even think about PERS.  Former legislators Nancy Collins and Brad Mayo are used as examples of what can happen to those who wander off her plantation.  As far as Domina Thames is concerned, just give them their checks and shut the hell up. 



Kingfish note: I shouldn't have to say this but no one, including this website, is saying PERS is running out of money any time soon.  PERS has total assets of $28 billion.  However, more and more stress is placed on the retirement system.  PERS is the biggest thing in the state and Mississippi doesn't have the money to save.  Just a bailout of $100 taxed the state budget last year.  That bailout would have doubled the size of the teacher pay raise or paid for Medicaid expansion, or could have been used for MDOC salaries.

The fault lies with the legislature.  As former Executive Director Pat Roberston said repeatedly, the legislature increased the benefits in 1999 without providing for a way to pay for them.   The longer the legislature delays dealing with PERS, the worse the fix will be for retirees and that my friends, is the bottom line.






Here are the market returns for PERS since 2000:

2000: 8.4%
2001: -7.1%
2002: -6.6%
2003: 3.5%
2004: 14.6%
2005: 9.8%
2006: 10.7%
2007: 18.9%
2008: -8.2%
2009: -19.4%
2010: 14.1%
2011: 25%
2012: 0.6%
2013: 13.4%
2014: 18.3%
2015: 3.5%
2016: 1.16%
2017: 15%
2018: 9.2%
2019: 6.8%


Assumed Rate of Return: 7.75% 

* PERS Handbook defines COLA: 

 PERS retirees and beneficiaries who have been receiving benefit payments for at least one full  fiscal year are eligible to receive an annual Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). If you retired effective July 1, you would be eligible for the COLA during the fiscal year beginning 12 months later on July 1. If you retired effective August 1, you would be eligible for the COLA during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 23 months after the effective date of retirement.

The COLA is equal to 3 percent of your annual base benefit for each full fiscal year of retirement prior to the year in which you reach age 55 (Retirement Tiers 1 through 3, see table below) or 60 (Retirement Tier 4), plus 3 percent compounded for each fiscal year thereafter, beginning with the fiscal year in which you turn age 55

** Employer Contributions

2011: 12%
2012: 14.26%
2014: 15.75%
2019: 17.4%








52 comments:

Anonymous said...

Will the last one in the room please turn off the lights-

Anonymous said...

Get rid of all the fee-based managers. Hire competent professionals to work full-time as strictly Portfolio Managers (pay them a salary of at least $100K), and the returns should improve.

4-5 Professionals at $500k or so is still much cheaper than all the management fees.

Anonymous said...

"The fault lies with the legislature. As former Executive Director Pat Roberston said repeatedly, the legislature increased the benefits in 1999 without providing for a way to pay for them. The longer the legislature delays dealing with PERS, the worse the fix will be for retirees and that my friends, is the bottom line."

This.

I once asked a state representative about his ideas to fix PERS, he informed me that the legislature wouldn't touch PERS because it was an election year.

Kick the can down the road, but only if the legislators can SLURP their own special PERS benefits for their part-time jobs.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if that has already been answered but is it known how much would be saved by eliminating the 13th check? Would that solve this?

Kingfish said...

$700 million in 2019. You would still have a deficit of several hundred million dollars.

Cynical Sam said...

Getting re-elected ain't nothing - it's EVERYTHING.

Look at the very dangerous U.S. national debt that exists because of the insane deficit spending.

Kicking the can down the road - that's what career politicians do - every day.

Anonymous said...

Why not just roll it all into passive investing vehicles at Vanguard, Scwhab or some other industry leading investing company. Vanguard would be my number one choice just one the amount of investments they own (something on the order of 1 trillion). Active investing is for chumps. Send everyone on the board of PERS a copy of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

Anonymous said...

All I know is if i put away 25%+ of my annual income for 30 years and got to invest it i would be sitting pretty at the end. Why someone cant figure out how to actually reduce both numbers where employees contribute maybe 7% and then employer contributes maybe 14%. Forced participation just like now. Cant touch it til 30+ years or retirement age. Invested in private account not lumped in with everyone else.

Anonymous said...

How in the hell did the returns in 2018 exceed the returns in 2019?

Anonymous said...

When you are billions under management like PERS, you are effectly the stock market. You could buy several of the largest companies in the S&P 500. So, its difficult for PERS to do better than matching the returns of the S&P 500. The legislature should realize this and introduce an increase in contributions, cap the 13th check to the CPI, and reduce payouts to future retirees.

Anonymous said...

KF,

PERS is kind of like Parchman. Nobody wants to talk about it, because if you do its always taken as a threat, or at the least bad news.


It does not matter what the projections are, no lawmaker is going to do a damn thing until it reaches crisis mode, then their only answer will be another bailout by the taxpayers. The legislature only understands one thing about PERS: Protecting their own retirement check. You might as well be speaking spanish when it comes to high finance. Most of them can't even balance a checkbook.

Anonymous said...

The Dems were in control in 99, here we sit in 2020 and the Republicans are too scary to touch it. It would almost be as bad as changing the flag or raising the gas taxes. There is a better chance teachers and guards get a pay raise.

Anonymous said...

It's this type of shit that burns me up when our elected officials pat themselves on the back and talk about leadership. What leadership? They tackle all the easy problems, create many others but never do a damn thing about real issues.

Anonymous said...

"Unprecedented growth in retirees" due to FORCED retirement and hostile work environments.

Anonymous said...

One issue no Republican wants to see is the affect of smaller government. All KF points are valid but he left out what the shrinking government has done to PERS.

Anonymous said...

"PERS is the next Parchman" may be the best message to get the legislature to actually address this crisis.

I'm a 38 year old public employee with five years in the system. I'd be 100% fine with dramatically scaling back the 13th check. The appeal of PERS was not getting rich, it was certainty.

I think the vast majority of state employees in my age cohort would agree, at least based on anecdotal conversations.

I genuinely don't understand why legislators are so fearful. At minimum, you could gradually phase-in a fix and reassure the blue hairs that not much will change until after they're dead.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that a lot of Mississippi Republican legislators are quite content to watch the fuse burn down on the approaching PERS implosion.

Watching and waiting.

No skin off their backs.

Plus the implosion of PERS will make for plenty of good campaign slogans in the near future.



Any negative effects on current and past state employees are probably viewed as a bonus.

Anonymous said...

By the time PERS collapses we will all be long gone. There are other bills coming due in the near future that no one is talking about.

Anonymous said...

and now the guy who gave us the 8% average return mess is governor....you talk about stupid....the voters of this state deserve every thing they get

Kingfish said...

The assumed rate of return of 8% was policy before Tate. He, like every other treasurer, only has one vote on that board. The vast majority of that Board is elected by the retirees. He has one vote and that is it. Now, if you want to criticize him and his successors for not speaking up or using the bully pulpit to lobby for change, that's a different story.

Of course, when Haley looked at adding non-voting members to board who had finance backgrounds, you and your kind screamed bloody murder. Billy McCoy, Retiree leadership, the Democratic Trust, and Eichelberger all screamed that Haley was selling out to wall street. Truth is, you don't want sober, competent advice or management. You just want to loot, pilfer, and plunder until it goes broke.

Anonymous said...

All that money and they can’t even replicate the returns of the S&P 500 index. It ain’t that hard

Anonymous said...

and now the guy who gave us the 8% average return mess is governor....you talk about stupid

Ignorant. Flat out ignorant.

Anonymous said...

Easy three-step solution, which will be almost impossible to get thru the political Legislature, regardless of what party controls it:

1. Align the manager fees and compensation with those of other states. Start now.

2. Give an unelected commission or committee, such as the Board of Revenue, the administrative power to alter the COLA laws/policies and related payments. Allow their work to become law unless it is overridden by 2/3rds of the legislature. This takes the fear of the next election out of the equation. Do this starting with the next fiscal year, so the retirees currently receiving the big 13th checks will have some time to plan.

There are a number of good ideas out there on how to curb COLA's and the 13th check. An unelected board or commission can enact solutions while leaving worries about the next election out of it.

3. If I remember correctly, the lottery money was earmarked to roads and bridges last session. This was to dodge the failure to raise the gas tax for roads and bridges. Correct this by raising the gas tax this session and earmarking that money to roads and bridges. Then take the lottery money and place it into an interest bearing account each year and let it sit until, each year, the needs of PERS to continue to pay their benefits matches the money that is in PERS (meaning that they are solvent for that year). Then release that years portion of the funds back into the general fund or for bond projects for local schools and/or higher education. If PERS is NOT solvent for that year, then use the money for PERS. Do this year after year until we are sure that this problem has passed.

This is just basic fiscal responsibility. Legislators, however, rarely have any more important interest than their re-election, so if PERS is to be saved in the long-term, it has to be done in a way that will not cost legislators their seats.

Anonymous said...

tates only vote on that board was to go right along with the 8% assumption.

and it proved to be dead ass wrong.

scream holler cuss whatever...facts are facts and we are here in part due to a dumb dude you just elected governor.

you think its going to get better with a known dumbass?

Anonymous said...

No need for fund managers. Hiring Vanguard would save the state millions annually. A drop in the bucket, yes, but it’s a start. How hard is this?

Anonymous said...

The fund underperformed the market. Just buy index funds and lower the management fees. Are those fund managers making many millions her making campaign contributions?

Anonymous said...

Why does the state even need PERS? Just pay people and let them decide what/how to save their money

Anonymous said...

tates only vote on that board was to go right along with the 8% assumption.

Pull your head out and show us the vote.

Anonymous said...

Reigning in the management fees only treats a symptom, not the illness. Stay focused on the heavy lift.

Anonymous said...

10:07 is absolutely right.

And someone I'd like to grab a beer with. We think alike, and apparently read the same books.

Anonymous said...

Why can't state employees just work till they die like the rest of us? It doesn't take that long with no health care.

Anonymous said...

@2:27
The only people who have to work until they die are idiots who never saved for retirement. You cant spend everything you earn and carry a debt load your entire life. The difference for state employees is PERS takes a percentage off the top that state employees have no choice where to invest it.

Anonymous said...

Another example of failure by state government.

Anonymous said...

It's clear some of you don't understand what you're talking about... If a big pension plan was to do dump all that capital into, let's say, a Vanguard ETF, what do you think would happen to that ETF's price? We aren't talking about some little million dollar account with a few flows and rebalances a year. We're talking about hundreds of billions and flows in the 100's of millions with trades pretty much everyday. In ETFs, you don't own anything but the ticker and you better hope that company can get it as close to possible to that index with little deviation. ETFs, while 80 - 90% correlated to the underlying index, also have a "float" which is the marketability of that ticker itself within the trading markets. Investing in ETFs in this magnitude would push the price through the roof on the buy and cause an artificial bubble in the price. Then when the index corrects, you'll get an exponentially larger loss to compensate for the difference between the actual index and the price of the derivative ETF. That's insane. It would increase negative risk exponentially.

I'm not taking up for PERS (they have a lot of problems) but I'm glad some of you don't run it, it'd be dead broke in a year. It ain't some good ole boy's million dollar IRA.

Anonymous said...

Just thought of something. This is just one of many issues that the local news and local paper let the legislatures slide on. If the media actually followed up on stuff like this and pressed the elected officials for solutions I would still take the paper and watch local news.

Anonymous said...

How will changing from 25 year to 30 year retirementhelp? or will it help?

Anonymous said...

Millennial checking in. 5 years with the state. I’m cashing out at 10 years and leaving this shit hole when PSLF hits. Y’all can have it.

Anonymous said...

5:42-You're out of your damn mind. You think the state has too much money to invest in index funds without crashing the market or fund? Give me a damn break. In the scheme of things, Mississippi is the "good ole boy with a million dollar IRA."

Warren Buffet has proven that even the best hedge fund managers (who charge a fortune) couldn't beat the index funds over a 10 year period.

Kingfish said...

Funny. Governor gets a vote as well but no one ever bashes Phil Bryant for not saying anything on PERS board. Hmmm.... probably because the ones slamming the now-Governor are probably Phil Bryant people. What a surprise.

Anonymous said...

@11:48- Technically, poorly thought out policies are the issue more so than “shrinking government.” (Which by the way, THANK GOD!!) Folks contributing today make more than those 20 years ago, and also contribute at a higher percentage. The BIGGEST issue is the idiotic 13th check and the growth formula that leads to its payout, coupled with stupid retirement earnings policies that calculate based on the last few years of service earnings. Retirees are paid out percentages of money based on earnings MUCH GREATER than the amount of money MOST of their contribution service year percentages demanded.

For the record, THIS fiscal conservative ABSOLUTELY wants to see the affects of shrinking government! BRING IT ON!!!

Anonymous said...

11:50 - Obviously you have no concern about the 13th check since it'll be a quarter of a century plus one year before you could draw one, if they still exist. By your 'cohorts', can we assume you mean your 'coworkers'?

Anonymous said...

"Millennial checking in. 5 years with the state. I’m cashing out at 10 years and leaving this shit hole when PSLF hits. Y’all can have it."

And THAT is the future of Mississippi's "workforce development". MS is a cultural anachronism and dying a slow death....and until enough good ole' boys/girls do actually die, ain't nothing going to change. Say goodbye to the youth of Mississippi, the brain drain is more real than anyone realizes.

Anonymous said...

Every job from Truck Driver to Brain Surgeon and even Lawyers will be replaced by AI within the next decade. None of this will even matter. We are either going to have a Star Trek The Next Generation style Utopia, or the most horrific separation of the rich in the poor that this planet has ever seen.

Anonymous said...

1. If the State of MS can spend 90 million on a civil rights museum, obviously we have plenty of money.

2. Move the MS Highway Patrol retirement from state executive level to state employee level, that will save a load of money.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi is a great place to live for some people. It could be a great place to live for most people. Unfortunately the choices for young people are somewhat limited in the area of employment, entertainment and advancement.

Considering the cost of living in Mississippi and the willingness of the state to give tax breaks and money to large employers it surprises me how few, successful, companies actually move to the state.

Is it because of an uneducated workforce, the stigma of relocating to Mississippi, state policies or the real/perceived good ole boy network that runs the state?

Who knows! I hope Governor Tate can turn things around and fix some of the many issues we have in this state.

This is a beautiful state and the South will be one if not the only area of the nation that sees growth in the next 5 years.

Anonymous said...

KF@10:18—You are so right. The X Gov.Feel group continues to bash Tate to divert the fact that his administration did almost nothing successfully except to keep our image as a backward state and a joke on the national scene.

Anonymous said...

"Millennial checking in. 5 years with the state. I’m cashing out at 10 years and leaving this shit hole when PSLF hits. Y’all can have it."

Well, now there's a genius. Piddling around and contributing a piss-ant amount to a retirement fund and planning to 'cash it out' at ten and hit the big time. Now THAT'S a PLAN! Take some pencils and steno pads with you when you leave.

Anonymous said...

I thought trumps stock market was going to fix everything? Young people will NOT be taking the weight of this. That’s why they’re all leaving.

Anonymous said...

The harpie who repetitively posts about brain-drain, all the youth leaving and what a shit hole this is needs to go on down to the Greyhound and get a ticket to L.A. Save us all from a lot of boring, asinine posts.

He's like Ernest T. Bass who throws rocks for attention and the kid who shoots across the highway for shits and giggles.

Anonymous said...

PERS had a market return of 6.8% in 2019. The S&P 500 had a return of 30.43% in 2019. What the fuck are the PERS managers investing in? It boggles the mind that they pay anyone any amount of money and get that rate of return in the current market. I agree with Jan. 27 @ 9:35am, they need to hire full-time professionals to work for a fixed salary to manage the porfolio. I'll do it.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi should examine the amount they pay in "management fees" based on what other Southeastern states are paying and also consider the rate of return those states are getting on their investments. If the management fee is based on the total dollar amount of the investments, the management fee will go up each year because it is a percentage of an every increasing amount.

Even those social security recipients are not on a "fixed income" the get a cost of living raise each year if the Consumer Price Index increases but their annual cost of living raise, unlike the PERS cost of living raise is not fixed at 3% per year (and compounded after some years) but it is based on the actual rate of inflation.
31 years as a state employee, 35 years in my field, a Master's Degree and my salary went up 2015--- the first time since 2007 and then rose again in 2018 to $63,000 it took me 2 degrees and 35 years to get there.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, me again at 1/29 7:03 pm, I forgot to mention that since 2000 I have worked at least two jobs. Six days a week, 54 hours per week.

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