November 18, 2015

Communications & Stakeholder Relations
(916) 795-3991
Brad W. Pacheco, Deputy Executive Officer
Contact: Joe DeAnda, Information Officer

Policy will lower discount rate in years of good investment returns

SACRAMENTO, CA - The California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) today adopted a funding risk mitigation policy that will incrementally lower the discount rate in years of good investment returns, help pay down the pension fund's unfunded liability, and provide greater predictability and less volatility in contribution rates for employers.

"Ensuring the long-term sustainability of the fund is a priority for everyone on this board, and this policy helps do that," said Rob Feckner, President of the CalPERS Board of Administration. "It makes significant strides in lowering risk and volatility in the System, and helps lessen the impacts of another financial downturn."

Under the policy adopted by the CalPERS Board of Administration, a mechanism will be established to reduce the discount rate - or assumed rate of return - by a minimum of 0.05 percentage points to a maximum of 0.25 percentage points in years when investment returns outperform the existing discount rate, currently 7.5 percent, by at least four percentage points. The four percentage point threshold would work to offset increases to employer contribution rates that would otherwise increase when the discount rate is lowered, and help pay down CalPERS' unfunded liability.

CalPERS staff modeling anticipates the policy will result in a lowering of the expected portfolio volatility to 8 percent in about 21 years, improve funding levels gradually over time, and cut risk in the System by lowering the volatility of investment returns. While rates are expected to increase for CalPERS employers in the future, the policy is designed to minimize any increases above projected rates.

"Our goal is to be fully funded with an acceptable level of risk," said Anne Stausboll, CalPERS Chief Executive Officer. "This policy is a balanced approach that recognizes the fiscal constraints on California's local agencies and represents a milestone for CalPERS."

CalPERS investment returns are reported as of June 30 at the end of each fiscal year. In years when the returns exceed the discount rate by 4 percent, the policy will trigger a discount rate adjustment. CalPERS asset allocation will be adjusted to account for the new discount rate and will take effect on October 1 of the fiscal year immediately following. Member contribution calculations will also reflect the new discount rate effective October 1 of the fiscal year immediately following the good returns, and the changes will be included in employer contribution rates outlined in actuarial valuations as of June 30 for that fiscal year. Resulting contribution rate changes for employers would go into effect one year after the following fiscal year for state and schools, and two years after for California public agencies.

Today's action is in large part a response to the maturing of the workforce. For example, where the ratio of active workers to retirees was over 2 to 1 just a decade ago, the ratio is now 1.6 workers to every retiree, and that downward trend is likely to continue until 20 years from now when the ratio of actives to retirees is expected to be less than one. Last fiscal year, CalPERS saw a 13 percent increase in state retirements over the previous year, and for the first time in the pension fund's history, CalPERS is paying out more in retirement benefits than taking in contributions. CalPERS paid $18 billion in pension benefits in the 2014-15 fiscal year, compared to $13 billion in contributions.

The adoption of the risk policy concludes an 18-month examination of risk in the System by the CalPERS Board. The Board looked at several strategies to achieve risk mitigation, based on recommendations from CalPERS staff, external pension and investment consultants, and input from employer and employee stakeholder groups. The policy adopted today gained a majority of support from all involved.

For more than eight decades, CalPERS has built retirement and health security for state, school, and public agency members who invest their lifework in public service. Our pension fund serves more than 1.7 million members in the CalPERS retirement system and administers benefits for more than 1.4 million members and their families in our health program, making us the largest defined-benefit public pension in the U.S. CalPERS' total fund market value currently stands at approximately $295 billion.