Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More on Delta and Northwest

The three Delta plans, which cover about 106,000 people, have $6.9 billion in assets and $17.5 billion in liabilities, according to PBGC estimates. Based on preliminary estimates, the PBGC says it would have to guarantee $8.4 billion of the $10.6 billion benefits funding shortfall. The PBGC itself has a $23.3 billion deficit. If those estimates hold up, a PBGC termination of Delta's plans would exceed the $6.6 billion loss (by far its largest) absorbed through its takeover of United Airlines' pension plans.

This is slightly misleading for a couple of reasons. First, use of the word "deficit" makes it sound like that's an annual shortfall in revenues against outflows, which is not correct. The $23.3 billion figure is the sum total of the PBGC's unfunded liabilities. Further, the PBGC includes in its estimates of its liabilities an allowance for "probable" plan terminations. So some portion of the Delta shortfall is already reflected in that $23.3 billion unfunded liability.

Additionally, the PBGC also would be hit with a huge loss if Northwest Airlines, which also filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, terminates its pension plans. The three Northwest plans, have $5.8 billion in assets and liabilities of $11.5 billion, according to PBGC preliminary estimates. Of the $5.7 billion funding shortfall, the PBGC estimates it would be liable for $2.8 billion.

Source: Business Insurance

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Delta and Northwest file for bankruptcy

Both companies are plagued by high operating and legacy costs, and both companies will likely want to terminate their defined benefit pension plans and dump their unfunded liabilities on the PBGC. If Delta and Northwest dump their pension plans on the agency, it would add an estimated $12.4 billion in new unfunded liabilities.

[DUH! Fixed embarrassing typo in post title.]

Thursday, August 18, 2005

CFA Exam Results

I just found out today that I passed the CFA Level II examination.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The New E&E System

I want to go on record as opposing the new Education & Examination system. So when the SOA announces that their system is an utter failure and needs to be replaced again in 3-5 years, I can give them a big collective "Told you so!"


My original objection to VEE was that it would weed career changers out of the profession before they even start. I had a math degree, but I had never taken 6 courses (Macro Econ, Micro Econ, Intro Finance, Corp Finance, Time Series, Regression). If I had had to go back to school to take courses to get credit for this stuff, I would have never entered the career. I know many who feel the same way.

It now seems that they have solved this problem, but introduced a different one. One of the options for getting VEE credit is through NEAS coursework. However, here's one student's opinion on a NEAS course: I just sat for VEE Regression and Time Series through NEAS, and thought the finals were an insult to the actuarial profession. I appreciate that it's the easiest path to completing the VEE requirements but at the same time if we are just looking for the "easiest" method, then why bother? If material is important enough for us to know it, put it back in the test. If it's not important enough, then leave it out of the mix completely and give me a "recommended reading" list.

At least one board member has already acknowledged that, "PD was just one failed element of the 2000 restructuring. It was well-intentioned but turned out to be something of a joke in practice." And now it looks like they are making the same mistake with VEE. I can see the assessment now ... "VEE was just one failed element of the 2005 restructuring. It was well-intentioned but turned out to be something of a joke in practice."


In the first place, replacing Exams 5 + 6 with eight modules doesn't seem like a fair trade at this point, especially with two large exams (instead of just one) to come after the modules.

More ominously, board members are already warning us that the modules were more work than anyone anticipated, and it will be a challenge to have everything in place in time. So, we are probably going to be treated to a half-baked system that will be tweaked, prodded, improved and otherwise messed with for a couple of years.

At the end of a couple of years of tinkering, they will leave us with a system that is as much a joke as PD turned out to be and VEE is already proving itself to be.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Almost half of employees cash out 401(k) at termination

Despite the growing need for employees to save for retirement, a significant number of workers participating in 401(k) plans cash out of them once they leave their company. A study of nearly 200,000 workers who participate in their 401(k) plans found that 45% elected to take a cash distribution once they left their jobs. The remainder either kept their savings in their current employer's plan (32%) or rolled the money over to a qualified IRA or other retirement plan (23%).

The highest incidence of cash distributions was among young employees (66%) age 20-29. Employees who were older and more tenured were more likely to preserve their retirement wealth, either keeping their assets in their current employer's plan or rolling it over. Still, more than 42% of workers age 40-49 elected to cash out of their plans upon leaving their jobs.

Balance was a factor when it came to workers' tendencies to cash out of their plans. Nearly three-quarters (72.5%) of workers with balances under $10,000 took a cash distribution. When plan balances were between $10,000 and $20,000 at termination, cash-out rates were much lower. Still, nearly a third (31%) of these employees elected to take their distribution in cash.

Source: Hewitt Associates

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Québec Health Care

The Supreme Court of Canada declares that unreasonable wait times for health care violates the Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Pension Plan Funding Discussion

In the wake of the PBGC taking over United's seriously underfunded plan, a discussion arose on the Actuarial Outpost regarding pension plan funding requirements. Check it out here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Feedback on my most recent PBGC post

Comments from an actuarial colleague have brought to my attention that my flippant comment about "bad for John Q. Taxpayer" may have left readers with an incorrect impression. To clarify the situation, I have reproduced his comments (with which I agree) here.

PBGC has never received any money from the US government (i.e., tax revenue). It is funded entirely from premiums, investment income, assets from trusteed plans and amounts recovered through bankruptcy proceedings.

There has been talk, especially from labor unions and some Democrats, about a taxpayer bailout of the PBGC. This is *extremely* unlikely, perhaps impossible, so long as Republicans control the Congress. Here's why:

Only ~25% of American workers enjoy defined benefit plans. By "coincidence," they tend to be in industries that are unionized. I cannot imagine a Republican administration or Congress agreeing to tax 100% of American workers to bail out 25% of American workers who enjoy better retirement benefits and are Democrats to boot. It just isn't going to happen.

If you've been following the Administration's pension funding proposal, they are proposing increases in the flat dollar premium and significant modifications to the variable rate premium (creating a risk-based premium, eliminating the credit balance when calculating whether a plan qualifies for the full funding limit exemption, etc.).

One last thought. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that the PBGC changed its logo last year. (Look for a copy of a premium payment package or a premium form.) The fine print under the logo used to read "U.S. Government Agency" but now it reads "Protecting America's Pensions." (The image in the logo was also changed to look sleeker.) Rumor has it that the language was changed to eliminate the suggestion that the PBGC is backed by the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. government. It certainly seems plausible.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

PBGC Takes Over United Pension Plans

United Airlines and the PBGC announced a settlement that would allow the airline to hand over its four underfunded pension plans to the government in the largest corporate-pension default in US history. While the move needs approval by a bankruptcy-court judge and is being contested by some of the airline's unions(*), the shedding of $9.8 billion of retirement obligations would represent a huge step in UAL's efforts to lower its costs and attract funding to exit from Chapter 11 this fall. Giving up the plans would save the company $645 million a year for the next five years.

Good for United, bad for the PBGC and John Q. Taxpayer, since the PBGC is already running a $23.3 billion unfunded liability.

(*) The Association of Flight Attendants has already announced its intention to fight this in court. AFA has also voted to let the union call a strike if its contract is abrogated by the bankruptcy judge, a step that has no legal precedent and one that United says would be illegal.

The surprise UAL settlement, reached Friday during a regularly scheduled hearing in bankruptcy court in Chicago, would cancel objections raised by the PBGC to UAL's intentions to jettison its retirement plans. Terms of the agreement are expected to be filed with the court tomorrow, and Judge Eugene Wedoff scheduled a May 4 hearing on the matter. UAL said the agreement would keep it on track to step out of court protection as "a sustainable, competitive enterprise for the long term" and would narrow the number of issues to come to the bankruptcy court at a trial on May 11. Erasing that liability could force other unprofitable airlines with heavy pension obligations to seek bankruptcy protection specifically to turn over their own underfunded plans onto the government. If UAL succeeds in eliminating its pension liabilities that would substantially worsen the situation for competitors that don't have this relief. Then the rest of the big airlines that offer such costly defined-benefit retirement plans will probably follow suit since they couldn't possibly survive with these costs intact.

This could very well create a domino effect that destroys the PBGC.

The PBGC last month asked a federal judge to let it unilaterally take over a pension plan covering 36,000 active and retired mechanics and ramp workers, and in December made the same move toward the plan covering 13,500 active and retired United pilots. The agency wanted to assume those funds before further benefits accrued, to its financial detriment. The PBGC was hoping at least one or two of the other United plans could be retained. But the agency was hit by an adverse legal ruling last month in federal court in Delaware in a pension-termination case involving Kaiser Aluminum Corp. The court rejected the agency's position that each pension plan sponsored by a company should be looked at individually. On Friday, the PBGC said the settlement agreement provides a better recovery than it would have received as an unsecured creditor in UAL's bankruptcy case. The PBGC said it will guarantee payments to plan participants totaling $6.6 billion, meaning the workers and retirees would be shorted by $3.2 billion in the form of benefit reductions(*).

(*) What the article doesn't explain is that these shortages affect mostly the recipients of the largest benefits. Rank-and-file participant benefits are seldom affected in a PBGC takeover.

Source: Wall Street Journal

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

AIG replaces CEO

AIG replaced Maurice "Hank" Greenberg as chief executive amid concern over a rising number of regulatory inquiries at the financial services titan he built over nearly four decades. Greenberg, 79, will continue as non-executive chairman. The company named Martin J. Sullivan, 50, its co-chief operating officer and vice chairman, as chief executive.

Actuaries do not predict age at death

Despite what you may have seen on Las Vegas last night (and on any other show that has ever depicted an actuary), actuaries do NOT have, use or create models that predict the age at which an individual will die. What (life insurance) actuaries do basically boils down to using the law of large numbers to determine how many people in a large group are going to die this year.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

MMC Quarterly Loss

Yesterday, Marsh & McLennan reported a fourth-quarter loss of $676 million, or $1.28 a share, compared with a profit of $375 million, or 69 cents a year, a year earlier. Consolidated revenue for all of 2004 fell 1% to $3 billion. The world's biggest insurance broker said an ongoing restructuring of its business could result in the loss of another 2,500 jobs [in addition to the 3,000 already announced]. The stock's quarterly dividend was also cut, to 17 cents a share down from 34 cents, which would reduce the company's annual payout by $360 million a year. The company's stock fell $1 to $32 today.

Georgia Insurance Scam

A father-and-son team in Barnesville GA allegedly ran a taxicab insurance scam that left thousands of cabdrivers across Georgia without coverage because the vehicles were never insured. Law enforcement officials say the taxi scam, which allegedly ran for more than two years, netted Godfrey Waterhouse and his son, Robert Waterhouse, more than $3 million in premiums. Robert Waterhouse was arrested Tuesday and charged with 40 counts of theft by deception, 40 counts of insurance fraud and one count of racketeering. Godfrey Waterhouse, who was charged with the same 81 counts, is in New Zealand, and state officials are seeking extradition.

The two were licensed to sell insurance in Georgia; the state is in the process of revoking their licenses. The pair allegedly signed up livery companies for policies by saying they were representatives of the Mark Solofa Company, an insurer based in Pago Pago, American Samoa. But Solofa executives told officials they had never heard of the Waterhouses and that they sell policies only to vehicles in American Samoa. They just picked the company's name and were using it. They were just issuing policies and collecting money.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Decline and Fall of Kwasha Lipton

When I entered this industry 8½ years ago, Kwasha Lipton Consulting Group had been considered THE company to watch for many years. They were the undisputed leader in the benefits business; nobody else was even close. Ted Benna, who is widely credited with designing the first 401(k) plan in 1978, was a principal at Kwasha Lipton. Kwasha Lipton also pretty much invented the cash balance concept. [Kwasha Lipton, “Exciting New Retirement Concept: The Cash Balance Pension Plan”, Kwasha Lipton Newsletter, Vol. 18, No. 1, June 1985.]

January 1996 - Coopers & Lybrand acquired Kwasha Lipton Consulting Group.
July 1998 - Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand completed their merger to form PricewaterhouseCoopers, taking over the #1 accounting firm slot from Arthur Andersen. Soon thereafter, PricewaterhouseCoopers combined the former Kwasha Lipton operations with other benefits consulting practices to form Unifi.
January 2002 - Mellon Financial purchased Unifi. Soon thereafter, it merged Unifi and its Buck Consultants subsidiary with other operations to form Mellon HR Solutions.
January 2005 - Mellon HR Solutions is on the block.

That's a lot of getting shuffled around, re-organized, upsized, downsized, rightsized, supersized, mismanaged and just plain ignored in just nine years. No wonder this operation is only a shadow of its former self. From undisputed first, they've been relegated to the pile of also-rans and has-beens. It's really a shame.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Mellon HR&IS Operation on the block

Mellon Financial is looking for a solution for its Human Resources and Investor Solutions business. Pittsburgh-based Mellon has hired Citigroup to explore a possible sale of the business — which provides consulting, administration and outsourcing services — for as much as $1 billion, sources familiar with the matter said. HR&IS provides human-resources support in such areas as retirement, employee benefits and communications, as well as shareholder services such as mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring and employee stock-purchase plans. Sources familiar with the business say there is a limited pool of logical buyers for the entire operation, and it is possible the business may be sold in pieces. Potential suitors for all or part of the unit may include consulting firms Convergys, Hewitt Associates and Watson Wyatt, which would be particularly interested in the human-resources part of the business, sources noted.

[The article doesn't mention one other prospective buyer, ACS.]

Mellon HR&IS's revenue reached a peak in the first quarter 2002, following the acquisition of Unifi, but has declined steadily since.

MMC Settlement

Marsh & McLennan agreed yesterday to settle charges by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for $850 million. Marsh & McLennan will set up a fund to pay restitution to policyholders, but the company neither admitted nor denied allegations it engaged in bid-rigging.

Sources: Forbes and MarketWatch

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Rep. Bernie Sanders, Have a Coke and a smile and ...

For those who haven't heard of the Sanders amendment (in fact, for those who HAVE as well), a very well argued article . . .