An Options Pricing Method for Calculating the Market Price of Public Sector Pension Liabilities

State and local public sector employee pensions are widely known to be underfunded, but pension financial reports do not reveal the true extent of funding shortfalls. Pension accounting methods assume that plan investments can earn high returns without taking any account of the market risk involved. This gives a false sense of the financial strength of public sector pensions and understates risks to taxpayers.

This paper first uses a Monte Carlo simulation of current pension assets and projected market returns to calculate the probability that public sector pension assets will be sufficient to fund accrued benefits. The typical public sector pension has only a 16 percent probability of paying full accrued benefits with assets on hand. A larger number of public pension plans have zero probability of paying accrued benefits than have a probability in excess of 50 percent.

But since accrued pension benefits are legally and constitutionally protected, any pension funding shortfalls must be met by taxpayers. This benefit guarantee amounts to an effective put option on plan investments, the cost of which is not disclosed under current actuarial accounting.

This paper uses an options pricing method to calculate the market value of taxpayer guarantees underlying public sector pensions. The average funding ratio declines from 83 percent under actuarial accounting to 45 percent under this options pricing approach. The typical state has unfunded public pension liabilities three times larger than its explicit government debt. Public pension shortfalls equal an average of 27 percent of state gross domestic product, posing a significant fiscal challenge in coming years.

Accurate measures of public pension liabilities are important for policymakers, taxpayers, investors considering the economic environment in which to start or locate a business, and bond purchasers considering the risk premia appropriate to municipal government bonds that are in practice subordinate to public pension liabilities.

Click here to view the full text of this working paper as an Adobe Acrobat PDF.

Andrew G. Biggs is a resident scholar at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Andrew G.
Biggs

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.