Pension fund asset allocation and liability discount rates: Camouflage and reckless risk taking by U.S. public plans?

We use an international pension fund database to compare the asset allocation and liability discount rates of public and non-public funds in the U.S., Canada and Europe. We document that U.S. public funds exploit the opaque incentives provided by their distinct regulatory environment and behave very differently from U.S.corporate funds and both public and non-public pension funds in Canada and Europe. In the past two decades, U.S. public funds uniquely increased their allocation to riskier investment strategies in order to maintain high discount rates and present lower liabilities, especially if their proportion of retired membersincreased more. In line with economic theory, all other groups of pension funds reduced their allocation to risky assets as they mature, and lowered discount rates as riskless interest rates declined. The arguably camouflaging and risky behavior of U.S. public pension plans seems driven by the conflict of interest between current and future stakeholders, and could result in significant costs to future workers and taxpayers.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.

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