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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

FTSE 350 pension deficit cut by almost a third in one month

The combined pension deficit of the UK’s 350 largest companies fell by a whopping £16bn in May, with the gap between assets and liabilities now standing at approximately £34bn.

Increase in asset valuations ©iStock
Increase in asset valuations ©iStock

That is according to new research from consultancy firm Mercer, which highlights how the deficit has more than halved from the £72bn recorded at the start of the year.

Asset valuations increased by £15bn to £791bn last month, while liabilities reduced by £1bn to £825bn as a result of a fall in the expectation of inflation offset by lower corporate bond yields.

“This is great news for both pension schemes and company sponsors with yet another reduction in the pension gap, but we must not be complacent,” Mercer DB Policy Group chair, Alan Baker, said.

“Market swings could dramatically reverse these improvements. It’s important that trustees and sponsors understand the risks they’re exposed to and have the right strategies to lock in these gains.”

Mercer's findings relate to approximately half of all UK pension schemes liabilities, with deficits calculated using the same approach companies have to adopt for their corporate accounts.

The latest data marks significant progress from when the gap stood at £156bn in September 2016, with the deficit more than trebling that year following unexpected political events.

This comes after research from JLT Employee Benefits found that the combined deficit for defined benefit pension schemes in the private sector fell to £43bn at the end of last month.

That is massively lower than the £135bn recorded at the same time last year, with the funding level now standing at 97%, compared to 92% 12 months ago.

JLT Employee Benefits director, Charles Cowling, said schemes should take advantage of the recent improvements, warning that the latest good news could just be the “calm before the storm”.

“Given the recent government white paper promising a tougher stance on funding, it is possible this may signal politicians’ intent to ramp up their attention towards pensions,” he said.

“Perhaps this should trigger companies and pension schemes to take advantage of the current relative good times and seek opportunities to de-risk and settle liabilities whilst they can.”

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