The combined deficit of defined benefit (DB) pension schemes covered by the UK's Pension Protection Fund's (PPF) 7800 index rose by more than £10bn over the last month amid COVID-19 uncertainty.
The latest figures show that the aggregate deficit of the 5,422 schemes in the PPF 7800 Index increased to £135.9bn at the end of March, up from £124.6bn at the end of February.
The funding ratio decreased from 93.2% to 92.5% during that time, with total assets and liabilities at £1,680.5bn and £1,816.4bn respectfully at the end of March.
These figures cover the period in which much of the global economy went into lockdown, sending shock waves through financial markets and disrupting international trade and supply chains.
“The drop in schemes’ funding position over the month was caused by a decrease in equity prices, which contributed to schemes’ asset values decreasing by around 2.3%,” a PPF spokesperson explained.
“This was offset to an extent by a decrease in liability values of around 1.6% due to an increase in index-linked bond yields.”
The PPF figures show that there were 3,606 schemes in deficit and 1,816 schemes in surplus, with the total deficit of those in the red rising from £244.8bn to £254.1bn last month.
Nigel Green, CEO of the deVere Group, described the £10bn deficit jump as "staggering", and warned that final salary pension schemes are “in the eye of the perfect storm” as COVID-19 adds to the growing deficit threat.
He also pointed to UK gilt yields falling to a new all-time low in March as another reason for concern, and said that assets invested in sectors like travel are likely to depreciate during the economic downturn.
“The true damage to pension schemes is not always immediately apparent, but this £10bn jump in the funding gap should raise alarm,” he continued.
“More than ever, people need to take responsibility to ensure they regularly review all their assets and investments to secure their futures."