Economic and Financial Approaches to Valuing Pension Liabilities

Robert Novy-Marx


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Financial economics holds that payment streams should be valued using discount rates that reflect the cash flows’ risks. In the case of pension liabilities, the appropriate discount rate for a pension fund’s liabilities is the expected rate of return on a portfolio that would be held under a liability-driven investment policy. The valuation of defined benefit (DB) pension obligations involves choices revolving around deciding 1) what future benefit payments to recognize today (i.e., which liability concept to use); and 2) from whose point of view to value the liabilities. Moving towards modeling the distribution of future liabilities using a “risk-neutral” framework would allow for calculating the present value of the future liabilities more accurately. This would provide policymakers with information more relevant for decisionmaking, and it would also permit easier communication of the risks facing the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s PIMS model via a single univariate statistic.