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2019 Pension Review "First Take"

From Flat to Down

Each year, we perform a comprehensive review of the defined benefit (DB) pension plans of every company in the S&P 500. But rarely do things change as rapidly as they have this year. Since the start of 2020, market volatility has driven the aggregate funded status of the US corporate DB system to a level not seen since the global financial crisis—and down sharply from where it ended in 2019. This raises questions and concerns among plan sponsors on how this may impact any required PBGC insurance premiums and investment strategies.

In the past, the US government has displayed a willingness to provide funding relief to corporate DB plans, as it did during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008 and again in 2012. This is important, as current funding relief is scheduled to begin to fade next year.  We invite you to read more in our 18th annual pension review, “First Take:” From Flat to Down where we outline the challenges plans face and the trends affecting the landscape.



Aggregate funded status of the US corporate DB system at the end of 2019


Estimated aggregate funded status of the system as of mid-March 2020


Average 2019 discount rate calendar-year firms used to value benefit obligations, an 18-year low

Volatility Hits Hard

We estimate that market volatility has since pushed funded status to levels not seen since the financial crisis.

Source: Goldman Sachs Asset Management, company reports; based upon the US plans (when specified) of S&P 500 companies, for illustrative purposes only. All figures above, except for December 2018, are preliminary or estimated and unaudited as of March 2020, and are subject to potentially significant revisions over time. March 2020 estimate is as of 3/11/20. Past performance does not guarantee future results, which may vary.

Background on the First Take

Each year, we perform a comprehensive review of the DB pension plans of every company in the S&P 500 based on the information they file in their annual 10-K reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  As in previous years, we have focused our initial analysis in our “First Take” report on the 50 companies in the S&P 500 with the largest US DB plans based on asset values. The goal of this “First Take” review is to provide initial impressions on the issues and factors impacting corporate DB plan sponsors.

2019 Pension Review “First Take:” From Flat to Down

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2019 Chartbook

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