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How Well Does the Risk-Free Rate Predict the Future Rate of Return on Investments? Implications for Public Defined-Benefit Pension Plans  


Author:  Kenneth A. Kriz.; Gang Chen.


Source: Volume 38, Number 01, Spring 2017 , pp.57-72(16)




Municipal Finance Journal

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Abstract: 

Prior studies have suggested that public pension liabilities should be discounted using a risk-free rate. However, government accounting standards still allow the use of the long-term rate of investment return for valuation of pension liabilities. This paper reexamines the appropriateness of using the risk-free rate in the valuation of public pension portfolios. Based on historical investment return data, the authors simulate two diversified pension investment portfolios and estimate their long-term growth. They find that the risk-free rate produces a significant downward bias in the prediction of the future value of pension assets and argue that using the risk-free rate for valuation would overestimate plan underfunding and create unnecessary funding pressure for state and local governments.

Keywords: Public pension, discount rate, pension investment, risk-free rate, government accounting standards

Affiliations:  1: Wichita State University; 2: University at Albany, State University of New York.

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