Public Pension Earnings ‘Largest on Record’ in Q1

Corporate stocks, international equities drive earnings growth

The first quarter of 2012 brought U.S. public pensions their largest investment earnings on record.

Citing the U.S. Census Bureau, Reuters noted that public pensions earned $179.2 billion, pushing total holdings and investments up 5.6% from the fourth quarter, to $2.8 trillion. Holdings and investments are up 0.7% from the year-ago period. The U.S. Census Bureau began collecting data on pension investments in the third quarter of 1974.

Government contributions increased 12.7% from the fourth quarter and 14.5% from the first quarter of 2011, according to Reuters, to over $24 billion. Employee contributions were $9.3 billion.

Most of the first-quarter gains are from corporate stocks, which increased nearly 18% from the fourth quarter to more than $967 billion, and international equities, which grew more than 16% to $550 billion.

Investments in Treasuries grew 25% to $223.5 billion, the highest level in 10 years, according to Reuters.

Investments in bonds fell almost 7% from the fourth quarter, and fully 15% from the first quarter of 2011, to $371.9 billion.

The Pew Center on the States reported on June 19 that the retirement benefit shortfall grew to at least $1.38 trillion in fiscal year 2010, a 9% increase over 2009. Pension plans account for a $757 billion gap, while retiree health care and non-pension benefits account for $627 billion.

The National Public Pension Coalition, which represents public-sector employees like teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters, issued a statement following the Census Bureau’s release.

“Yesterday’s news that public pension funds ‘had the largest investment earnings on record’ after four straight quarterly increases demonstrates that public pensions are improving,” NPPC’s executive director, Jordan Marks, said in the statement. “This is good news for our economic recovery from the Wall Street meltdown and bad news for the opponents of public employees.

“The orchestrated effort to slash public pensions is based on scapegoating public employees and ignores all the facts. Yesterday’s news is a positive development that should not be ignored. No one is more interested in the long-term health of pension plans than the teachers, cops, firefighters, and others who rely on them.”

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