Pension Matters

State Employees Retirement Fund
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March 2015

Investment Advisory Committee (IAC)

I attended the March 5th meeting of the IAC. The Executive Summary indicated markets have rebounded strongly from the 08-09 financial recession. Returns have been good and the pension fund has outperformed its peers by over 4 percent. The Michigan State Employees Retirement System (MSERS) had a total fund return of 11.3 percent over the year ending December , 2014. More information is available in the Quarterly Investment Review for March 5, 1015 which can be found on the Department of Treasury, Bureau of Investments web site.

Film Incentive Cessation Legislation

I contacted the Bureau of Investment (BOI) for information on how the following might impact the  pension fund’s Michigan Motion Pictures Studios investment.

HB 4122 which would require the Michigan Film Office to cease giving out incentives on Oct. 1, 2015, when the state’s fiscal year rolls over.

Robert Brackenbury, Director of Investments, Private Markets, Chief Operating Officer responded:

“we can’t be exactly certain of the impact, since not all of the film incentives are utilized by companies that also rent out the MMP Studio facilities.  However, the elimination or reduction of incentives will impact on the studio’s ability to attract film tenants on a long-term basis.  The timing of impacts on studio rentals will depend on the duration of films currently in production under existing incentive levels and the proportion of any remaining incentives that simultaneously are awarded to films that utilize the studio facilities.”

My thanks to Treasury’s Bureau of Investment for their responses to our inquiries.

National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) Studies States who Switched Pension Plans

The National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS), presents summaries of changes in three states — Alaska, Michigan, and West Virginia — that made the switch from a DB pension to DC accounts.  The study states, “ A misperception persists among some that defined contribution (DC) plans “save money” when compared with traditional pensions. However, several states that switched to DC plans have experienced a much different reality over time. Indeed, a recent NIRS analysis of the economic efficiencies of defined benefit (DB) plans reconfirmed that pensions deliver the same amount of lifetime income for about half of the cost of providing the lifetime income from a typical DC plan. “ Below is an excerpt of what they found for Michigan.

    “In Michigan, the DB pension plan was overfunded at 109% in 1997. The state then closed the pension plan to new state employees who were offered DC accounts. The state thought it would save money with the switch, but the pension plan amassed a significant unfunded liability following the closure of the pension plan. By 2012, the funded status dropped to about 60% with $6.2 billion in unfunded liabilities. In recent years, the state has been more disciplined about funding the pension plan, making nearly 80% of the ARC from 2008-2013. “

You can access the entire study at www.nirsonline.org and type in Michigan in the search window.

Constitutionally Guaranteed Retirement Benefits get no Help from High Court

A unanimous opinion from the Supreme Court states, “ When a contract is silent as to the duration of retiree benefits, a court may not infer that the parties intended those benefits to vest for life.“ www.latimes.com

Always Nice to Get a Letter from Those Who are and Have done the People’s Business

The following letter was written to the California Alliance for Retired Americans by Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles Commission on the debt and deficit.

Read more: www.politico.com

To Whom It May Concern:

Erskine Bowles and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the West Coast and received an excellent reception from folks — at least those who are using their heads and have given up using emotion, fear, guilt or racism to juice up their troops. Your little flyer entitled “Bowles! Simpson! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!” is one of the phoniest excuses for a “flyer” I have ever seen. You use the faces of young people, who are the ones who are going to get gutted while you continue to push out your blather and drivel. My suggestion to you — an honest one — read the damn report. The Moment of Truth — 67 pages, and then tell me if we’re not doing the right thing with Social Security. What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people that we are trying to save, while the “greedy geezers” like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap. You must feel some sense of shame for shoveling out this bulls**t. Read the latest news from the Social Security Trustees. The Social Security System will now “hit the skids” in 2033 instead of 2036. If you can’t understand all of this you need a pane of glass in your naval so you can see out during the day! Read the report. Get back to me. My address is below. If you don’t read the report, — as Ebenezer Scrooge said in the Christmas Carol, “Haunt me no longer!”

Best regards, Alan Simpson

Read more: www.politico.com Or go to www.snopes.com for more information.

Detroit Pensioners Cuts

City of Detroit retirees covered by the general retirement system are beginning to see pension cuts take effect with their March check. Retirees reported that they received notices in the mail on Friday. The March checks, as well as paperwork for those who use direct deposit, show that the cuts are taking place now.

The March 1 date had been targeted as the time to begin the cuts, though some earlier reports suggested the move might have been delayed until April 1. Read more at www.freep.com

Treasury to Help Detroit Pensioners

“...the state Treasury Department accepted one-time applications in December that will provide qualified retirees supplemental pension payments.

The Income Stabilization Fund was created to prevent retirees from falling below the poverty line as a result of the cuts. The program allocates $20 million over 14 years for retirees from either of the city’s two pension funds.

To be considered, pensioners must be 60 or older and have an income that is at 140 percent of the 2013 federal poverty level. For police and fire, 268 retirees or beneficiaries were deemed eligible for the monthly supplement of up to $58.

The General Retirement System had about 1,550 applicants who qualified. Of those, about 1,450 will begin receiving monthly payments of $1 to $180 this year, said Tina Bassett, a spokeswoman for the fund. Bassett said the additional 100 or so eligible pensioners who do not qualify this year may be deemed eligible in future years based on changes in the federal poverty index. “Our retirees and other members have made personal sacrifices and difficult decisions throughout this process and now are working to move forward on a stable path,“ she said.

Read the entire article at www.detroitnews.com

Tighter Rules On Retirement Account Brokers

President Barack Obama calls for tighter rules on retirement account brokers,“ reigniting a confrontation with the financial services industry over rules affecting trillions of dollars in 401k and other savings accounts“. (Feb. 23) AP

Watch the video at www.usatoday.com You can also see it on our Lansing SERA Facebook page

Follow These Steps to Keep Your Accounts Secure

A brokerage account can be a lot like a bank account. Keep your money safe from scammers and fraud. Take the time to do the following to protect yourself:

  • Pick a “strong” password, keep it secure, and change it regularly.
  • Use two-step verification, if available.
  • Use different passwords for different online accounts (i.e., brokerage, banking, retirement, or other similar financial accounts).
  • Avoid using public computers to access your online brokerage account.

Get the full tips at Investor.gov

Tax Planning for Retirement

Taxes don’t stop when your paycheck does. In fact, tapping your retirement nest egg comes with all sorts or new rules and opportunities.

Read more at www.kiplinger.com

Editor’s note: June Morse may be contacted at jmorse10@comcast.net or 517-886-9323.

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