Tag Archives: Calpers

America’s Pension Crisis Is About To Detonate

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts sent me an article by Catherine Austin Fitts and asked if I had read it.  The article is titled, “The State of America’s Pension Funds.” The article is worth reading, though I believe Ms. Fitts underestimates significantly the degree to which political and Wall Street criminality – along with money management incompetence – has infected and destroyed the U.S. pension system – both public and private. Furthermore, I believe she errs in her believe that the pension crisis can be fixed.

I’ve re-posted below my view of the looming pension system melt-down that I shared with Dr. Roberts.

“My guestimate for the amount stolen or shifted illegally through these mechanisms is $50 trillion, although I can argue the number higher.” I agree with her assessment there.

Craig, I concluded in 2003 that the elitists would hold up the system with printed money and credit creation until they had swept every last crumb of middle class wealth off the table and into their own pockets. Back then, I said housing was next asset to be drilled and cored. Let’s review: The first bubble removed at least $5-10 trillion of wealth from the public via the bailout of the banks and the wealth lost by people who chased home prices higher and then lost those homes to foreclosure or short-sale. Most of those homes are now sitting in the rental portfolios of large Wall Street investment funds like Black Rock and Colony Capital.

I also concluded that the last remaining middle class asset was retirement funds (Pensions, 401k’s, IRAs) and that looting that asset class would be the elitists coup de grace. Retirement assets are by far the largest middle class asset in aggregate (something like $20 trillion now). Let’s review: Every dollar of under-funding is a dollar of wealth transferred away from the pension plan members to either current beneficiaries or the promoters of the fund investments. A lot of money is also paid to “professionals” who skim huge salaries and benefits to put money to work with hedge funds and private equity funds, most of which will be wiped out in the next big bear market.

I have a close friend who works at a pension fund. It’s an off-shoot of a big State pension plan which happens to be one of the more underfunded pension funds in the country. My friend has to be a member of the pension fund as an employee of the fund he helps manage. He told me that as of Jan 1 he now has to contribute 12% of his pre-tax income to the pension fund. It’s criminal. That’s in addition to the amount his employer has to match. The money helps fund current beneficiary payouts. He needs his salary/job to support his family so he does not have a choice but to keep working at his current position unless he can find something else that pays equally as well. The job market for investment fund analysts is extremely difficult right now. His wife has to work for them to make ends meet (their kids are all under 12)

Based on a detailed study he did internally, he estimates the true underfunding of all public pensions in aggregate is at least $8 trillion. Not the $3.5 trillion referenced by Catherine Austin Fitts. He’s an insider and has access to better data than the outsiders and academics who have done studies that conclude $3-5 trillion of underfunding. THAT’s with the stock AND bond markets at all-time highs. How in the hell is that possible? The difference, or funding gap, is the wealth that is being confiscated.

The under-funding device is a very subtle and brilliant mechanism of wealth transfer. No one thinks about it that way but that’s what it is. A massive wealth transfer  mechanism.

I worked for some of these insiders at Bankers Trust. I can tell you first-hand, for a fact, that these people will do ANYTHING to take money from ANYONE, legally or illegally. I saw this first-hand. They are all very bright, well-educated and completely devoid of morals or ethics.  My direct boss was like that and everyone above him was even worse. They hate nothing more than leaving, literally, even dimes and nickels on the table.

That’s why the system is doomed.

Is Fed Pumping Stocks To Keep Pensions Solvent?

The pension crisis is inching closer by the day. @CalPERS just voted to increase the amount cities must pay to the agency. Cities point to possible insolvency if payments keep rising but CalPERS is near insolvency itself. It may be reform or bailout soon. – Steve Westly, former California controller and CalPERS board member.

1.5 MILLION RETIREES AWAIT CONGRESSIONAL FIX FOR A PENSION TIME BOMB

In a story buried in the business section of the February 18th NY Times, it was reported that the spending budget passed by Congress included a provision that creates a 16-member bipartisan congressional committee to craft legislation that would provide for the potential bailout of as many as 200 multi-employer” pension plans. Like most State public pension plans most of these multi-employer plans are about to hit the wall of insolvency. A multi-employer plan is a union pension plan that covers employees of union working at different companies.   This minor little detail was not reported anywhere else.

A good friend of mine who works at a public pension did an internal study of all major State pension plans and determined that a 10% or more decline in the stock market for an extended period of time would blow up every single public pension in the country.  “Extended period of time” was defined as more than 3-4 months.  Every pension fund he studied is a monthly net seller of assets in order to fund beneficiary payouts – i.e. the cash contributions from current payees into the fund plus investment returns on capital is not enough to fund current beneficiary payouts.  Think about that for a moment.

As such, State pensions have dramatically ramped up their risk profile and most now invest at least 40-50% of their assets in stocks.  If you include private equity allocations, the overall exposure to equity investments is 70-80%.  CalPERS allocates 50% of its AUM to the stock market; the State of Kentucky  is now at 60%. Historically, pension stock allocations have typically – and prudently – ranged from 25-35%.

The stock market has now experienced three 9-10% drawdowns since August 2015. Assuming the “V” move  higher from the latest market plunge continues, each drawdown has been aggressively and swiftly negated by obvious Fed intervention.  The Fed does not deny this allegation and even subtly alludes to a non-explicit goal of targeting asset prices.

With pensions now 50% or more invested in stocks, it seems pretty obvious that one way to inflate away the looming pension catastrophe is for the Fed to inflate the stock market.  Two weeks ago the Fed reflated its balance sheet by increasing its SOMA holdings with $11 billion in mortgages. The SOMA account is the Fed’s QE account.  An $11 billion SOMA injection to the banks translates into $100 billion in liquidity – through the magic of the fractional banking system – that can be pumped into the stock market.  Who needs retail stool pigeons to chase extreme valuations even higher?

Most, if not all, pensions are quickly reallocating their equity investments for active to passive funds. “Passive” = indexing.  This means that the Fed only has to worry about inflation the broad indices like the Dow, SPX and Nasdaq.  That’s why an increasingly few number of stocks, like AMZN and Boeing, are driving the indices.  There’s still plenty of stocks that continue to decline – GE, for instance.

I laugh and sometime sneer at those who think new Fed Head Jerome Powell will impose monetary discipline by raising interest rates at least up to the real rate of inflation and reduce the Fed’s balance sheet according the schedule as laid out by Yellen.  After all, Powell is heavily invested in Carlyle Group, which  owns many companies that are covered by union pension plans.  He’s incentivized personally  to keep the monetary gerbil running on the wheel.

And better yet, if the Fed can keep the pensions thinly solvent by pumping up the stock market, Congress and State Governments can defer the inevitable taxpayer bailout of public pension funds – for now.