December 2, 2019

Pensioners could be in trouble.

I recently read about a pension fund in crisis, much of which was brought on by risky investments. It’s just one fund, but there are many like it nationwide.

Bear markets from the early 2000s and 2008-09 hit pension funds hard. They became underfunded because of losses absorbed in equity markets and lower interest rates cooked up by the Federal Reserve.

This combination brought on losses and forced pension funds to think outside the box because they weren’t getting stock market returns or yield on bonds. In other words, they often took on more risk to generate returns.

Many times, this does not end well.

It didn’t for the metro Detroit Carpenters Pension Trust Fund. It sunk millions into risky deals, most of which didn’t pay off, and now pensioners are being asked to take cuts.

The union’s fund lost $36 million investing in a golf course and $12 million backing an energy drink company. When these investments go south, trustees seek to slash benefits to make up the difference.

Trustees for the Detroit carpenter union asked the federal government to approve cuts of 16-26 percent to pensioners’ paychecks starting in July 2020. The cut must be voted on by the pension fund beneficiaries, but even if they reject it, it could still be forced on them.

Trustees sunk $100 million into risky deals and it didn’t pay off. Now the carpenters are paying for it. One retired carpenter said such a cut would make him lose his house. Is that what he earned after 34 years of service?

Unfortunately, this is probably the tip of the iceberg. The pension horror show could be coming to a theater near you soon.