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Pension Fund Investment Policy

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  • Zvi Bodie

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to survey what is known about the investment policy of pension funds. Pension fund investment policy depends critically on the type of plan: defined contribution versus defined benefit. For defined contribution plans investment policy is not much different than it is for an individual deciding how to invest the money in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The guiding principle is efficient diversification, that is, achieving the maximum expected return for any given level of risk exposure. The special feature is the fact that investment earnings are not taxed as long as the money is held in the pension fund. This consideration should cause the investor to tilt the asset mix of the pension fund towards the least tax-advantaged securities such as corporate bonds. For defined benefit plans the practitioner literature seems to advocate immunization strategies to hedge benefits owed to retired employees and portfolio insurance strategies to hedge benefits accruing to active employees. Academic research into the theory of optimal funding and asset allocation rules for corporate defined benefit plans concludes that if their objective is shareholder wealth maximization then these plans should pursue extreme policies. For healthy plans, the optimum is full funding and investment exclusively in taxable fixed-income securities. For very underfunded plans, the optimum is minimum funding and investment in the riskiest assets. Empirical research so far has failed to decisively confirm or reject the predictions of this theory of corporate pension policy. Recent rule changes adopted by the Financial Accounting Standards Board regarding corporate reporting of defined benefit plan assets and liabilities may lead to a significant shift into fixed-income securities. The recent introduction of price-level indexed securities in u.s. financial markets may lead to significant changes in pension fund asset allocation. By giving plan sponsors a simple way to hedge inflation risk, these securities make it possible to offer plan participants inflation protection both before and after retirement.

Suggested Citation

  • Zvi Bodie, 1988. "Pension Fund Investment Policy," NBER Working Papers 2752, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:2752
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Benjamin M. Friedman, 1983. "Pension Funding, Pension Asset Allocation, and Corporate Finance: Evidence from Individual Company Data," NBER Chapters,in: Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System, pages 107-152 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. J. Michael Harrison & William F. Sharpe, 1983. "Optimal Funding and Asset Allocation Rules for Defined-Benefit Pension Plans," NBER Chapters,in: Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System, pages 91-106 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Martin Feldstein, 1982. "Private Pensions as Corporate Debt," NBER Chapters,in: The Changing Roles of Debt and Equity in Financing U.S. Capital Formation, pages 75-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Irwin Tepper, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," NBER Working Papers 0661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Treynor, Jack L, 1977. "The Principles of Corporate Pension Finance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 32(2), pages 627-638, May.
    6. Jeremy I. Bulow, 1982. "What are Corporate Pension Liabilities?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 97(3), pages 435-452.
    7. Sharpe, William F., 1976. "Corporate pension funding policy," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 183-193, June.
    8. Tepper, Irwin, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 36(1), pages 1-13, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jeffrey R. Brown, 2008. "Guaranteed Trouble: The Economic Effects of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(1), pages 177-198, Winter.
    2. Robert Novy-Marx & Joshua D. Rauh, 2008. "The Intergenerational Transfer of Public Pension Promises," NBER Working Papers 14343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Bodie, Zvi, 1990. "Pensions as Retirement Income Insurance," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 28(1), pages 28-49, March.
    4. Love, David & Smith, Paul A. & Wilcox, David, 2007. "Why Do Firms Offer Risky Defined–Benefit Pension Plans?," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association;National Tax Journal, vol. 60(3), pages 507-519, September.
    5. David A. Love & Paul A. Smith & David W. Wilcox, 2009. "Should risky firms offer risk-free DB pensions?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-20, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    6. Ricardo Bebczuk & Alberto Musalem & María Luisa Streb, 2011. "Suggesting Guidelines for Public Pension Funds Governance," Department of Economics, Working Papers 089, Departamento de Economía, Facultad de Ciencias Económicas, Universidad Nacional de La Plata.
    7. Martin Boyer & Franca Glenzer, 2016. "Pensions, annuities, and long-term care insurance: On the impact of risk screening," Cahiers de recherche 1603, Chaire de recherche Industrielle Alliance sur les enjeux économiques des changements démographiques.

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