Here’s some good news about California pensions for a change. After two consecutive years of disappointing earnings, the California Public Employees’ Retirement System and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System both say their investments for the past 12 months were well above what was anticipated. CalPERS, the state’s largest pension fund with some $323 billion in assets, finished the fiscal year with a net return of 11.2 percent while CalSTRS, a $208.7 billion pension fund, reported returns of 13.4 percent.
Both pension funds had presumed an average return of 7.5 percent for the year, although both have lowered their so-called discount rate to 7 percent for future years.
It’s the most promising news in three years given that CalPERS’ investment return rate last year was a mere 0.61 percent following a return of 2.4 percent in June 2015. The return for CalSTRS last year was a miserly 1.4 percent.
While these reports were impressive, they’re hardly cause for champagne. Even with double-digit returns, CalPERS still has only 68 percent of the assets needed to cover all of the promises made to public employees. As of April 6, CalSTRS funded status was 63.7 percent. This means local governments have been having to contribute more to bridge the gap — a gap created by stock market losses as well as unrealistic and retroactive increases in CalPERS public employee benefits. These returns deserve a thumbs up. But the state is a long way away from saying goodbye to this crisis.