100 largest public pension plans' assets reach $2.7 trillion in Q1

The 100 largest public retirement systems in the U.S. had a combined $2.7 trillion in the first quarter of 2011, an increase of 3.6% from the start of 2011 and 10.2% above the first quarter last year, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report.

The asset total for the quarter was the highest since mid-2008. The first quarter marked the sixth consecutive three-month period with a year-to-year increase, and the third consecutive quarter of increases, according to the report.

Overall contributions to the plans dipped 5.3% for the 12 months ended March 31, while government contributions declined by 5.7% and employee contributions fell at a year-to-year rate of 4%. Keith Brainard, research director for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, attributes that mostly to declining government payrolls, with 500,000, or 2.9%, fewer workers than in September 2008.

Holdings in corporate stocks comprised 32.8% of the plans' holdings, up 3.4% to $896.4 billion from the last quarter and 6.3% over first quarter 2010. Corporate bonds, at 15.7% of plan holdings, were down 0.1% from three months earlier, but still 2.4% higher than the year-ago quarter.

International securities, which comprised 18.5% of combined assets, increased 3.8% over first quarter 2010, to $507.6 billion, the highest level since the bureau began collecting data on that category in late 2002. That represents a 18.3% year-to-year increase.

Federal government securities, which represent 6.1% of all holdings, reversed two quarters of decline to rise 1.4% in the first quarter of 2011, a 2.6% year over year gain.

The top 100 state and local government retirement systems studied by the Census Bureau represent 89.4% of total cash and security holdings in public plans, according to the 2007 Census of Governments, which identified the largest plans comprising the census bureau's survey panel for the quarterly surveys.

The top 100 plans included in the survey and other data can be found at the Census Bureau's website.