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Census Bureau: Public pension plan assets inch up 0.4% in fourth quarter

The 100 largest U.S. public employee retirement systems had $3.397 trillion in assets as of Dec. 31, a 0.4% increase from three months earlier, said the U.S. Census Bureau's latest quarterly survey of public pension funds, released Thursday.

Assets were also up 4.2% from a year earlier, when public pension plan assets totaled $3.261 trillion.

Earnings on investments totaled $37.1 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with $112.1 billion in the third quarter and $65.2 billion in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Corporate stocks, which make up 36.6% of the pension funds' holdings, or $1.23 trillion, increased 1.1% from the end of the previous quarter and 4.7% year-over-year. Corporate bonds, which make up 12.3% of holdings, or $419.5 billion, had a quarterly decrease of 2.7% but a year-over-year increase of 2.6%.

International securities, which make up 19% of holdings, or $644.6 billion, dropped 1.1% in the fourth quarter but had a year-over-year increase of 5.7%.

Other holdings were federal government securities, at 7.8%; cash and short-term investments at 4%; state/local government securities and mortgages at 0.2% each; and other securities at 19.9%.

Government contributions increased 4.6% in the fourth quarter, reaching $31.2 billion. The total was 5.9% higher than the contribution level in the fourth quarter of 2015.

Employee contributions increased 22.5% for the quarter, to $12.04 billion. The total was 4.2% higher than the contribution level in the fourth quarter of 2015.

The 100 public pension systems represent 88.4% of all U.S. public pension fund assets.

The survey is available on the Census Bureau's website.