This issue of Pensions & Investments is back by popular demand.
Last year, as an experiment, we did not publish the profiles of the 200 largest pension funds. We simply published more of the data extracted from the questionnaires on which the profiles are based.
We also published stories about trends in various asset categories based on the data. Our thinking was that the summary data and the trend stories were more important than the individual profiles.
Apparently our thinking was wrong.
Enough pension executive readers called to ask about the profiles, or mentioned to members of the staff during the year that they missed them, that we felt we had to reinstate them.
Apparently, a significant number of pension executives use the profiles of their peers' pension funds to bolster their cases for changes to their supervisors.
The preparation of the profiles is a huge task that involves everyone on the P&I staff, beginning in mid-October when the questionnaires are mailed out. Every member of the editorial staff, the editors included, is responsible for a number of funds. Each has to make sure a completed questionnaire is received from the funds he or she has been assigned, and that all of the numbers on the questionnaire are consistent.
This year, 179 of the 200 largest funds returned questionnaires to us. The profiles of those funds that did not were developed using other sources, including the Money Market Directory, Nelson's Directory, corporate annual reports, and industry sources.
The P&I staff wishes to thank those pension executives who took the time from their busy schedules at a hectic period in the year - the mad rush before Christmas. Those of you who filled out the questionnaires made our lives bearable as we attempted to gather the information while still putting out regular issues of P&I.
The profiles, and the questionnaires we get from the next 800 largest funds, help reveal the capital flows and trends in the industry. They provide a first cut, which is amplified and refined later by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and later still by the Department of Labor's examination of 5500 forms.
For instance, the figures show defined contribution assets once again increased at a faster rate than defined benefit plan assets during the year ended Sept. 30 - 17.3% vs. 10.7%.
Contributions to defined benefit plans increased to $36.9 billion from $31.9 billion a year earlier, perhaps reflecting the beginning of the impact of lower interest rates on contribution levels. But at the same time benefit payments increased, to $63.9 billion from $52.5 billion, more than offsetting the contribution increase.
And the assets committed to international investing increased 22.8% from a year earlier on a market-adjusted basis so the Top 200 funds have, on average, 8% of their assets in international investments.
These are the kinds of insights the profile issue provides - so, with the help of our pension executive readers, we'll keep doing it each year. If you see ways for us to make it better, please call me.