The bleeding has stopped, but the patient is still in intensive care.
After dropping by double digits two years in a row, assets of the 200 largest retirement plan sponsors in the United States rebounded by a solid 15%, Pensions & Investments' annual survey shows.
Click here for full profiles of the top 200 funds and data tables on the top funds
Helped by a dramatic rally on Wall Street, assets of the top 200 pension funds rose 15.2% to $3.65 trillion in the year ended Sept. 30 after declining by 11% the year before and 24% over the prior two years. Assets of the largest 1,000 plans rose 11.8% to $4.84 trillion, a turnaround from the 10% drop posted in 2002.
On a market-adjusted basis, assets of the top 200 rose just 1.9%, while assets of the top 1,000 slipped 4.4%.
"The primary driver (of the asset growth) was the stock market," said Steve Nesbitt, managing director at Wilshire Associates in Santa Monica, Calif. "An improved earnings outlook lifted stock values, which in turn lifted all financial assets."
For the 12 months ended Sept. 30, the broad-based S&P 500 stock index posted a 24% gain and the Dow Jones industrial average rose 25%. The Russell 3000, which represents roughly 98% of the U.S. equity market, added 26%.
Worldwide, stocks also rose sharply over that period, with the Morgan Stanley Capital International Europe Australasia Far East index gaining 27% and the MSCI World index up 26%.
(The major indexes used for market adjustments, and their returns for the 12 months ended Sept. 30, were: Russell 3000 index, 25.9%; Citigroup Broad Investment Grade index, 5.49%; MSCI EAFE, 26.5%; and Citigroup World Government Bond, non-U.S., in U.S. dollars, 17.8%.)
Mr. Nesbitt noted that increased contributions by employers also helped raise assets during the P&I survey period.