Texas County & District Retirement System, Austin, has chosen an 8% rate for several reasons, such as investment style, said Kathy Thrift, chief customer officer, in an email.
"When compared to the average public pension plan, our asset mix is very different," Ms. Thrift wrote. "The major difference in our portfolio is that we have a very small percentage — 3% — allocated to investment-grade bonds."
She added that the pension system "has used other asset classes with better return characteristics to offset risk in the portfolio," including hedge funds and strategic credit.
Emphasizing that 8% "is a long-term target," Ms. Thrift wrote that market volatility means the pension system won't hit 8% every year.
The system "has other measures in place to manage risk, including a $1 billion reserve fund — as of Dec. 31, 2018 — that may be used to offset future adverse experience," she explained.
The retirement system's board "in good years," can "set aside earnings rather than pass them through to the individual employer plans," she explained. "The reserves are invested with the plan assets. This tool has helped us keep employer rates stable over time."
The $31.9 billion retirement system completed its most recent review in December 2017 to assess its economic and demographic assumptions.
"Two independent outside actuarial firms both concurred that the investment return assumption is reasonable," Ms. Thrift wrote. "We conduct a full review of our assumptions every four years."
Ms. Thrift illustrated the system's long-term investment strategy by noting that members work an average of 18 years and are retired for 20 years or more. The 30-year return is 8% and the benchmark is 6.9% as of the fiscal year ended Dec. 31.
"Every year, we update our capital market assumptions, which are forward-looking expectations of the return, risk and correlation of each of our asset classes," she wrote.
"We then model a portfolio targeted to meet our long-term expected return goal with an acceptable level of risk," she added. "If we do not think our portfolio can be constructed to achieve our goal with an acceptable level of risk, we will adjust our expectations."
The system has a funded status of 88.5% on an actuarial value basis, or 91% when reserves are included, as of Dec. 31.
The return, net of fees, for the fiscal year ended Dec. 31 was -1.86%, but still better than the benchmark of -3.31%. The three-year annualized return was 6.57%, topping the benchmark of 6.16%. The five-year annualized return of 5.13% surpassed the benchmark of 4.1%. The 10-year annualized return was 9.02%, exceeding the benchmark of 8.06%.
The other plan in the NASRA database with an 8% assumed rate of return is the Arkansas State Highway Employees' Retirement System, Little Rock. The plan had $1.5 billion in assets and a funding ratio of 83.51% as of June 30, 2018, according to the latest actuarial valuation report
Additional details were not available. Robyn Smith, executive director, didn't respond to requests for information.