The number of liftout transactions should well exceed full plan terminations this year, said George Palms, Stamford, Conn.-based president of Legal & General Group PLC's U.S. retirement business.
"When plan sponsors go along the derisking journey, the final step is to terminate the plan, and that can be a 12- to 18-month process with regulatory filings," Mr. Palms said. "Last year, we benefited from those continuing, but what we didn't see (were) more initiations of plan terminations, so when you look at the business this year, it's going to be much more dominated by retiree liftouts."
Among those liftouts, the majority of transactions — like those of Lockheed Martin — target a specific set of retirees receiving below a certain threshold of monthly benefits, which represents a significant percentage of the overall participants.
The number of participants in a plan directly affects the fixed Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. premium rate, which is measured per participant. It has steadily grown to $86 per participant in 2021 from $83 in 2020 and $80 in 2019.
Aon's Mr. Jacobs said plan sponsors are still concentrating on lifting out retirees and beneficiaries who are receiving small monthly benefit amounts.
"We've got a number of those that we're in the midst of implementing through the rest of the year," he said.
The desire to lower PBGC premiums by removing participants from the balance sheet also accounts for the lack of buy-in transactions in the U.S., but Lockheed Martin gained attention in December 2018 when it purchased an $810 million group annuity contract from Athene Annuity and Life Co., which reimburses Lockheed Martin for benefit payments the plan makes to its retirees and beneficiaries.
While Lockheed Martin is not terminating its plan, more corporations are investigating a buy-in transaction as a way to lock in costs on full plan terminations, experts say.
Because the plan termination process takes up to 18 months, locking in rates in advance can help remove the volatility from interest-rate fluctuations and equity markets.
"If it's a $1 billion plan and it's got $950 million in assets, you estimate $950 million in assets and $1 billion in liabilities, I have to write a $50 million check, let's say," Mr. Jacobs said.
"If I'm off by 1%, you're now at $1.01 billion (in liabilities), but that means my $50 million contribution goes to $60 million. My 1% difference in price estimate becomes a 20% difference in budgeted cash," Mr. Jacobs said. "The reason why these buy-ins have become and will become more popular is it eliminates that risk you've been sitting with so long."