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UK defined benefit funding levels tick higher as bond yields rise

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Funding levels at defined benefit (DB) pension schemes in the UK increased last month as yields on government bonds climbed slightly and share-price rises boosted asset levels, according to data from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF).

The pensions lifeboat reported that its PPF 7800 index, which includes all 6,057 DB schemes covered by the PPF, showed an aggregate deficit of £242.3bn (€335.7bn) at the end of April, down from the £292.6bn seen at the end of the previous month.

The funding ratio rose to 84% from 81.4% over the month but was still well shy of the 96.6% funding level seen in April 2014.

In that month, the aggregate deficit had been well below the latest reported level, at just £40.8bn, according to the PPF data.

Total assets fell back to £1,273.6bn by the end of April from £1,282.5bn a month before, and total liabilities fell to £1,515.9bn from £1,575.2bn.

Schemes in deficit still outnumber those in surplus by more than three to one, with 4,820 schemes shown to be in deficit against 1,237 in surplus.

However, over the month, 175 schemes moved from deficit into surplus, the data showed.

The PPF said the 3.8% fall in liabilities during April reflected increases in nominal as well as index-linked Gilt yields, pointing out equity markets and Gilt yields were the main drivers of funding levels.

Yields on 15-year Gilts rose by 26 basis points in April, while those on the equivalent index-linked paper rose by 3 basis points.

Even though the FTSE All-Share index climbed by 2.6% during the month, pension fund assets fell by 0.7% because share-price rises were more than offset by falls in bond prices, the PPF said.

The PPF 7800 index shows the estimated funding positions of schemes on a section 179 basis, which represents the premium that would have to be paid to an insurer to take on the payments the PPF would make if the scheme went insolvent.

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