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UK roundup: PPF, KPMG, Steve Webb, Wedgwood Museum

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  • UK roundup: PPF, KPMG, Steve Webb, Wedgwood Museum

UK - Deficits across the UK's defined benefit schemes have fallen for the first time in five months, according to data from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), which reported a 16% drop in underfunding at the end of February.

According to the most recent data for the PPF 7800 index, the nearly 6,500 schemes reported a deficit of £222.2bn (€264bn) at the end of last month, a £43.4bn reduction over January.

In line with the reduced shortfall, the aggregate funding ratio rose nearly 3 percentage points to 82.4%, still far short of the 103.8% ratio in February 2011, when the index reported a £35bn surplus.

Additionally, the number of schemes reporting a deficit fell by nearly a third, from 5,388 to just over 3,600 pension funds.

In other news, KPMG has questioned whether delaying de-risking is the best strategy for pension funds to pursue.

Investment advisory partner Jon Exley warned against developing "theoretical and administratively complicated strategies" that could not be implemented until the right situation arose, likening it to planning how to spend the windfall of a lottery win.

"So-called 'dynamic de-risking' - where trustees agree to future changes in investment strategy depending on certain triggers being met - is, unfortunately, all too often a misnomer, as delaying action until the good times is hardly dynamic, and it doesn't really reduce risk," he said.

Exley added that "hoping for the best" should not form the foundation of a de-risking strategy, with opportunities to cut risk exposure "almost always" possible if action is taken "sooner rather than later".

The call comes a few months after JP Morgan Asset Management said pension funds should aim for the "right risk" over simple de-risking strategies and look to maintain their exposure to certain risk assets.

Lastly, pensions minister Steve Webb has said the government is engaging with the PPF over the sale of Wedgwood Museum's collection in an effort to settle an ongoing dispute over its pension deficit.

The transfer to the PPF - triggered after Waterford Wedgewood Potteries went insolvent, leaving the museum as sole sponsor of the scheme - has been the subject of debate over the UK lifeboat scheme's decision to sell the pottery collection to satisfy funding needs.

Webb told the House of Commons last week: "When any charity or other organisation joins a last-man-standing pension scheme, it is important it take proper advice about the liabilities it is taking on."

He said minister for culture Ed Vaizey had discussed the issue with PPF chair Lady Barbara Judge to explain the "importance of the collection for the nation".

Webb added: "[He] has asked her whether she can find a way of preventing the collection from being broken up. That is something we all want to see."

The pensions minister had previously ruled out any changes to the laws governing the PPF and insolvencies, arguing they could have "significant repercussions".

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