Employment Benefits Discount Rate: Any Case for a Current Rate?

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Feb 05, 2018

On February 5, 2018, the Public Sector Accounting Board (PSAB) published an article about the debate on whether a current rate, an average rate or a projected rate would be appropriate for the discount rate used in determining benefit obligation.

Employees of U.S. nuclear power firm Westinghouse Electric Co. got a surprise recently. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC), a U.S. government agency that insures certain U.S. private employer pension plans, had estimated that the Westinghouse pension plan was under-funded by US$937 million.

The news came as a shock because the plan had been considered fully funded in its most recent report, filed with the U.S. Department of Labor in 2015. This shortfall is massive, given that the plan had US$926 million in assets. However, the shortfall did not arise from mismanagement, fraud or aggressive plan investment strategy. Instead, it was due to the different discount rates used by the company and the PBGC.

The Westinghouse example, however, demonstrated the implications of using an average rate versus a current market rate in estimating benefit obligation, and the implications of using different lengths of period for the average rate.

Review the full article in PSAB's website.

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