Thursday, November 22, 2007

Pensions and Structured Debt

The funding of pensions is an important issue for both United Parcel Service and DHL in the United States Market. Both carriers participate in Teamster multiemployer plans. While UPS will be withdrawing from Central States plan before the end of the year, it still a contributor to twenty other multiemployer plans and offers a single employer pension plan to its part-time employees and some non-union employees.

Pension plans have been some of the largest investors in the alphabet soup of structured debt investments and are now facing the potential of one trillion dollars in losses. These investments were offered by the largest investment banks and the investment quality was often rated highly by debt rating agencies such as Moody's and Standard and Poors. Most importantly, many of the multiemployer plans, to which UPS and DHL contribute, may be forced to sell their structured debt at a substantial loss. If required, this will occur soon after the investment grades of the debt are reset to reflect the current perception of risk which many believe will be below investment guidelines set by federal regulation and/or plan trustees.

Now that the true risk associated with these investments are becoming known, questions are being raised about whether any of the parties that were involved in decisions to invest in structured debt failed in their responsibilities and should be held financially accountable for losses that pension funds have incurred. These parties include the plan trustees, investment managers, and the rating agencies that determined that the structured debt met the investment quality standards of the pension plan's investment charter. The board of Trustees of the Teamsters Local 282 pension fund has filed a class action lawsuit against Moody's for giving excessively high ratings to bonds backed by subprime mortgages. While this suit focuses on the impact that Moody's action had on the valuation of Moody's stock, other suits against Countrywide Financial, Citigroup's 401(k) plan, State Street Corp. , Bear Stearns, and AIG illustrate that the issuers of debt and the trustees of pension and 401(k) plans face the risk of legal action. Contributors to multiemployer plans including UPS and DHL need to monitor these law suits in order to monitor their future financial risks.

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