Personal Pension Plans and Stock Market Volatility
World Bank - Financial Sector Development
November 30, 1999
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 2463
Personal pension plans transfer investment risk to participating workers and expose them to the volatility of financial returns. Simple financial strategies lower the volatility of replacement rates but at a significant cost in terms of lower replacement rates. The purchase of variable annuities reduces the dispersion of replacement rates across generations without lowering their level.
One of the strongest objections to personal pension plans is that they transfer investment risk to individual workers, who are then exposed to the vagaries of equity and bond markets. Using historical U.S. data, Alier and Vittas investigate the impact of the volatility of investment returns on replacement rates in the context of personal pension plans.They find large fluctuations in replacement rates across different cohorts of workers, if undiversified portfolios are used.
They then explore a number of simple financial strategies for coping with this problem, including:
- Portfolio diversification.
- A late, gradual shift to bonds.
- A gradual purchase of nominal or real annuities.
- A purchase of variable annuities.
The first three strategies lower the volatility of replacement rates, but at a significant cost in terms of lower replacement rates. The purchase of variable annuities reduces the dispersion of replacement rates across generations without lowering their level - because of the persistence of the equity premium and the fact that the volatility of equity returns is lower, the longer the holding period.
Sophisticated financial engineering promises more efficient solutions to this problem, but it may not be feasible to apply it in developing countries (or in developing financial markets). Neither Alier and Vittas's approach nor the more sophisticated financial engineering solutions would be able to deal effectively with persistent deviations of investment returns from long trends. But the authors' findings suggest that overconcern about the impact on replacement rates of short-term volatility in stock markets may not be warranted.
This paper - a product of Finance, Development Research Group - is part of a larger effort in the group to study pension systems and the impact of pension reform. The authors may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 52working papers series
Date posted: December 13, 2004
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