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On Asset-Liability Matching and Federal Deposit and Pension Insurance

Asset-liability mismatch was a principal cause of the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1980s. The federal government's failure to recognize the mismatch risk early on and manage it properly led to huge losses by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation, which had to be covered by taxpayers. In dealing with the problems now facing the defined-benefit pension system and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the government seems to be making some of the same mistakes it made then. Among the causes is the fallacious belief that because pension funds have a long time horizon the risk of investing in equities is negligible. In fact, the opposite is true. Moreover, for the PBGC, the mismatch risk is magnified by moral hazard and adverse selection. Distressed companies facing the prospect of bankruptcy have an incentive to underfund their pension plans and adopt risky investment strategies; healthy companies have an incentive to terminate their plans and exit the system. The paper explores some ways to limit the costs of a potential PBGC bailout.

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