“They will have to double their savings to retire at a reasonable age.”
These quotes represent the conventional wisdom about our nation’s millennials, the more than 80 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 36. However, the savings picture for millennials has become more complex, according to recent data. This cohort of young people is saving more, though for short-term goals instead of retirement.
Millennials, especially the younger ones, are now building up their savings to cover emergencies for the first time since the financial crisis. More than 30 percent of Americans ages 18 to 26 have saved enough to cover three to five months of living expenses, according to a survey conducted earlier this year by Princeton Survey Research Associates International.
A spokesman for Bankrate.com, the survey’s sponsor, explained, “Millennials have a savings discipline that the preceding generations lacked.” Despite much lower levels of earnings, millennials save on average 19 percent of their annual income, compared to 14 percent for both generation X (those in their late 30s to early 50s) and baby boomers (those in their late 50s to late 60s).
Pennsylvania, like many other states, is facing a huge unfunded pension deficit in its defined benefit plans: a $70 billion shortfall in two large plans for teachers and other state employees. Unlike most states, Pennsylvania in early June passed — with widespread bipartisan support — major legislation “to get real meaningful pension reform,” as Gov. Tom Wolf was quoted saying.
Indeed, the recent Pennsylvania law is a significant step in the right direction. However, the financial projections for the legislation show how long it takes, given the legal and political constraints, for this approach to pension reform to meaningfully reduce the burden on state budgets.
Here is the background. In 2001, Pennsylvania reported a $20 billion surplus in its two big defined benefit plans – the Public School Employees’ Retirement System and the State Employees’ Retirement System. But then state legislators boosted benefits for current state workers without increasing contributions to these plans, and even extended this giveaway to already retired public employees. In 2003, legislators compounded the state’s funding challenge by taking a “pension holiday” — decreasing pension contributions to allocate revenue to other state priorities.
These actions contributed to a giant shortfall during the global financial crisis, when the value of the state’s pension portfolios plummeted. In response, state legislators in 2010 reduced pension benefits — only for newly hired state workers — to pre-2001 levels. Nevertheless, because of growing obligations to current and retired workers, the state’s contributions to its pension plans ballooned to $6 billion in the 2018 fiscal year from $1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year.
Senate Republicans last week agreed on a budget resolution allowing a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next 10 years from tax legislation. This resolution paves the way for 51 Republican Senators to enact mammoth tax cuts by September 30, 2018.
As the centerpiece of these tax cuts, President Donald Trump has proposed to lower the corporate tax rate to 15% from 35%. However, despite the deficit cushion of $1.5 trillion allowed by last week’s budget resolution, a 15% rate is totally unrealistic.
Cutting the corporate tax rate to 15% would cost the U.S. Treasury $3.7 trillion over 10 years. But that cost cannot come close to being offset by repealing existing tax preferences, which all will be fiercely defended by special interests. A realistic legislative target would be a corporate tax rate of 25%. And under Senate rules this rate would have to expire after 10 years because it creates future budget deficits.
Let’s do the math on corporate and individual rates, together with optimistic assumptions about limiting existing tax preferences. The numbers are based on dynamic estimates from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, unless noted otherwise.
Almost all boards of U.S. public companies now have three committees that meet immediately before every board meeting and report to the full board — audit, compensation, and nominating-governance. Committees have become the workhorses of the governance process: with their small size and expert support, they can do more in-depth analysis of complex topics than the full board of directors.
However, since the passage of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the duties of the audit committee, especially, have become so large and complex that it cannot seriously assess broader financial issues.
Audit committees continue to perform the traditional functions of appointing the company’s independent auditor and reviewing its financial statements. But audit committees now have a long list of other obligations — including oversight of complaints by whistle blowers and violations of ethics codes; approval of non-audit functions by auditors; and review of the management report and auditor attestation on internal controls. The audit committee also holds private sessions with both external and internal auditors as well as the chief financial officer and the head of compliance/risk.
In other words, audit committees are overburdened by their increased obligations to oversee the details of the reporting and compliance processes. As a result, the audit committee no longer has enough time to seriously consider broader financial topics. If directors are going to have meaningful input into the broad financial issues faced by any public company, they need to form a finance committee with the time and expertise to address the issues.
Capital allocation is a significant function for company directors. How much of the company’s profits gets reinvested in the business rather than distributed to shareholders through cash dividends or share repurchases is a critical decision companies must make. Boards of directors typically approve a dividend policy and precise amounts for each quarter: Everyone knows that cutting the dividend will result in a sharp decline in the share price.
Yet in many companies, decisions about the level and timing of share repurchases are left to management. That stems partly from differences in legal requirements: The board must formally approve the amount of the company’s quarterly dividend but not its repurchases. Moreover, the implementation of the repurchase program is heavily influenced by the company’s actual cash flows.
Nevertheless, share repurchases are something to which directors should pay more attention. Specifically, directors should carefully consider the capital allocated to repurchases relative to the company’s realistic opportunities for value creation through internal development or external acquisitions. They should be highly skeptical of large repurchase programs that are financed by selling debt rather than paid for out of company profits.