Bank of England steps in to stop £1.5 trillion pensions meltdown – 20m pensioners at risk | Personal Finance | Finance


So far Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s controversial mini-Budget has driven up borrowing costs, and triggered a collapse in the pound. Now it threatens the nation’s retirement savings, too.

Few saw the threat until today, because the reasons are complex and technical. They are also potentially disastrous.

The mini-Budget has driven up the yields rate on 30-year UK government bonds, known as gilts, from 3.60 percent to almost 5.20 percent.

One year ago they traded at just over one percent, so that’s a dramatic increase.

The UK government issues bonds, known as gilts, to fund its spending.

Higher yields means it needs to pay a lot more to service the extra £72billion of extra borrowing Kwarteng’s tax-cutting plans entail.

Many pension funds have large holdings of gilts, which are used to fund the income they pay to scheme members who have retired.

Government bonds are thought to be a relatively safe investment, that offers a steady rate of income for periods of up to 30 years.

There is nothing steady about UK gilts today.

When bond yields rise, prices fall. When yields rocket as they have this week, gilt prices crash.

This widens the so-called “pensions funding gap”, because schemes no longer hold assets of enough value to cover their financial promises to pay pensioners both today and in future.

This has led to a desperate scramble for cash among pension trustees, to make sure their funds continue to meet their regulatory obligations.

They have been forced to sell assets into the market at the worst possible time, when prices are collapsing.

Now is not a good time to be a forced seller of anything, but especially of UK government bonds.

It means pension schemes are getting a rotten price for assets they have intended to hold for decades, not dump in one frantic morning.

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Workplace defined benefit schemes, also known as final salary schemes, are most at risk. They are taking a beating and losing huge amounts of capital

They are likely to fall further still.

David Fairs, executive director of regulatory policy at the Pension Regulator, urged pension trustees to understand the source of their cash flows and how they may be affected if they cannot liquidate assets held and meet collateral requirements.

After such a high-profile warning, trustees had to act.

Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey has stepped in by pledging to buy an unlimited amount of long-term gilts from today, in a desperate attempt to “restore orderly market conditions”.

These purchases will continue until October 14, and is a dramatic policy U-turn as previously it was planning to start selling bonds as part of its plans to curb inflation.

The Bank insisted that these purchases will be temporary and will be “unwound in a smooth and orderly fashion once risks to market functioning are judged to have subsided”.

Governor Andrew Bailey is working flat out to prevent this financial crisis worsening, and there are early signs of success.

Thirty-year gilt yields have retreated to 4.53 percent at time of writing, while 10-year gilt yields have retreated from a peak of 4.55 percent to 4.25 percent.

Markets are breathing a sigh of relief now but this crisis isn’t over yet. The fact that our pensions have been sucked in shows the danger is very real indeed.



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