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Wednesday, January 11, 2012 5:44 PM

Europe’s $39 Trillion Pension Time Bomb Explodes in 2012; Simple Proposal to Fix the Problem

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Europe's pension time bomb has gone off. European demographics are among the worst in the world and Europe is heading into a huge, prolonged recession on top of it.

Please consider Europe’s $39 Trillion Pension Risk Grows as Economy Falters

Even before the euro crisis, people were worried about Europe’s pension bomb.

State-funded pension obligations in 19 of the European Union nations were about five times higher than their combined gross debt, according to a study commissioned by the European Central Bank. The countries in the report compiled by the Research Center for Generational Contracts at Freiburg University in 2009 had almost 30 trillion euros ($39.3 trillion) of projected obligations to their existing populations.

Germany accounted for 7.6 trillion euros and France 6.7 trillion euros of the liabilities, authors Christoph Mueller, Bernd Raffelhueschen and Olaf Weddige said in the report.

Stable or falling birthrates, plus rising life expectancies, are adding to pressures, with the proportion of economic output devoted to spending on retirement benefits projected to rise by a quarter to 14 percent by 2060, according to the ECB report.

Europe has the highest proportion of people aged over 60 of any region in the world, and that is forecast to rise to almost 35 percent by 2050 from 22 percent in 2009, according to a report from the United Nations. That compares with a global estimate of 22 percent by 2050, up from 11 percent in 2009.

The number of people aged over 65 in the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is forecast to more than quadruple to 350 million in 2050 from 85 million in 1970. Life expectancy in Europe is increasing at the rate of five hours a day, according to Charles Cowling, managing director of JLT Pension Capital Strategies Ltd. in London.

In so-called developed countries, the average lifespan will reach almost 83 by 2050, up from about 75 in 2009, the UN said.

By 2060, the average French pension benefit will be 48 percent of the national average wage, compared with 63 percent now, said Stefan Moog, a researcher at Freiburg University in Freiburg, Germany.

State pension obligations in France and Germany are three times the size of their economies, according to data compiled by Mercer. It’s more sustainable in France than Germany because of France’s higher birthrate.

Last year, there were 4.2 people of working age for every pensioner in France. The ratio will fall to 1.9 by 2050, according to a report by Economist magazine in March. In Germany, the proportion will decline to 1.6 from 4.1 in the same period.
Simple Proposal to Fix the Problem

The punchline to this economic disaster came in the middle of the article: "Pension managers and governments are relying on economic growth to safeguard the promises they make."

Europe will be lucky to average 1% growth in the next 5 years. However, I have an idea guaranteed to fix the problem.

Every country but Greece should exit the Euro but keep pension plans denominated in euros. The value of the Euro will sink to zero as Greece goes into hyperinflation. Thus, pension plans denominated in Euros will quickly be solvent. At that point the plans can be converted back to their respective currencies with obligations that can be paid with a few ounces of gold.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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