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If defined-benefit pension plan sponsors are looking for a respite from the extreme fluctuations in funded status seen over the last few months of 2018, they probably shouldn’t hold their breath. After the fourth-quarter selloff, money managers seem resigned to the idea that financial markets will remain volatile for some time. The transition back to trend-like growth in the United States after a year of stimulus was never likely to be smooth sailing, but the recent weakness in China, concerns over trade relations, and the ongoing tightening by the Federal Reserve have made for an extremely uncertain outlook.

Fed Chairman Powell has managed to engineer a recovery from markets’ December lows by suggesting the Fed will likely hold rates steady for much of the year. The question now becomes how long the rally might last.

Few plan sponsors expect valuations to jump all the way up to where they were at the end of the third quarter, when the average corporate defined-benefit plan’s funded status hit nearly 92 percent. Frankly, the overriding sentiment among many strategists and managers of risk is that while there may be a tactical opportunity to base investment decisions on the Fed’s “prolonged pause” and the possibility of a U.S.-China trade detente to come, rallies are there to be sold, not bought, as the business cycle advances in age.

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