Exclusive: Athene to take over $2.8 billion in J.C. Penney pension obligations



© Reuters. A JC Penney store is shown in Oceanside

By Joshua Franklin

(Reuters) – J.C. Penney Co Inc said on Thursday it has agreed to transfer its pension obligations to annuities provider Athene Holding Ltd, ensuring that the U.S. department store chain’s retired employees will continue to get their benefits.

J.C. Penney, which said in December that it would seek to exit bankruptcy protection sometime this year, will not receive any money as part of the deal, but will shed the liabilities that came with the pensions.

“We are thrilled that this one-of-a-kind transaction will enable the Pension Plan to pay the benefits that JCPenney intended the participants to receive,” J.C. Penny said in an emailed statement.

Apollo Global Management Inc, the private equity firm that controls Athene and earlier this month inked an $11 billion deal to take it private, is seeking to profit by earning a higher return on investing the pension assets than its payouts to the retirees will be.

It is Athene’s biggest ever pension transfer deal.

Under the terms of the deal, J.C. Penney Co Inc has agreed to transfer $2.8 billion in pension obligations for roughly 30,000 participants in J.C. Penney’s pension plan, according to people familiar with the matter.

In a pension risk transfer, an insurer takes on a pension plan’s assets and liabilities, and writes a group annuity contract obligating it to pay participants. The insurer is betting it will make more on investments than it pays out.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) in November had taken responsibility for J.C. Penney’s pension plan, but also allowed the retailer to explore alternatives that would avoid cuts to retiree benefits.

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J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy in May 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to temporarily close its then nearly 850 stores.

The 118-year-old department store chain said in December it would exit Chapter 11 after agreeing to a deal with two of its biggest landlords, Simon Property Group (NYSE:) and Brookfield Asset Management Inc.

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