Tags: US | Pension | Plans | Underfunded

Credit Suisse: US Pension Plans Dangerously Underfunded

By    |   Friday, 03 February 2012 12:39 PM

The financial crisis has caused a problem that hasn't gotten as much press as the plunge in bank stocks or the housing crisis: the pension plans of many American corporations are underfunded.

A recent report from Credit Suisse reveals that some of the nation's largest companies owe their pensions more than 25 percent of their market cap (after taxes), CNBC reports.

Adding perspective, Reuters reported that the Credit Suisse analysis found that of the 341 companies in the S&P Index with defined benefit pension plans, 97 percent are underfunded.

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These shortfalls are no negligible issue since they essentially equate to major deductions from these companies' balance sheets.

Reuters reports that large pension contributions are an immediate hit on cash flow, diverting money from shareholder dividends, stock buybacks, and capital investments.

Business Insurance says an analysis by Mercer L.L.C found a strong equities market played a role in helping to improve funding levels of large corporations in January, but also noted that they are still significantly below levels of a few months ago.

The average funding level of pension plans sponsored by companies improved to 78 percent as of Jan. 31, up from 75 percent as of Dec. 31, 2011, Mercer said, according to Business Insurance.

Still, for many companies protecting their cash flow will require a lot more improvement.

AK Steel, for example, has a pension shortfall that is a whopping 99 percent of its market cap according to the Credit Suisse data.

These companies are going to need 20 percent to 30 percent returns to fill the kind of gaps we're talking about, CNBC quoted John Erhardt of Millman as saying.

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