SANTA MONICA, Calif. — Pension assets gained little ground in catching up with pension liabilities after three straight years of a rising stock market and generally falling interest rates, according to a new Wilshire Associates report on corporate pension funding levels among S&P 500 companies.
Combined funding levels of the U.S. plans for the 337 companies in the Standard & Poor's 500 index that have defined benefit plans improved to 94% in 2005 from 92% the previous year, according to the report to be issued May 1.
U.S. pension assets for the companies grew $104.2 billion, or 9.7%, to $1.17 trillion in 2005 from $1.07 trillion the previous year. Their U.S. pension liabilities increased $94.3 billion, or 8.1%, to $1.25 trillion from $1.16 trillion over the same period.
As a result, the combined funding deficit fell to $80.5 billion at the end of 2005 from $90.3 billion at the beginning of that year.
The median corporate funded ratio was 86%, the same as a year earlier.
In all, 82% of the corporations have underfunded plans as of year-end 2005, slightly higher than the 81% reported last year.
Only 59, or 18%, of the companies have pension assets that equal or exceed pension liabilities in 2005, the same number as the previous year.
Pension contributions by the companies totaled $46.7 billion in 2005, almost identical to the $46.5 billion the previous year. Benefit payments totaled $73.7 billion in 2005, similar to the $70.1 billion the previous year.
The report, Wilshire's sixth annual corporate funding level study, examined the corporate 10-K filings for only U.S. defined pension plans data of the 337 companies in 2005 and 2004. Because of their late reporting, 10-K filings for three corporations were unavailable at the time Wilshire completed its study covering 2005.