General Motors Co.'s U.S. hourly and salaried defined benefit pension plans had a combined funding shortfall of $11.5 billion as of Dec. 31, for a funding level of 89%, according to a report Thursday from the Detroit-based automaker.
A year earlier, the U.S. plans had a combined funding shortfall of $16.2 billion, an 84% funding level.
The funding level was improved in part because of a $4 billion cash contribution on Dec. 2 — $2.7 billion to GM's hourly plan and $1.3 billion to its salaried plan. The contributions were the only ones made in 2010.
Noreen Pratscher, GM spokeswoman, said the company won't release figures on pension plan assets until it issues its 10-K report. She didn't have timetable for issuing the report.
The combined plans could have some $104 billion in assets and $116 billion in liabilities as of Dec. 31, based on a Pensions & Investments estimate.
The underfunding doesn't include GM's Jan. 13 contribution of 60.6 million shares of company stock to its U.S. plans, which were valued at $2.2 billion. Of that, 40.4 million shares, valued at $1.5 billion, went to the hourly pension plan and 20.2 million shares, valued at $700 million, went to the salaried pension plan, according to a GM statement at the time.
The shares were valued at $2 billion, based on Thursday’s closing price of $33.02.
The GM report Thursday doesn't project contributions, and Ms. Pratscher said company officials weren't providing any projections.
GM on Nov. 18 projected in a SEC filing that its total contributions to its U.S. pension plans could range from $5.1 billion to $14.7 billion from 2012 through 2015.
The amount of the contributions depends on variations in projected investment return on its U.S. pension fund and the discount rate for its U.S. pension liabilities. For its U.S. pension plan, GM uses an assumed expected long-term investment return of 8.5% and a 5.52% discount rate.
GM could contribute $500 million in 2012, $100 million in 2013, $3.9 billion in 2014 and $5.4 billion in 2015, if its U.S. pension assets' annual investment return is 8.4%. But if the return falls to 7.4%, contributions would rise to $800 million in 2012, $200 million in 2013, $4.1 billion in 2014 and $5.7 billion in 2015, according the November filing.
If the discount rate falls 50 basis points, the contributions for those four years would rise to a combined $14.7 billion. If the discount rate rises 50 basis points, the combined contributions would fall to $5.1 billion.
The November filing didn't project contributions for 2011.