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UK firms less able to meet defined benefit pension obligations

The UK's top 350 companies are less able to meet their defined benefit (DB) pension obligations than they were pre-recession, according to PricewaterhouseCooper’s (PwC) latest Pensions Support Index.

Sluggish economic growth and low interest rates were cited as just some of the reasons why the overall level of support provided to DB schemes has plummeted from a figure of 88 out of 100 in early 2007 to a current figure of 74.

Commenting on the figures, Jonathon Land, pensions credit advisory partner at PwC, said:

“If investment returns remain low and company earnings do not rise in line with inflation, companies will find they are paying a greater share of those profits towards covering their pension deficit.”

Recent figures from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) showed that the total liabilities (£1290.4 billion) of the 6,432 schemes in the PPF 7800 index surpassed total assets (£1063.1 billion). This increases the funding ratio, assets divided by liabilities, from 82.3% to 82.4%.

The PPF also outlined that while the value of scheme assets had risen by 7% in the past year, their liabilities had risen at an even faster rate of 10.7%.

Equity markets and gilt yields are the main drivers of funding levels, according to the PPF, and over the year to October 2012, 15-year gilt yields were down by 58 basis points and the FTSE All-Share Index rose by 5.7%, presenting a mixed outlook for scheme deficits.

PPF data has also shown that the total deficit of British final-salary pension schemes had more than doubled to £231 billion in the space of a year.

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