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Retirement Shock: Corporate Pension Plans Fall Short

The Grand Teton mountain range makes for a great picture, but no photograph can capture the grandeur of seeing the 13,770-tall peak and surrounding geography in person.

From Grand Teton National Park, it only takes around 40 minutes to drive to Yellowstone National Park.

National parks like this are the sort of destination many Americans plan to enjoy once they retire.

The unhappy truth, however, is that vast numbers of people may have to keep working past the age when they hoped to retire. That was the case even before the 2007-2009 financial crisis, and the economic environment since the crisis has produced even more delayed retirements.

Perhaps you've read about the pension shortfalls that many municipal governments face. But that's only part of the story.

Across America's business landscape, the gap between the amount that companies expect to owe retirees and what they have on hand to pay them was an estimated $347 billion at the end of 2012. That is better than the $386 billion gap recorded at the end of 2011, but the two years represent the worst deficits ever, according to J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

The firm estimates that companies now hold only $81 of every $100 promised to pensioners.

Wall Street Journal, Feb. 25

This trend is no surprise to Robert Prechter.

There is the problem of major corporations’ unfunded pension plan liabilities. Companies have promised billions of dollars in fixed-income pensions, but their plan assets will fall so much in value that they will have to fund those pensions from their operating budgets. How much of those liabilities will turn into debt is unknown, but the risk is large and real.

Conquer the Crash, second edition, p. 106

It is of course true that many private pension plans are insured by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. But consider this:

The federal agency that insures pensions for 43 million Americans saw its deficit swell to $34 billion in the past year, the largest in its 38-year history.

Washington Post, Nov. 16, 2012

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