Ticking Bomb
Economist (11/22/02) Vol. 365, No. 8299 p.56

According to Fitch Ratings, the shortfall of America's pension funds will equal $30 billion in the car manufacturing industry sector, and Standard & Poor's estimates that pension funds across all industries will be underfunded by $300 billion in 2002. The poor state of the economy, faltering stock market prices, lower interest rates, and poor equity returns are to blame for the most part, but companies are also faced with liabilities from other post-employment benefits, such as retiree health care benefits. Even if the stock market increased pension fund returns to 6 percent, American companies would still be forced to find an additional $80 million to keep the funds breaking even, and if the return rate were just 4 percent, the companies would need $110 billion. Analysts agree that the steel, car manufacturing, and airline industries are hit the hardest because they have the fastest-aging workforces. Perhaps insurance could ease the burden as some British firms have suggested.


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