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Profits could take massive hit from final salary changes

Companies that offer final salary pension schemes are likely to be reviewing
their decision to keep their schemes open before the planned rule change from
the IASB takes affect, probably in 2011, according to pension specialist Aon

Under current rules, companies estimate the surplus or deficit on their final
salary schemes a year in advance. They use this to calculate the profit and loss
charge for the scheme for the following year.

Companies can allocate from pension fund asset losses through the statement
of recognised income and expense in accounts, meaning corporate profits are not
hit by a fall in their scheme’s assets.

However, the
International Accounting
Standards Board
last week proposed that companies should report the surplus
or deficit of the final schemes at the end of each year, rather than estimate
assets one year in advance.

These proposals would have turned a £25bn credit of expected returns on
pension scheme assets for the top 200 final salary pension schemes last year
into a £60bn asset loss – a net loss of £85bn, according to Aon.

Anne McGeachin, senior project manager at the IASB, said: ‘The [final salary]
proposals simply seek to provide investors with a more informative assessment of
the effect of the surplus or deficit of a pension scheme.’

Companies blame longer life expectancy, low inflation, falling stock markets
and an increased regulations burden for closing final salary schemes, saying it
has made the schemes too costly to administer.

One option for reducing final salary pension scheme liabilities is to offer
selected members, usually the more highly paid staff, a package deal to transfer
out of the final salary scheme.

However, companies need to handle this carefully in order to reduce the risk
of subsequent litigation from disgruntled employees.

Pension schemes are a growing problem for UK companies. The pension schemes
of the FTSE 350 companies recorded a funding level of 92% equal to a deficit of
£33bn in the final quarter of last year, according to Mercer, a consultancy and
investment services specialist.

The figure compares to the £13bn deficit reported in 31 December 2007 and
illustrates the impact of market volatility on company balance sheets.

Meanwhile, British companies are likely to see their defined pension
liabilities rise from 2011 due to Chancellor Alistair Darling’s VAT cut in
November, according to another pension expert.

This is because a return to the original rate of 17.5% in 2011 will lead to
higher inflation and therefore higher payouts on inflation-linked benefits for
those who have retired.

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