After years of poor investment returns, the pension funds of the United States’ largest companies are further behind than they have ever been.
The companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 collectively reported that at the end of their most recent fiscal years, their pension plans had obligations of $1.68 trillion and assets of just $1.32 trillion. The difference of $355 billion was the largest ever, S.& P. said in a report.
Of the 500 companies, 338 have defined-benefit pension plans, and only 18 are fully funded. Seven companies reported that their plans were underfunded by more than $10 billion, with the largest negative figure, $21.6 billion, reported by General Electric.
The other companies with more than $10 billion in underfunding were AT&T, Boeing, Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor, I.B.M. and Lockheed Martin. JPMorgan Chase had the largest amount of overfunding, $1.6 billion.
The main cause of the underfunding at many companies does not appear to be a failure to make contributions to the plans. Instead, it reflects the fact that investment markets have not performed well for a sustained period.