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Pension plan funding levels up in February: Milliman

Pension plan funding levels up in February: Milliman

The funding levels of pension plans sponsored by large publicly held U.S. employers rose in February, helped by strong investment returns and steady interest rates, Milliman Inc. said an analysis released Tuesday.

Defined benefit plans offered by the 100 U.S. employers with the largest pension programs were on average 75.5% funded as of Feb. 29, up from 74.3% as of Jan. 31.

“Interest rates are again at an all-time low, driving pension liabilities to an all-time high, but so far this year we've seen enough positive asset performance to move funding status in the right direction,” John Ehrhardt, a Milliman principal in New York, said in a statement.

Still, pension plan funding levels remain sharply lower compared with the first quarter of 2011. At the end of March 2011, big employer pension plans on average were 87.7% funded, which was last year's highest monthly funded level.

Funding levels began to fall steeply in July as interest rates slumped to historic lows, which boosted the value of plan liabilities.

At 72.4%, the Dec. 2011 funded ratio was only slightly above the all-time monthly low funded ratio, which was 70.5% in May 2003.

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