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The New York Times Co. disclosed Friday that it will give about 5,200 former employees who are eligible for but not yet receiving monthly pension benefits the opportunity to convert their future annuity to a lump-sum benefit.
Eligible participants will have from Sept. 24 to Nov. 2 to make an election.
The New York Times said in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it expects to begin to make the payments, which would be funded from plan assets, at the end of 2012.
“This offer is another step the company is taking to reduce the size of its pension obligations and the volatility in the company's overall financial condition,” the New York Times said.
The benefit liabilities associated with the affected participants in The New York Times Cos. Pension Plan comprise about 15% of the company's total pension plan liabilities, according to the filing.
Separately, Sears Holding Corp. disclosed, also through an SEC filing, that it is considering offering pension plan participants the opportunity to convert monthly annuity benefits to lump-sum payments.
“The company believes that it would be beneficial to settle pension obligations through lump-sum payments to plan participants so as to reduce the company's exposure to the gross pension obligation,” which was $6.1 billion as of Jan. 28, 2012, the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based-retailer reported.
Corporate interest in strategies to reduce financial risks and costs associated with offering defined benefit plans surged following announcements earlier this year by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. that they would be offering a lump-sum benefit option to tens of thousands of plan participants now eligible for an annuity.
In addition, for participants remaining in its salaried employees' pension plan, GM is purchasing a group annuity from Prudential Insurance Co. of America and is terminating the plan.
Through such pension “de-risking” strategies, employers no longer will be exposed to factors such as interest rate fluctuations and investment results that can cause big changes in their pension plans' costs and contributions.
In addition, employers can reduce certain fixed costs, such as the payment of premiums, which are rising sharply, to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., benefit experts note.
WASHINGTON—Giving retirees the ability to convert the monthly pension benefit they receive into a lump-sum benefit does not violate federal pension law or regulations, the Internal Revenue Service says.