The magnitude of last year's sell-off in the financial markets has set in motion normally slow-moving corporate pension plans. Plan sponsors are starting to reshape the way plan assets are allocated and making changes to other longstanding practices, such as securities lending, a recent survey shows. "When you've lost a lot of money, there's clearly an incentive to de-risk and ensure you have more stability," says Goran Hagegard, a principal at financial services consultancy Greenwich Associates.
Certainly that assessment is true of corporate pension plans. The average funded status of the plans operated by companies in the S&P 500 index slid to 78.1% at the end of 2008, from 104.4% at the end of 2007. As a group, the plans hit a record level of under-funding of $308 billion at year-end 2008, after having been over-funded to the tune of $63 billion in 2007, according to Standard & Poor's. Companies that reported big hits to their plans last year include Verizon, which saw pension assets plunge 30.7% to $51.8 billion, and Supervalu, whose pension assets fell 25.2% to $6.6 billion.