SEATTLE, March 29, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Milliman, Inc., a premier global consulting and actuarial firm, today released the results of its annual Pension Funding Study, which consists of 100 of the nation's largest defined benefit pension plans. In 2011, these plans experienced asset returns of 12.8% (a $115 billion improvement) that were offset by a liability increase of 7.7% (a $103 billion increase) based on a decrease in the discount rate. The decline in discount rates fueled record levels of pension expense for these plan sponsors. Collectively, these pensions went into the year expecting a $30 billion charge to earnings, with the final number almost doubling that estimate, at $59.4 billion.
"This was a record year for pension contributions, though the number could have exceeded $60 billion if a few things had gone differently," said John Ehrhardt, co-author of the Milliman Pension Funding Study. "Pension funding relief enacted last summer helped reduce the funding burden, along with positive investment performance. If interest rates remain at current levels (or decline), contributions will be even higher in 2011."