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As Bear Stearns becomes the latest corporate giant to implode, a new group of employees must face retirement with far less savings than they anticipated. While the Bear Stearns debacle is reminiscent of Enron Corp.’s $2 billion pension disaster, it highlights a different potential employee investment drama. How will retirement savings held in Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)–such as the one at Bear Stearns–fare if more companies disappear into the mortgage morass.

Bear Stearns workers own 30% of the financial services company; investments that were rendered pretty much worthless even as bidder JPMorgan Chase increased its takeover offer five-fold to $10. But they aren’t the only ESOP participants concerned about their savings. Last year, 11.2 million Americans held $928 billion in employee-stock-ownership plans, stock bonus plans and profit-sharing plans that primarily invest in company stock, according to the National Center For Employee Ownership in Oakland, Calif.. That was up from 2006 when 10.5 million plan participants held $675 billion in similar plans.

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