Fitch Ratings looked at 230 U.S. nonfinancial companies with defined-benefit pension plans and found that 160 of them had plans that were less than 80% funded, Barron's reports. Fitch said the companies' median funding level fell to 74.4% last year from 78.5% in 2010. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 cited the 80% funding level as the threshold for "at risk" plans.

Fitch expects many of the companies to have to make "material" contributions to their plans. But it says it does not expect to take rating actions based on companies' need to make pension contributions.

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