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Footnotes aren’t enough: the impact of pension accounting on stock values

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  • Julia Coronado
  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Steven A. Sharpe
  • S. Blake Nesbitt

Abstract

Some research has suggested that companies with defined benefit (DB) pensions are sometimes significantly misvalued by the market. This is because the measures of pension cost and pension net liabilities embedded in financial statements, taken at face value, can provide a very misleading picture of pension finances. The more pertinent information on pension finances is relegated to footnotes, but this might not receive much attention from portfolio managers. But dramatic swings in the financial conditions of large DB plans around the turn of the decade focused widespread attention on pension accounting practices, and dissatisfaction with current accounting standards has recently prompted the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to take up a project revamp DB pension accounting. Arguably, the increased attention should have made investors wise to the informational problems, thereby eliminating systematic mispricing in recent years. We test this proposition and conclude that investors continued to misvalue DB pensions, inducing sizable valuation errors in the stock of many companies. Our findings suggest that FASB’s current reform efforts could substantially aid the market’s ability to value firms with DB pensions.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) in its series Finance and Economics Discussion Series with number 2008-04.

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Date of creation: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedgfe:2008-04

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Keywords: Defined benefit pension plans;

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  1. Martin Feldstein & Randall Morck, 1982. "Pension Funding Decisions, Interest Rate Assumptions and Share Prices," NBER Working Papers 0938, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Feldstein, Martin & Seligman, Stephanie, 1981. "Pension Funding, Share Prices, and National Savings," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 36(4), pages 801-24, September.
  3. Sharpe, William F., 1976. "Corporate pension funding policy," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 183-193, June.
  4. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven & David A. Wise, 1987. "Issues in Pension Economics," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi87-1.
  5. Julia Lynn Coronado & Steven A. Sharpe, 2003. "Did Pension Plan Accounting Contribute to a Stock Market Bubble?," Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Economic Studies Program, The Brookings Institution, vol. 34(1), pages 323-371.
  6. Tepper, Irwin, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 36(1), pages 1-13, March.
  7. Irwin Tepper, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," NBER Working Papers 0661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Jeremy I. Bulow & Randall Morck & Lawrence H. Summers, 1985. "How Does the Market Value Unfunded Pension Liabilities?," NBER Working Papers 1602, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Zvi Bodie & John B. Shoven, 1983. "Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bodi83-1.
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Cited by:
  1. Ana Isabel Morais, 2012. "Value relevance of alternative methods of accounting for actuarial gains and losses," International Journal of Accounting, Auditing and Performance Evaluation, Inderscience Enterprises Ltd, vol. 8(1), pages 69-90.
  2. David A. Love & Paul A. Smith & David Wilcox, 2009. "Should risky firms offer risk-free DB pensions?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2009-20, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  3. Love, David A. & Smith, Paul A. & Wilcox, David W., 2011. "The effect of regulation on optimal corporate pension risk," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 101(1), pages 18-35, July.

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