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The Role of Company Stock in Defined Contribution Plans

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  • Olivia S. Mitchell
  • Stephen P. Utkus

Abstract

This paper explores the risks and benefits of holding company stock in employer-sponsored defined contribution (DC) retirement plans. We address three questions: (1) What is the role and function of company stock in such plans? (2) Who might be affected by enhanced portfolio diversification in such plans? and (3) What mechanisms exist, or might be developed, to enhance portfolio diversification if more diversification were deemed useful? Firms offer company stock within DC plans in an effort to enhance economic performance, though evidence is mixed on productivity gains from stock ownership. We demonstrate that concentrated stock positions arise most often in larger firms' DC plans where sponsors direct employer contributions and restrict diversification. Stock concentration also arises because participants systematically underestimate the risk of employer stock and over-rely on its past performance in making investment decisions. In a retirement system with concentrated stock positions, there will always be some participants who forfeit DC plan savings to firm bankruptcy. Encouraging plan diversification mitigates this risk, but it could also induce some companies to redirect plan contributions to other forms of stock compensation or to replace stock contributions with cash compensation. We conclude by describing policy tools that might be used to encourage diversification and discuss conditions for their effective implementation.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 9250.

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Date of creation: Oct 2002
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Publication status: published as Mitchell, Olivia S. and Kent Smetters (eds.) The Pension Challenge: Risk Transfers and Retirement Income Security. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9250

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  1. John M. Abowd & David S. Kaplan, 1999. "Executive Compensation: Six Questions that Need Answering," NBER Working Papers 7124, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Joseph Blasi & Michael Conte & Douglas Kruse, 1996. "Employee stock ownership and corporate performance among public companies," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 50(1), pages 60-79, October.
  3. Steven J. Davis & Paul Willen, 2000. "Occupation-Level Income Shocks and Asset Returns: Their Covariance and Implications for Portfolio Choice," CRSP working papers 523, Center for Research in Security Prices, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago.
  4. James J. Choi & David Laibson & Brigitte C. Madrian & Andrew Metrick, 2001. "Defined Contribution Pensions: Plan Rules, Participant Decisions, and the Path of Least Resistance," NBER Working Papers 8655, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. James Poterba & Joshua Rauh & Steven Venti & David Wise, 2003. "Utility Evaluation of Risk in Retirement Saving Accounts," NBER Working Papers 9892, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gary V. Engelhardt & Anil Kumar, 2006. "Employer Matching and 401(k) Saving: Evidence from the Health and Retirement Study," NBER Working Papers 12447, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Gary V. Engelhardt & Brigitte C. Madrian, 2004. "Employee Stock Purchase Plans," NBER Working Papers 10421, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Andrew A. Samwick & Jonathan Skinner, 2004. "How Will 401(k) Pension Plans Affect Retirement Income?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(1), pages 329-343, March.
  5. James M. Poterba, 2003. "Employer Stock and 401(k) Plans," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 398-404, May.
  6. Jeffrey R. Brown & Zoran Ivkovic & Paul A. Smith & Scott Weisbenner, 2004. "The geography of stock market participation: the influence of communities and local firms," Finance and Economics Discussion Series, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.) 2004-22, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).

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