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Pension Funding, Share Prices, and National Savings

  • Feldstein, Martin
  • Seligman, Stephanie

This paper examines empirically the effect of unfunded pension obligations on corporate share prices and discusses the implications of these estimates for national saving, the decline of the stock market in recent years, and the rationality of corporate financial behavior. The analysis uses the information on inflation-adjusted income and assets that large firms were required to provide for 1976 and subsequent years. The evidence for a sample of nearly 200 manufacturing firms is consistent with the conclusion that share prices fully reflect the value of unfunded pension obligations. Since the conventional accounting measure of the unfunded pension liability has a number of problems (which we examine in the paper), it would be more accurate to say that the data are consistent with the conclusion that shareholders accept the conventional measure as the best available information and reduce share prices by a corresponding amount. The most important implication of the share price response is that the existence of unfunded private pension liabilities does not necessarily entail a reduction in total private saving. Because the pension liability reduces the equity value of the firm, shareholders are given notice of its existence and an incentive to save more themselves. For this reason, unfunded private pensions differ fundamentally from the unfunded Social Security pension and the other unfunded federal government civilian and military pensions.

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Article provided by American Finance Association in its journal Journal of Finance.

Volume (Year): 36 (1981)
Issue (Month): 4 (September)
Pages: 801-24

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Handle: RePEc:bla:jfinan:v:36:y:1981:i:4:p:801-24
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  1. Martin Feldstein, 1979. "Inflation, Tax Rules, and the Stock Market," NBER Working Papers 0403, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Myers, Stewart C., 1977. "Determinants of corporate borrowing," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 5(2), pages 147-175, November.
  3. Jeremy I. Bulow, 1979. "Analysis of Pension Funding Under Erisa," NBER Working Papers 0402, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Treynor, Jack L, 1977. "The Principles of Corporate Pension Finance," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 32(2), pages 627-38, May.
  5. Martin Feldstein & Jerry Green, 1979. "Why Do Companies Pay Dividends?," NBER Working Papers 0413, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. David F. Bradford, 1979. "The Incidence and Allocation Effects of a Tax on Corporate Distributions," NBER Working Papers 0349, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Medoff, James L & Abraham, Katharine G, 1980. "Experience, Performance, and Earnings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 95(4), pages 703-36, December.
  8. Oldfield, George S, Jr, 1977. "Financial Aspects of the Private Pension System," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 9(1), pages 48-54, February.
  9. James Tobin & William C. Brainard, 1976. "Asset Markets and the Cost of Capital," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 427, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
  10. Mark Gersovitz, 1980. "Economic Consequences of Unfunded Vested Pension Benefits," NBER Working Papers 0480, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Auerbach, Alan J., 1979. "Share valuation and corporate equity policy," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 291-305, June.
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