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Do a firm's equity returns reflect the risk of its pension plan?

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  • Jin, Li
  • Merton, Robert C.
  • Bodie, Zvi

Abstract

This paper examines the empirical question of whether systematic equity risk of U.S. firms as measured by beta from the Capital Asset Pricing Model reflects the risk of their pension plans. There are a number of reasons to suspect that it might not. Chief among them is the opaque set of accounting rules used to report pension assets, liabilities, and expenses. Pension plan assets and liabilities are off-balance sheet, and are often viewed as segregated from the rest of the firm, with its own trustees. Pension accounting rules are complicated. Furthermore, the role of Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation further clouds the real relation between pension plan risk and firm equity risk. The empirical findings in this paper are consistent with the hypothesis that equity risk does reflect the risk of the firm's pension plan despite arcane accounting rules for pensions. This finding is consistent with informational efficiency of the capital markets. It also has implications for corporate finance practice in the determination of the cost of capital for capital budgeting. Standard procedure uses de-leveraged equity return betas to infer the cost of capital for operating assets. But the de-leveraged betas are not adjusted for the risk of the pension assets and liabilities. Failure to make this adjustment will typically bias upwards estimates of the discount rate for capital budgeting. The magnitude of the bias is shown here to be large for a number of well-known U.S. companies. This bias can result in positive net-present-value projects being rejected.
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  • Jin, Li & Merton, Robert C. & Bodie, Zvi, 2006. "Do a firm's equity returns reflect the risk of its pension plan?," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(1), pages 1-26, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfinec:v:81:y:2006:i:1:p:1-26
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Chen, Xuanjuan & Yao, Tong & Yu, Tong & Zhang, Ting, 2014. "Learning and incentive: A study on analyst response to pension underfunding," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 26-42.
    2. Mohan, Nancy & Zhang, Ting, 2014. "An analysis of risk-taking behavior for public defined benefit pension plans," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 403-419.
    3. Mirko Cardinale & Mike Orszag, 2005. "Severance Pay and Corporate Finance: Empirical Evidence from a Panel of Austrian and Italian Firms," Empirica, Springer;Austrian Institute for Economic Research;Austrian Economic Association, vol. 32(3), pages 309-343, September.
    4. Atanasova, Christina & Hrazdil, Karel, 2010. "Why do healthy firms freeze their defined-benefit pension plans?," Global Finance Journal, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 293-303.
    5. Aggarwal, Raj & Goodell, John W., 2013. "Political-economy of pension plans: Impact of institutions, gender, and culture," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(6), pages 1860-1879.
    6. Chen, An, 2011. "A risk-based model for the valuation of pension insurance," Insurance: Mathematics and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 49(3), pages 401-409.
    7. Boubaker, Sabri & Gounopoulos, Dimitrios & Nguyen, Duc Khuong & Paltalidis, Nikos, 2017. "Assessing the effects of unconventional monetary policy and low interest rates on pension fund risk incentives," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 77(C), pages 35-52.
    8. An, Heng & Huang, Zhaodan & Zhang, Ting, 2013. "What determines corporate pension fund risk-taking strategy?," Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 597-613.
    9. repec:eee:ecofin:v:42:y:2017:i:c:p:218-236 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:eee:corfin:v:46:y:2017:i:c:p:25-33 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • G14 - Financial Economics - - General Financial Markets - - - Information and Market Efficiency; Event Studies; Insider Trading
    • G23 - Financial Economics - - Financial Institutions and Services - - - Non-bank Financial Institutions; Financial Instruments; Institutional Investors

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