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

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

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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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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  1. Julia Lynn Coronado & Steven A. Sharpe, 2003. "Did pension plan accounting contribute to a stock market bubble?," Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2003-38, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
  2. Sharpe, William F., 1976. "Corporate pension funding policy," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 3(3), pages 183-193, June.
  3. Tepper, Irwin, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 36(1), pages 1-13, March.
  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, June.
  5. 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, June.
  6. Martin Feldstein & Randall Morck, 1983. "Pension Funding Decisions, Interest Rate Assumptions, and Share Prices," NBER Chapters, in: Financial Aspects of the United States Pension System, pages 177-210 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Jeremy I. Bulow & Randall Morck & Lawrence H. Summers, 1987. "How Does the Market Value Unfunded Pension Liabilities?," NBER Chapters, in: Issues in Pension Economics, pages 81-110 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Martin Feldstein & Stephanie Seligman, 1980. "Pension Funding, Share Prices, and National Saving," NBER Working Papers 0509, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Irwin Tepper, 1981. "Taxation and Corporate Pension Policy," NBER Working Papers 0661, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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