Pension deficit soars to £62bn across biggest listed firms

New evidence of the challenge facing the pensions industry has emerged today in a report revealing that the deficit of the UK's biggest 350 listed companies rocketed last year.

The pensions shortfall is now higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Picture: Edmond Terakopian/PA
The pensions shortfall is now higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. Picture: Edmond Terakopian/PA

The pensions deficit at FTSE 350 companies surged £12 billion to £62bn in 2016, according to the study from actuarial consultancy Barnett Waddingham.

This equates to 70 per cent of total profits at the companies involved – up “drastically” as a proportion of earnings from 25 per cent in 2011.

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The report says the pensions shortfall “is now even higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis”.

It adds that if profits were to continue at current levels, it would take just a 0.7 per cent fall in bond yields for the pensions deficit to outrun FTSE 350 profits by 2019.

Nick Griggs, a partner at Barnett Waddingham, said: “Comparing the pensions deficit to profits is a simplification but it helps to put the scale of the challenge into context.

“Unless companies are profitable over the long term, they can’t generate enough cash to meet their liabilities, including the pension deficit.”

In 2011, three years after the financial crash, the pensions deficit was £54.5bn as FTSE 350 businesses made aggregate pre-tax profits of £214bn.

The report added that one factor which could reduce the deficit in the coming years is mortality rates. It said recent data suggested that across the UK population “longevity has not improved over the past five years.

“From a DB (final salary) pension scheme funding perspective, this trend could provide welcome respite for companies from the huge improvements in mortality seen over recent decades.”