Pension Plan Funding and Stock Market Efficiency
50 Pages Posted: 16 Sep 2004 Last revised: 16 Nov 2008
Date Written: September 14, 2004
As a consequence of the recent bear stock market, the aggregate funding level of defined benefit pension plans has tremendously deteriorated. A relevant issue is whether the market value of the firms sponsoring these plans reflects their pension liabilities. In sharp contrast with earlier studies, this paper presents evidence indicating that the market has significantly overpriced firms with severely underfunded pension plans. We show that these companies earn lower stock returns than firms with healthier pension plans, and the underperformance persists for at least five years after the first emergence of the large underfunding. Moreover, the low returns are not explained by risk, return momentum, earnings momentum, or accruals. For this reason, we conclude that we have identified an additional layer of mispricing. We propose an explanation where investors do not anticipate the impact of the pension liability on future earnings and cash flows, and they are surprised when the negative implications of underfunding finally materialize. Consistent with this view, we provide significant evidence of market surprises for severely underfunded firms. Finally, we characterize these firms as past losers which, although value companies, pay low returns.
Keywords: Asset Pricing, Market Efficiency, Alpha, Anomalies, Mispricing, Pension Plans, Pension Accounting, Pension Shortfall
JEL Classification: G12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation