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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Pension deficit narrows by 10bn
Money falling through hands
Employers have been paying more money into schemes
The black hole in the UK's largest company pension schemes shrank in 2003.

The combined pension fund deficit of the FTSE 350 companies fell from 74bn to 64bn over the year, Mercer Human Resources said.

Strong stock market growth and increased contributions from employers were the key reasons for the reduction of the pension deficit.

However, the group added that the deficit would be smaller if scheme liabilities had not increased markedly.

Profit drain

"It's striking that double digit asset returns over 2003 have been matched by a double digit growth in liabilities," said Tim Keogh, European partner at Mercer said.

"Liabilities have grown due to a downward pressure on bond yields used to measure liabilities, and increased allowances for longevity," Mr Keogh concluded.

In order to reduce the drain on profits, firms have been replacing final salary schemes - which guarantee an income in retirement based on length of service with money purchase schemes.

Under money purchase arrangements, firms only guarantee how much they will pay into a worker's pension and not how much the pension will be worth in retirement.

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