Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Thursday, 14 February 2008

Pension buy-outs gathering pace

Telent web site
The Pensions Regulator stopped a bid for the Telent pension scheme

The value of closed pension schemes being sold by employers to specialist insurance firms rose sharply at the end of last year, said Aon Consulting.

Another 75 schemes were sold in the last three months, a similar number to those sold in the previous nine months.

But their value of 1.86bn was more than double that of the deals carried out during the previous nine months, due mainly to a few large sales.

Aon said that without those, 2007 would have seen little growth from 2006.

Buying closed pension schemes has developed as a business in the past couple of years in response to a desire amongst many employers to get rid of the responsibility for running their final-salary schemes.

The biggest companies in the market to buy up unwanted schemes are Legal & General, and Paternoster.

Paul Belok of Aon Consulting said that the last three months of 2007 were, on the face of it, very successful.

"Scratch beneath the surface, however, and the story is less dramatic - a small handful of high value schemes were the cause of this exceptional growth, with 75% of all fourth quarter business relating to just four cases," he added.

Controversial

Once a scheme has been fully funded, as required by law, the new owner hopes to manage the scheme more economically and to invest the underlying assets more profitably over the long term.

The aim is to provide a return for the new owner as well as providing the income expected by the pension scheme members.

A leading example of such a deal was the sale last year of the two final-salary schemes of the EMAP publishing group, which had assets of 170m.

On the face of it, a well financed insurance company, operating under proper regulation, should be a safer home for accrued pension scheme liabilities than a small company that might eventually go bust.

But some attempts to buy up schemes have been controversial.

Last year the Pensions Regulator intervened to appoint new independent trustees to run the pension scheme of the electronics firm Telent - the successor to the former GEC and Marconi electronics groups.

Telent was being taken over by a firm called the Pensions Corporation and the regulator feared that the buyer's main aim was to get hold of potentially surplus money that had previously been set aside for the benefit of the pension scheme.


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