Interesting material our way comes! Watson Wyatt has had a close look at the funding status of Fortune 1000 companies 2004 - 06 with effective numbers becoming available for 2006 thanks to FAS 158. WW has developed a Pension Risk Index, which estimates the loss of the pension plan in percent of the corporate's market cap at a 5% probability of unfavourable market conditions, given the plan’s asset allocation, liability structure and sensitivity to interest rates.
An excellent article in the current issue of the Financial Analysts Journal goes an important step further: The author estimates the correlation between pension fund deficits and associated credit spreads. The results are statistically significant and show interesting characteristics: The sensitivity of spreads to unfunded pension liabilities is about five times larger for junk bonds than for investment grade bonds. Also, the sensitivity to pension liabilities is much larger than to ordinary long term debt - double for investment grade, triple for junk. The model was also run for samples from the UK and Japan, but those results only confirmed a generic sensitivity.
This is where the relevance of pensions for corporate finance becomes evident. We expect that the relevance will increase thanks to better, more relevant accounting information and increasing market attention.