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According to KPMG, the combined pension deficit of the FTSE 100 index firms stood at £80bn at the end of June this year, compared with just £20bn at the end of 2007.
"Just under a quarter of the FTSE 100 are now not able to pay their pension deficits over any reasonable timeframe purely from discretionary cash flow," KPMG's report says.
"Over 2008, significant falls in world stock markets contributed to increases in pension deficits. At the same time the economic downturn has seen revenues and company asset values fall," the report pointed out.
Under laws supervised by the Pensions Regulator, pension scheme trustees and employers have to agree a plan for the employer to pay off any deficit in its pension fund, usually within 10 years.
But some employers who have done this have still found that their deficits have continued to rise.
Billions of extra pounds have been pumped into company pension funds in the past few years to pay off deficits, but poor investment returns and rising longevity have caused them to balloon further.
The National Association of State Retirement Administrators found a nearly $443 billion collective unfunded liability for the 125 state, local government, and teacher pension funds in its most recent survey.
The situation is likely to worsen as the recession punches holes in budgets nationwide and causes big investment losses for defined-benefit pension plans that pay out a fixed income.
But the economic downturn may also lead to more reforms as politicians and taxpayers realize they can no longer afford plush pensions compared to defined-contribution 401(k) plans in the private sector which pay income based on variable investment returns.