July 5, 2010

Whiskey to the (Pension) Rescue

The International Herald Tribune reports Diageo will transfer ownership of ?430 million ($645 million) worth of whiskey to a pension funding partnership. But the paper notes Diageo employees would not receive their pensions in whiskey rather than cash, but the move does give them a guarantee that they would not walk away empty-handed should the company default.

"A pension funding partnership will be formed, which will hold maturing whiskey spirit as assets," the company said in a statement.

According to the plan, Diageo agreed to pay the pension partnership ?25 million a year as it sells the recently distilled whiskey once it matures after three years and replaces it with new stock. The agreement would expire after 15 years, at which point Diageo would buy back the whiskey, which comes from distilleries such Oban on the west coast of Scotland.

The paper reports more companies are searching for innovative ways to reduce their pension deficits, which increase as people live longer. The British supermarket chain J Sainsbury said earlier this year it would transfer property into a pension vehicle, while Whitbread agreed to hand over a share in its portfolio of restaurants and hotels. The investment firm Man Group moved some hedge fund assets into a trust as a security for its British pension plan in March.

"We're seeing a huge growth in the use of non-cash funding," Marc Hommel, leader of the pensions practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London, told IHT. "There are big pension deficits and sponsors are cash-strapped. These mechanisms provide security for the pension plans in exchange for less cash."

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