NU Online News Service, Oct. 20, 2003, 2:15 p.m. EDT – Eighteen percent of chief financial officers at big U.S. companies worry that higher pension costs could keep the companies from meeting earnings targets, according to results of an informal survey by Towers Perrin, New York.

Researchers at the benefits consulting firm conducted the survey by polling CFOs at 300 large U.S. employers that offer pension plans.

The researchers found that the average funded status of the pension plans included in the survey dropped to 77% at the end of 2002, down from 120% at the end of 1999.

The average deferred pension cost for the 300 companies surveyed rose to $1.4 billion at the end of 2002, from about $500 million at the end of 2001.

Forty percent of the CFOs say pension plan performance is of significant concern to their companies’ chief executive officers, but only 10% say pension plan performance seems to be of significant concern to shareholders, lenders or the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.