NU Online News Service, Aug. 4, 2004, 4:15 p.m. EDT

The 2003 investment market rebound improved the funded status of many large U.S. defined benefit pension plans.[@@]

Researchers at Watson Wyatt & Company, Washington, gathered data supporting that conclusion by reviewing information for DB plans at the 1,000 largest U.S. companies.

The number of Top 1,000 employers offering DB plans has dropped to 622, from 660 in 2000.

But the remaining DB plans were 88% funded at the end of 2003. The average funded status has increased from 82% at the end of 2002, when problems with stocks and bonds pounded portfolio values.

The largest U.S. employers will have to contribute about $40 billion to DB plans this year to meet funding requirements, down from $72 billion in 2003, Watson Wyatt reports.