Large U.S. defined benefit pension plans are now looking a little healthier than they did a year ago.

Analysts in the Stamford, Conn., office of Towers Perrin Forster & Crosby Inc. say rising stock prices and better returns on long-term bonds are helping to improve the performance of U.S. defined benefit pension plans.

When Towers Perrin analyzed plan data from 300 large employers, it found that they ended November with a total “funded ratio” of 80.4%, up from 77.5% at the end of 2008, when the financial crisis was starting to crest.

But the funded ratio is down sharply from 103.1% at the end of 2007, Towers Perrin says.