Pension schemes at the UK's 100 largest listed companies had a combined accounting surplus of £4bn at the end of 2017, Lane Clark & Peacock (LCP) analysis suggests.
After spending the majority of the last 10 years in the red, FTSE 100 defined benefit (DB) schemes saw their first year-end surplus since 2007.
Further, aside from a brief spell in early 2015, this is the first time the consultant's biannual tracker has recorded a surplus, and is estimated to have risen further to £20bn by the end of April.
In the spring 2018 update of its accounting for pensions report - FTSE 100 pension schemes go into ‘surplus': Are they out of the woods? - LCP said company contributions and strong investment growth were largely behind the improved position.
Around £13bn of contributions were injected into FTSE 100 schemes over 2017, while companies also updated longevity and inflation expectations, and modified discount rate calculations.
Together, the changes in conditions and assumptions led to a six percentage point improvement in funding levels on the accounting basis over 2017, growing from 95% to 101%.
LCP partner and lead author of the report Phil Cuddeford said, while the figures are good news, they can change very quickly,
"For one of the first times in years, FTSE 100 pension schemes have clearly swung into surplus when measured on an accounting basis," he said. "Although that's good news, it is essential that corporate sponsors don't think they're out of the woods just yet. History has proven that such accounting surpluses can quickly be wiped out by deteriorating market and economic conditions."
For example, proposed changes to the IFRIC 14 accounting standards could worsen balance sheets by £50bn overall, with some companies experiencing a deterioration of over £1bn, the report said.
Additionally, Cuddeford recognised other valuation methods are more worrying for trustees, with the report finding that over a third of FTSE 100 companies had pension deficits above 10% of their market capitalisation on a buyout basis.
"On trustees' typical pension scheme funding basis, significant deficits remain, and the persistent gap between dividend payments and scheme contributions is likely to be scrutinised more intensely in the wake of the high-profile collapses of Carillion and BHS," he continued.
The report found that dividend payments totalled six times more than company contributions to DB schemes in 2017, compared to four times more in the year before.
Around 40% of companies had paid less than 10% the value of their dividend payments into their pension schemes, while 5% had matched or exceeded these.
Further, around 20 FTSE 100 firms paid dividends at the level of their profits, or higher, while plugging less than 10% of their buyout deficits.
Overall, the value of deficit contributions last year totalled just 3% of buyout deficits.
The findings, which will be complemented by a further report in the autumn, come after a warning from The Pensions Regulator that it would intervene where it felt schemes were being treated unfairly in relation to shareholders.
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