GERMANY – US/German group DaimlerChrysler could be facing underfunded pensions obligations of more than 8 billion euros by the end of 2002, says ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s.

The figure is much greater than that predicted by DaimlerChrysler’s chief financial officer, Manfred Gentz in October, at the disclosure of DaimlerChrysler’s Q3 2002 results.

Gentz, announced that, due to weak performance of equity markets, returns on pension assets had fallen by –12% for US plan assets and –17% for German plan assets up to September 30 2002, adding that if the situation continued, the pension obligations would be underfunded at the end of the year by around 5.5 billion euros, of which 3.1 billion euros would be concentrated in North America.

Standard & Poor’s also expects the company’s annual pensions expenses to increase by 400 million euros to 600 million euros in 2003. Although, adds S&P, DaimlerChrysler is allowed to spread the associated funding requirement over a much longer period.

The report by S&P entitled, “Occupational pension schemes rise to prominence in Germany”, discusses the increasing role of company-sponsored pension schemes.

“Reduced reliance on the state pension due to an ageing population, combined with increasing pressure from labour unions to include occupational pension schemes as part of an employee’s total remuneration package, is resulting in increased focus on occupational pension schemes in Germany, which are set to increase their share of a pensioner’s retirement income over the medium term,” says the report.

The report highlights the difficulties within each of Germany’s five types of pension schemes, with regards to accounting standards.

In a different report at the beginning of November, Standard and Poor’s warned that European companies could find their credit ratings cut as a result of unfunded pension liabilities, citing Germany as “high-risk” due to its “higher-than-average proportion of companies with significant unfounded commitments.”