Germany’s largest listed companies contributed €11.8bn to their pension plan assets in 2018 amid challenging conditions on the capital markets, according to Willis Towers Watson (WTW).

In its latest annual DAX pensions study, the consultancy said the plans were under “stable management”, having maintained a steady aggregate funding ratio compared to 2017.

In 2018 the companies’ pension obligations shrank by 4.7% to €364bn, the consultancy said, while pension plan assets fell by 5.4% to €244bn.

The changes were due to large corporate finance transactions and a new composition of the DAX, as well as difficult capital market conditions.

Covestro and Wirecard replaced Commerzbank and ProSiebenSat 1 Media in the DAX last year, although Wirecard and one other company had not reported up to date figures in time for WTW’s study.

DAX companies made a loss of €4.4bn, or 1.7%, on invested pension plan assets last year, according to the consultancy.

However, the funding ratio was almost unchanged year-on-year: in 2018 it fell by one percentage point to 67%. This was well above the long-term average, WTW said.

The funding ratio varied considerably across the companies, however. Vonovia’s pension plan was just 4% funded, while Deutsche Bank’s was 98% funded. WTW has estimated that the average funding ratio for Fortune 1000 companies was 84% in 2018.

On average, pension liabilities amounted to around 15% of the DAX companies’ balance sheets last year, with pension plan assets making up roughly 10%, WTW reported.

The DAX index itself fell by 18.3% in euro terms in 2018, compared to a 3.6% fall recorded by the MSCI World index.

Contributions and mortality

The size of pension assets and liabilities, combined with the total of €11.8bn that employers contributed to their pension arrangements, demonstrated the high level of importance that companies attached to workplace pensions, according to the consultancy.

From the top five companies by volume of pension promises, Deutsche Telekom topped up pension plan assets the most last year, according to WTW’s study. It paid €2.9bn, followed by Siemens with €2.8bn. Eon made contributions of €900m and Volkswagen and Daimler paid €700m each.

Five DAX companies used company-specific mortality tables in 2018, according to WTW.

“The general mortality tables form a robust basis for calculations,” said Hanne Borst, head of actuarial consulting at the consultancy in Germany. “However, larger companies in particular are taking a close look at their workforce and developing company-specific calculation principles to be able to better plan for payment flows.”

Borst recently argued for a different approach to longevity data in Germany.