Economic Consequences of Pension Accounting

  •  Maria Iuliana Sandu    


The balancing act between neutral accounting policies and accounting policies that take economic consequences into consideration has been on the agenda of accounting regulators and researchers since the 70s. The transition to fair value accounting in conjunction with the recent economic crisis have led to a revival of interest in this balancing act especially in the field of pension accounting. Due to the negative economic consequences anticipated by companies sponsoring defined benefit pension funds (e.g., decrease in owners’ equity), pension accounting has moved from an accounting that takes into consideration economic consequences to a more neutral accounting only gradually and not in a once-and-for-all event. This paper documents identified and anticipated economic consequences of recent pension accounting changes like shifts between different types of pension plans (from defined benefit to defined contribution), changes in the governance structure between the sponsoring organization and the pension fund (less accountability by pension fund), more incentives for earnings management, and changes in investments strategies by sponsoring organizations (from equity to bonds). Recent proposals for regulatory changes (i.e., IAS 19 revised) head towards an excessive conservatism and hence diminished neutrality. During and in the aftermath of the recent economic crisis – when interest rates are low – conservative pension accounting can have negative economic consequences if pension funds look as if they are underfunded and sponsoring companies present higher retirement related expenses. Shifts in the accounting policies that depart from neutrality and have negative economic consequences should be taken into consideration by regulators when issuing accounting standards.

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