Multi-employer pensions: liability missing, expense unhelpful

Defined benefit pension liabilities arising from participation in multi-employer plans may not be recognised on the balance sheet. Under IFRS, companies can avoid recognition by simply asserting that “information is not available”. Disclosures in the footnotes help, but these may be measured on an ‘actuarial’ basis which is not relevant for investors.

We use retailer Ahold-Delhaize to illustrate the challenge for investors. It participates in several US multi-employer schemes and discloses an unrecognised actuarial liability of €1.1bn as per year end 2018. We estimate the more relevant IAS 19 liability, which we think should be recognised on-balance sheet, to be €2.2bn.

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