Pension plan funds continue to increase

Assets have been rising steadily since mid-2006

The value of employer-sponsored trusteed pension funds increased for the third consecutive quarter between January and March this year, according to Statistics Canada.

These assets were worth $936.1 billion in the first quarter, up 2.3 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2006. Assets have been rising since a 2.1 per cent decline in the second quarter of 2006.

At the end of March this year, 41 per cent of fund assets were in stocks and equity funds; 31.7 per cent in bonds and bond funds; 6.1 per cent in real estate; 3.4 per cent in short-term investments; 1.4 per cent in mortgages; and 16 per cent in other assets.

Investments in foreign stocks grew an additional six per cent from the fourth quarter of 2006. The share of pension fund assets in foreign holdings increased to 30.9 per cent from 24 per cent two years ago.

Pension revenues, which peaked in the fourth quarter of 2006 at $32.6 billion, dropped to $26 billion in the first quarter of 2007. This decline was due to reduced contributions, investment income and profits from buying and selling stocks.

At the same time, expenditures rose five per cent to $10.9 billion. As a result, net income for the first quarter of 2007 dropped to $15.2 billion from a record high $22.1 billion in the previous quarter.

Contributions in the first quarter of 2007 fell to $7.7 billion from $8.5 billion in the previous quarter. Employer and employee contributions typically fall in the first quarter following special year-end payments made in the last quarter of the previous year. In the first quarter of 2007, contributions from employers and employees each fell nine per cent.

Pension benefits paid to retirees continued to climb, reaching a record $7.8 billion in the first quarter. This was a three-per-cent gain over the previous high in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Of the 5.7 million Canadian workers belonging to employer pension plans, about 4.6 million are members of trusteed plans.

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