November 19, 2007 / 7:48 AM / in 12 years

Pensions buyout market falters

LONDON (Reuters) - The buyout market for defined benefit company pensions is struggling to get established, with the number and value of deals done in the third quarter down on the previous quarter, according to research by Aon Consulting.

In the three months to the end of September, 60 deals were done with a total value of 239 million pounds — down from the 75 deals done with a total value of 346 million in the second quarter, said Aon in research issued on Monday.

The average value of the schemes bought out remains small too at less than 4 million pounds, said Aon, while take-up has been negligible of innovative deals, such as partial buyout or risk-sharing, designed by players to kickstart the market.

“The levels of business actually placed were disappointing, which is perhaps surprising given the level of hype that has been created,” said Paul Belok, a principal at Aon.

The acquisition of Telent TLNT.L by an investment vehicle controlled by pension fund manager Pension Corporation and the purchase of Thomson Regional Newspapers’ pension fund by Citigroup (C.N) may have stopped some schemes from fully buying out their pension liabilities from an insurer, said Aon.

The Financial Assistance Scheme’s moratorium on scheme buyouts may also have stopped some deals being done, said Aon.

“There is no hiding the fact that the quarter’s results will not be what those in the market will have wanted to see,” said Belok.

The quarterly survey is based on data provided to Aon by the leading players in the buyout market.

On a brighter note for the buyout firms, Aon reported that the number of schemes being quoted on by players has jumped in the third quarter, as has the total value of these schemes.

“Going forward the big question is whether the insurers can now convert the massive pipeline of cases that has been built up,” said Belok.

“It would only need about 5 percent to buy out in the next 12 months for the market to start showing some growth.”

On Tuesday, EMAP plc EMA.L said it had bought out its pension schemes’ liabilities with Paternoster, in a deal involving assets worth around 170 million pounds.

Established insurers Prudential (PRU.L) and Legal & General (LGEN.L) have been joined by start-ups Paternoster, Synesis and Lucida and other giants like Aegon (AEGN.AS) and Aviva (AV.L) in competing for a slice of a market estimated to be worth up to 1 trillion pounds.

Pension liabilities have been a headache for many British firms as changes to accounting standards mean pension deficits are treated like debt on their balance sheets, while new rules have made managing pension schemes more onerous.

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