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You're right. Pension accounting is pretty complex as is its less publicized partner health care expenses. Both are full of assumptions that can easily be manipulated to make earnings look better. Unfortunately, my software doesn't allow me to screen for anything on pensions. I can only find that info by digging into the footnotes. The earnings assumptions, growth and discuount rates used are usually unrealistic. Companies can use either side of the equation to their benefit. It's more of an issue for older firms than newer ones. The rise of defined benefit 401(k) plans makes the issue less relevant for newer companies. The issue comes around defined benefit plans. The Analysts Accounting Observer (subscription only) has some great data on this issue for S&P 500 companies.

A portion of the Level 2 CFA curriculum was directed toward pension accounting. I've read a number of papers on the subject but would be happy to take a look at yours if you don't mind forwarding it ( I can always find something that I might not have thought of when I review a new perspective.

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