Milliman's Pension Funding Study released Tuesday showed decline in discount rates fueled record levels of pension expense for sponsors of the nation's largest defined benefit pension plans.

According to the study, in 2011, these plans experienced asset returns of 12.8 percent (a $115 billion improvement) that were offset by a liability increase of 7.7 percent (a $103 billion increase) based on a decrease in the discount rate.

Collectively, these pensions went into the year expecting a $30 billion charge to earnings, with the final number almost doubling that estimate, at $59.4 billion.

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