A study by Towers Watson of trends in pensions and postretirement benefits in 2012 found that the funded ratio of the Fortune 1000 pension plans improved only slightly from the previous year to 74 percent and that 70 percent of companies had a funded status of less than 80 percent.

For its report, Towers Watson analyzed disclosures in the fiscal 2012 annual reports for Fortune 1000 companies with fiscal years ending October 1 through December 31. It compared data from 1999 through 2012, which showed a continuous downward trend in companies' expected rate of return and the discount rates used to calculate pension benefits.

 In 1999, the expected rate of return on investments was 9.18 percent, compared to 7.41 percent in 2012. The discount rate also decreased from 7.63 percent to 3.94 percent during the same time frame.

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