More than 70 percent of the nation’s corporate pension programs at the end of March were either short on reserves or expecting a shortage soon, according to survey results released Thursday.

Deterioration in the investment environment, reflected by slumping stock prices and extremely low interest rates, was blamed as a major factor behind the shortage.

The dire results of the survey show that many pension programs, which are designed to support salaried workers in their retirements, are now trapped in an acute financial problem.

With prospects for improvement bleak, some companies are moving to cut benefits to prevent their systems from collapsing.

The survey found that yields on pension funds in fiscal 1998 were lower at 73.7 percent of the responding companies and unchanged at 7.9 percent.

The survey, conducted by Kyodo News from late March through mid-April, covered 100 companies and received responses from 81.

As of the end of March, 60.5 percent of the companies said they had or expected to have shortages in their programs, while 13.6 percent said they expect a shortage to occur in fiscal 1999. Thus, a total of 74.1 percent of the responding companies were seen short or almost short of funds in their pension programs.

To cope with the problem, 87.5 percent of the companies said they had already taken or were considering steps to fix the situation.

Specifically, 47.1 percent of the companies had lowered or planned to lower expected yields, while 34.3 percent had raised or were planning to raise premiums employees must pay into the fund. Also, 32.9 percent said they will inject capital to fill the shortage at the end of the fiscal year.

The survey also found that 21.4 percent of the respondents had reduced or were planning to reduce the amount of pension benefits.

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