Testing moral hazard and tax benefit hypothesis: Evidence from corporate pension contributions and investment risk

  • Ting Zhang Ting Zhang
  • Tong Yu Tong Yu

We jointly test moral hazard and tax benefit hypotheses related to the defined benefit pension plan funding and investment risk-taking decisions by incorporating the pension plan termination probabilities. We hypothesize that sponsors with different plan termination probabilities are dominated by different incentives. In particular, sponsors are dominated by the moral hazard incentive when they face high plan termination probabilities, as the put option derived from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) guarantee has the greatest value. In contrast, the tax benefit incentive dominates if sponsors have low termination probabilities. As the value of the PBGC put option is low, maximizing tax benefits associated with pension contributions and investment earnings becomes a dictating incentive. The findings based on sponsors’ voluntary contributions strongly support our hypotheses after controlling for endogeneity issue. However, in examining sponsors’ investment risk-taking incentives, the results based on pension beta and asset allocation do not support either of the hypotheses.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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