Winners And Losers In Defined Contribution Plans

By Will Ashworth | September 06, 2009 AAA

Vanguard's 2008 study of the 2,200 defined contribution plan's found that "despite the exceptional volatility that marked the period, the saving and investment behavior of defined contribution plan participants changed only marginally." That's definitely a good thing. Not so good is that 37% of plan participants invested in the target-date funds that were offered. These funds are the "in" product right now and an easy option for employers and employees, but they haven't been properly regulated, creating asset allocation fiascoes. I'd think twice about using them.

The most interesting finding to me is the drop in ownership of company stock. In 2005, 42% of participants held more than 20% of their account balances in company stock; today, that number is 30%. Whatever the reasons, I thought I'd take a look at a few of the companies who've recently filed their 11-K reports detailing plan assets. As with everything in life, there are winners and losers.

IN PICTURES: 10 Retirement-Wrecking Moves

Winners and Losers

Company Company Stock as a % of Plan
Fiscal 2008
Company Stock as a % of Plan
Fiscal 2007
Stock Performance
Last 5 Years
Buckle (NYSE:BKE) 22.7% 20.6% 125%
DeVry (NYSE:DV) 11.2% 9.4% 145%
PSS World Medical (Nasdaq:PSSI) 2.7% 2.7% 93%
Kohl\'s (NYSE:KSS) 11.9% 11.7% 10%
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) 34.3% 35.6% (4%)
S&P 500 N/A N/A (4%)
As of mid day September 10, 2009.

Winners
If you're a Buckle employee, the last five years have been good ones, especially if you own company stock; the stock is up over 200% while the S&P 500 is down 3%. Putting more than a fifth of your assets in your defined contribution plan has netted you far more than if you took a far less aggressive stance and put it all in the next biggest holding, Fidelity Freedom 2030 fund. In fact, a $1,000 investment in the target-date fund five years ago is worth $901.90 today compared to $1,250 for the same investment in Buckle stock. Who says investing in your company stock has to be a painful experience? (Think owning a stock gives you special privileges with the company? Think again. Read What Owning A Stock Actually Means.)

Over at DeVry, the Chicago-based, for-profit educator has enjoyed the past five years as its stock more than doubled. DeVry's employee's, however, have been less aggressive in buying up company stock, choosing to allocate 11.2% of the plans assets to DeVry's shares. DeVry's biggest holding is a $38 million insurance contract with Prudential Insurance that protects the principal and provides a stable rate of interest. While employees aren't going to hit any home runs with this asset allocation model, they're not going to suffer huge losses either. I'm not an expert, but 11% seems about the ideal rate of stock ownership by employees. They have skin in the game, but not too much.

Anyone who follows retail knows Liz Claiborne's (NYSE:LIZ) has had a lousy couple of years. Over the past five years, the company's stock has lost 90% of its value. In 2004, its full-year EBIT was $480 million. Fast-forward to 2008 and it was negative $789 million. It's no coincidence that employee participation in its stock has gone from 9.1% in 2004 to less than 1% in 2008. Surprisingly, the number of shares has gone up, from 464,035 shares held in 2004 to 544,850 in 2008. I guess there are some bottom-feeders holding out hope that the stock will recover. Personally, I think bankruptcy is just around the corner, but it's encouraging to see that the defined contribution plan's assets were still worth $155 million despite all that's happened. (Learn more in Analyzing Retail Stocks.)

Losers
One of the biggest losers has to be the employees of Wal-Mart. There is all sorts of positive chatter about what a great job the company's doing in this recession and yet its stock has only been able to squeeze out a negative return of 4% over the past five years. A massive amount of money - $3.4 billion - in company stock is held by employees and yet its stock price has barely budged. If I were working at Wal-Mart, I'd be concerned about my investment heading south and destroying the value of the plan. Right now, it appears all the employees are doing is propping up its stock price to keep the Walton family wealthy and little else. But hey, it's their money.

Bottom Line
Most people tend to look at the 10-K. How many look at the 11-K? Spending time in this often-ignored SEC filing can provide additional insight not found in the pages of the annual report. If you look close enough, you might even find a buy or sell signal hidden among the pages.

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