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JOHNNIE WALKER MAKER FINDS SPIRITED WAY TO FUND PENSIONS

New York Times

LONDON - Diageo, the maker of Johnnie Walker whiskey, found an innovative way to plug its gaping pension hole: handing over 2 million barrels of maturing whiskey from its distilleries in Scotland.

Diageo said Thursday that it would transfer ownership of 430 million pounds ($645 million) worth of whiskey to a pension financing partnership. Diageo employees will not receive their pensions in whiskey rather than cash, but they will have a guarantee that they will not walk away empty-handed should the company default.

"A pension funding partnership will be formed, which will hold maturing whiskey spirit as assets," Diageo, which also makes Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka, said in a statement.

As part of the deal, Diageo agreed to pay the pension partnership 25 million pounds a year as it sells the recently distilled whiskey once it matures after three years and replaces it with new stock. The agreement will expire after 15 years, at which point Diageo will buy back the whiskey, which comes from distilleries like Oban on the west coast of Scotland.

Companies are searching for new ways to reduce their pension deficits, which increase as people live longer.

"We're seeing a huge growth in the use of noncash funding," Marc Hommel, leader of the pensions practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers in London, said. "There are big pension deficits and sponsors are cash-strapped. These mechanisms provide security for the pension plans in exchange for less cash."

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