Don't we have enough to worry about? There's the credit squeeze that's hampering the ability of companies and people to do what they want to do. There's the plunge of the stock market. There are mutual funds seeing people withdraw their remaining dollars, forcing the fund managers to sell more stock and depress stocks further. And the same has been happening to hedge funds -- often to a worse degree, due to the leverage employed by many funds. Sheesh.

Now come pension-fund worries. As you probably know but rarely think about, if a company offers its employees (or former employees) a traditional benefit, it's on the hook to cough up certain sums of money regularly, to pay for the pensions. This money is invested in pension funds, and not all funds are managed with equal success.

According to a recent Barron's article, the following industrial firms are just a few of the many that are looking danger in the eye. These firms' pension funds are apparently less than 80% funded:

  • Ryder (NYSE:R)
  • Ashland (NYSE:ASH)
  • Goodyear
  • Eastman Chemical (NYSE:EMN)
  • PPG Industries

Not all the news is bad, though. It seems that some companies have been savvy and prudent investors. AT&T (NYSE:T), General Electric (NYSE:GE), Verizon (NYSE:VZ), and J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) are all expected to be overfunded come year-end.

What happens when a company is underfunded? Well, it sure puts a strain on its operations. It will need to come up with the cash to pay its obligations, and that may reduce its profits. According to Credit Suisse, S&P 500 companies sport a total deficit of $200 billion or more.

If this makes you think, "Why, there oughta be a law," rejoice -- there is, a new one. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 requires that beginning in 2009, companies must maintain assets in their pension funds equal to at least 94% of their expected payout obligations.

We investors would do well to look into our holdings, to see if they face pension pressures. The potential hits to earnings could bring bad surprises over the next year if you're not prepared for them.

And in the meantime, be sure to look out for your own retirement, as you probably don't have a pension to rely on. Learn how to have a painless retirement by trying our Rule Your Retirement newsletter service for free, with full access to all past issues. It regularly offers recommendations of promising stocks and mutual funds, too.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.