Deficits in the defined benefit pension schemes of the country's largest private and public sector companies surged by more than 160% over the first nine months of the year, according to new research.

Analysis by consultants LCP Ireland estimates the combined accounting deficit of Irish-funded pension schemes for companies analysed rose from €2.6 billion at the end of last year to €6.8 billion by the end of September.

The highest funded deficits were recorded by Bank of Ireland (€736m, down from €986m in 2014), CRH (€449m, down from €635m in 2014), and Smurfit Kappa (€311m, down from €337m in 2014) at the end of 2015.

Of the companies analysed, only Kingspan reported it had assets greater than its funded accounting liabilities, at 112%.

Diageo was close to being fully funded, but the average funding level for the schemes analysed rose from 83% in 2014 to 88% in 2015. 

According to LCP, the companies analysed paid contributions of over €1.16bn to their pension schemes last year.

On average, companies paid contributions of 2.3 times the cost of accumulated benefits as employers attempted to reduce past service deficits.

Commenting on the study, Partner at LCP Conor Daly said: "Despite positive returns from equity markets, pension scheme liabilities have increased very significantly over 2016 due to bond yield falls.

"There is little doubt that the aftermath of the UK Brexit referendum has had a negative impact. 

"That, combined with the expansion of the ECB's quantitative easing programme, led to soaring deficits in many schemes in 2016."

Mr Daly also noted the "unexpected result of the US presidential election", which he believes has had a knock-on impact on pension scheme deficits.

"Bond yields in the US and across Europe rose in the immediate aftermath amid expectations of an increased US fiscal stimulus and this has certainly helped offset some of the deficit increases over 2016," he added.