The average employee 401(k) contribution rose slightly in 2011 to $5,750, up from $5,680 a year ago, according to data from Fidelity Investments released today.

Meanwhile, the funded status of U.S. pensions rose nearly 2 percent in January, according to a report released today by BNY Mellon Asset Management.  

According to Fidelity, 401(k) participants on average continued to save more than 8 percent of their annual salaries. By the end of the fourth quarter 2011, the average 401(k) balance was $69,100, up nearly 8 percent from the end of the third quarter. Fidelity's 401(k) savings snapshot is based on the company's 11.6 million 401(k) accounts.

Fidelity Investments provides investment management and financial products and services to more than 20 million individuals and institutions, as well as through 5,000 financial intermediary firms. It has assets under administration of $3.4 trillion, including managed assets of $1.5 trillion as of Dec. 31.

"It's very encouraging that savings levels actually held up during the intense market volatility of last year and a sluggish economic environment," said James M. MacDonald, president, Workplace Investing, Fidelity Investments. "Increases in savings levels, however small, can make a significant impact over time."

BNY Mellon Asset Management reported that rising equity markets in the U.S. and around the world contributed to a 1.7 percent increase last month in the funded status of the typical U.S. corporate pension plan. The strong start to the year from stocks drove the funded status of the typical plan from 72.4 percent to 74.1 percent, according to the BNY Mellon Pension Summary Report for January 2012.

Assets for the typical plan in January increased 3.4 percent, offsetting a 1.1 percent increase in liabilities, BNY Mellon officials said. The rise in liabilities was due to tightening Aa corporate bond spreads, resulting in a six-basis-point decline in the Aa corporate discount rate to 4.30 percent, according to the report. Plan liabilities are calculated using the yields of long-term investment grade corporate bonds. Lower yields on these bonds result in higher liabilities.

BNY Asset Management is a subsidiary BNY Mellon, provider of financial services for institutions, corporations. It has $25.8 trillion in assets under custody and administration and $1.26 trillion in assets under management, services $11.8 trillion in outstanding debt and processes global payments averaging $1.5 trillion per day.

"The choppy recovery for pension plans continues, as the funded status has risen from the nadir of 70.1 percent at the end of September 2011," said Jeffrey B. Saef, managing director, BNY Mellon Asset Management, and head of the BNY Mellon Investment Strategy & Solutions Group. "The improvement has been largely due to the rally in equities, which has boosted asset values, as low interest rates have continued to prop up liabilities."

-Jim McConville