Now there’s a real decoupling. Friday’s unemployment figures came out in America. They showed that 8.2 million Americans have lost their job since the GFC began in 2007. The official unemployment rate (the one that under-measures actual unemployment) is at 10.2% and growing. The Aussie employment report comes out on Thursday.
Stocks rallied on this news.
Employment is said to be a lagging indicator. Economists tell you it’s the last thing to recover from a recession. Businesses don’t begin hiring until after they are sure the worm has turned in the economy. But right now, there is a pretty big decoupling between the stock market’s verdict on the economy (it’s all good, man) and the employment market’s verdict (it sucks, man).
But there’s no doubt the rising market has lifted a lot of spirits…and superannuation balances. Aussie Super data firm Rainmaker says the average super is now down just -0.8% as of the end of September. To be honest though, we found this data incomprehensible.
Is it down 0.8% for the year (since January) or in the last twelve months? Or is the average super fund down 0.8% from its all-time high? The average super fund fell 21% from its heights to its lows during the GFC. But the Aussie market has rallied 55% this year.
So does this mean super has done well? Average? Above average?
In today’s Age, Eric Johnston reports that for the last three years, the average super fund is down 0.3%. Over five years, the average fund performance is a bit better at 5.2%. And over ten years, a 6% average super return just means boring old government bonds at 5.6%.
To us, this suggests that the equity premium in stocks really is collapsing. What’s the point of getting average super returns if you’re better off in bonds? Or, if all you can get in the average super is a performance that barely beats bonds, wouldn’t it make more sense to stick half your money in bonds, 30% cash, and actively manage the other 20% in your own self-managed super?
You could do worse, of course. Maybe it’s a lousy idea. So we asked the man with the wealth gampelan, Kris Sayce, what he made of the enigmatic super figures. He’s on the super beat full time. It’s a sensible complement to the growth-stock tipping he does at the Australian Small Cap Investigator.
“I think what this research shows you,” Kris writes, “is the utter failure of the funds management industry. The research claims the S&P/ASX200 is up nearly 55%, yet the best performing fund manager has only managed a 9.9% return. Something doesn’t quite add up for investors.
“But still they’re charging you between 1% and 3% for underperforming the market! That’s just bizarre. Then again, I’ve always thought you’re better off investing in the shares of a fund manager rather than in their funds.”
Australia’s super annuation industry is often trumpeted by the government (and the industry) as one of the best pension schemes in the world. And there’s a lot of talk now about raising compulsory contributions from 9% of salary to 12%. This would be a real gift to the funds management industry.
But according to a report from Boston Consulting, the GFC hit Australian investors about as hard as anyone in the world. The report says the GFC wiped out 27% of Australian pension “wealth.” That was the third-worse wipe-out of 62 countries surveyed. Only Britain (-32%) and Sweden (-28%) were worse off.
If you’re having a hard time reconciling that fact with the rosy picture routinely painted by the media and the funds industry and the government, you need to dig a bit deeper and see how your fund is investing your money. At the very least, you ought to know whether your super fund is underperforming the market and over-exposing you to a certain class of stocks.
If it’s your average Australian super fund, odds are it’s doing both. According to an OECD report released earlier this month, “Australian superannuation funds had the highest exposure to equities last year and were the third worst performing group of pension funds in the world.” The default Aussie super has 60% of its assets invested in shares and 70% of those shares are growth stocks.
Not only does this mean the average Aussie super investor is over-exposed to equities, he’s way over-exposed to growth stocks. Granted, that might be exactly the sort of asset allocation you wanted if you were a young investor with time on his side, investing at the beginning of secular bull market.
But now? And let’s not forget that the half of the total average return for stocks over time comes from reinvested dividends, not capital gains. That means that Aussie investors probably have too few income producing stocks in their portfolio, and too many stocks period.
If you have an asset allocation plan already (some percentage of your assets in stocks, property, bonds, cash, and gold, respectively), it may not be a bad time to revisit your percentages (rebalance). And if you don’t have a plan – if you’re leaving it to your super fund to make your asset allocation decisions for you – the odds are THEY don’t have a plan either. They’re just chucking your money into growth stocks and clipping your ticket.
That’s not a plan at all. But it’s probably a better plan than stick all your money into bonds willy nilly. That’s not a plan either. Or, if it is a plan, and those bonds are U.S. bonds, it’s a really bad plan. Worse than no plan at all (owning equities blindly).
for The Daily Reckoning Australia