A combination of factors has created fertile ground for market volatility, resulting in a bumpy ride for super members, who have experienced six negative monthly returns over the past year.

According to SuperRatings, the median balanced option return for August was an estimated -0.5%, with the negative result driven by a fall in Australian and international shares. The median growth option, which has a higher exposure to growth assets like shares, fared worse, returning an estimated -0.9%.

In contrast, the median capital stable option, which includes a higher allocation to bonds and other defensive assets, performed more favourably with an estimated return of 0.3% (see table below).

Estimated accumulation returns (% p.a. to end of August 2019)

1 month 1 year 3 years 5 years 7 years 10 years
SR50 Growth (77-90) Index -0.9% 5.2% 8.8% 8.0% 10.2% 8.5%
SR50 Balanced (60-76) Index -0.5% 5.3% 8.0% 7.5% 9.2% 8.0%
SR50 Capital Stable (20-40) Index 0.3% 5.3% 4.8% 4.8% 5.4% 5.7%

Source: SuperRatings

Investors were caught off guard in August as trade negotiations between the US and China broke down, while a range of geopolitical and market risks, including further signs of a slowing global economy, added to uncertainty.

In Australia, a disappointing GDP result for the June quarter revealed a domestic economy in a more fragile state than previously acknowledged. Action from the Reserve Bank to lower interest rates is expected to assist in stabilising markets but could be detrimental for savers and retirees who rely on interest income.

Pension products shared a similar fate in August, with the balanced pension option returning an estimated -0.6% over the month while the growth pension option returned an estimated -1.0% and the capital stable pension option was mostly flat with an estimated return of 0.3%. Long-term returns are still holding up well, with the median balanced option for accumulation members delivering 9.2% p.a. over the past seven years (in excess of the typical CPI + 3.0% target) and the median balanced pension option returning 10.2% p.a.

Estimated pension returns (% p.a. to end of August 2019)

1 month 1 year 3 years 5 years 7 years 10 years
SRP50 Growth (77-90) Index -1.0% 5.9% 9.9% 9.2% 11.5% 9.4%
SRP50 Balanced (60-76) Index -0.6% 6.2% 8.7% 8.0% 10.2% 8.8%
SRP50 Capital Stable (20-40) Index 0.3% 6.2% 5.5% 5.5% 6.3% 6.4%

Source: SuperRatings

“There will always be negative months for super members, but the timing of negative returns can have a real impact on those entering the retirement phase,” said SuperRatings Executive Director Kirby Rappell.

“For members shifting their super savings to a pension product, a number of down months in relatively quick succession will mean they begin drawing down on a smaller pool of savings than they might have anticipated. As members get closer to retirement, it’s important that they review their risk tolerance to make sure they can retire even if the market takes a turn for the worse.”

As the chart below shows, down months in the latter part of 2018 took their toll on pension balances, although they were able to recover through 2019 to finish above their starting value by the end of August 2019.

Pension balance over 12 months to end August 2019*

Pension balance over 12 months to end August 2019
Source: SuperRatings
*Assumes a starting balance of $250,000 at the end of August 2018 and annual 5% drawdown applied monthly.

Comparing balanced and capital stable option performance shows that the balanced option suffered a greater drop but was able to bounce back relatively quickly. A starting balance of $250,000 fell to $232,951 over the four months to December 2018, before recovering to $252,091 at the end of August 2019.

In contrast, the capital stable option was able to better withstand the market fall, with a starting balance of $250,000 dropping to only $241,746 in December before rising back to $252,201.

While both performed similarly over the full 12-month period, a member retiring at December 2018 could have been over $8,500 worse off if they were in a balanced option compared to someone in a capital stable option. While a capital stable option is not expected to perform as well over longer periods, it will provide a smoother ride and may be an appropriate choice for those nearing retirement.

“Super fund returns have generally held up well under challenging conditions, but there’s no doubt this has been a challenging year for those entering retirement,” said Mr Rappell.

“Under these market conditions, timing plays a bigger role in determining your retirement outcome. At the same time interest rates are at record lows and moving lower, so the income generated for retirees and savers is less, particularly if someone is relying on interest from a bank account. In the current low rate and low return environment, it’s harder for retirees to generate capital growth and income.”

A world-beating performance from Australian shares has been overshadowed by the re-emergence of geopolitical uncertainty and a wave of risk aversion in global markets, leading to softer performance for super funds in the final stretch of the financial year.

According to estimates from leading superannuation research house SuperRatings, the typical balanced option return was -0.7% in May as funds were dragged down by falls in international shares triggered by the re-emergence of the US-China trade conflict and uncertainty surrounding central bank policy.

The bright side has been the resilience of Australian shares and property, both of which saw a brief boost from the Coalition’s surprise election win, but this was not enough to save super funds from a month of negative performance.

Markets have since recovered following May’s weakness, but members should not expect a bumper end to the financial year. The year-to-date return is sitting at 5.1% for the median balanced option, which is below the 8.5% per annum return achieved over the past ten years.

Estimated median Balanced option returns to 31 May 2019

Period Accumulation returns Pension
returns
Month of May 2019 -0.7% -0.7%
Financial year return to 31 May 2019 5.1% 5.8%
Rolling 1-year return to 31 May 2019 4.8% 7.3%
Rolling 3-year return to 31 May 2019 6.8% 8.1%
Rolling 5-year return to 31 May 2019 6.6% 7.6%
Rolling 7-year return to 31 May 2019 8.7% 10.5%
Rolling 10-year return to 31 May 2019 8.5% 9.7%
Rolling 15-year return to 31 May 2019 7.5% 8.1%
Rolling 20-year return to 31 May 2019 6.8%

Interim results only. Median Balanced Option refers to ‘Balanced’ options with exposure to growth style assets of between 60% and 76%. Approximately 60% to 70% of Australians in our major funds are invested in their fund’s default investment option, which in most cases is the balanced investment option. Returns are net of investment fees, tax and implicit asset-based administration fees.

Members in the median growth option, which includes higher weightings to growth assets like Australian and overseas shares, suffered a larger fall of 1.2% in May, while the median International Shares option fell 4.0% and the median Australian Shares option held firm, returning 1.4%.

“It’s been a disappointing end to the financial year for super, but long-term performance remains robust,” said SuperRatings Executive Director Kirby Rappell. “The median balanced option return over the past 10 years is around 8.5%, indicating that super has delivered solid returns even in a low interest rate environment.”

Downside risks to the Australian economy, including weak inflation, falling home prices, and tighter credit conditions are taking their toll on consumer confidence, while the geopolitical risks in the form of US-China trade negotiations have also contributed to market volatility.

SuperRatings Index return estimates to 31 May 2019


Source: SuperRatings

However, the Australian market has held up reasonably well over the financial year to date, with the S&P/ASX 200 Index returning 7.6% so far to the end of May, outperforming global share performance of 6.3% measured by the MSCI World Ex-Australia Index. Listed property has been the leading asset class so far this financial year, with the S&P/ASX 200 A-REIT Index returning 14.5%. Both property and shares saw a modest boost in May with the negative gearing debate now effectively put to bed following the federal election.

“Labor’s negative gearing proposals were thought to favour developers by limiting tax concessions to new stock, but so far the improvement in sentiment has outweighed any negative impact, which may give some super funds a temporary boost to their property portfolios,” said Mr Rappell.

Long-term super performance steady

The negative performance for super funds in May has been reflected in a slight fall in the Balanced and Growth option indices for the month but long-term performance remains strong. According to SuperRatings’ data, $100,000 invested in the median Balanced option in May 2009 is estimated to have reached an accumulated $217,391 today.

The median Growth option is estimated to be worth $230,873 over the same period, while $100,000 invested in domestic and international shares ten-years ago is now worth $244,382 and $258,181 respectively. In contrast, $100,000 invested in the median Cash option ten years ago would only be worth $129,748.

Growth in $100,000 invested over 10 years to 31 May 2019


Source: SuperRatings

Release ends

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Important information: Any express or implied rating or advice is limited to general advice, it doesn’t consider any personal needs, goals or objectives.  Before making any decision about financial products, consider whether it is personally appropriate for you in light of your personal circumstances. Obtain and consider the Product Disclosure Statement for each financial product and seek professional personal advice before making any decisions regarding a financial product.