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 Financial Happenings Blog 
Monday, April 30 2007

This weekend's Sydney Morning Herald, in the 'Investing' section has a column entitled 'Monitor' by John Collett. 

It quotes a Standard and Poors report from the US, that says most share fund managers fail to outperform the index. 

The stat's are pretty impressive, and about what we would expect.  72% of large company funds fail to outperform the index over 5 years and 78% of small company funds fail to outperform the relevant index over the same timeframe.

The report shows similar results for global sharemarket investing.

This is what we would expect - the high costs of 'normal' managed funds means that it is very hard for them to outperform. 

Regards,

Scott Francis

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 09:25 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Saturday, April 28 2007

An article reported on the 25th of April in the Courier Mail, and in a variety of other media outlets, that intelligence was not a relevant factor in investment success.

The report was based on a study published in the 'Intelligence' journal, by the author Jay Zagorsky from Ohio State University.

This should be good news for everybody, as it demonstrates that a huge intellectual capacity is NOT required for financial success.  Indeed, if the basic steps to financial success are spending less than you earn, investing regularly in a diversified portfolio of growth assets and so on - well then it does not take great intelligence to do that.

Indeed, there is evidence to show that a large IQ MAY BE A DISADVANTAGE for investment success.

MENSA, a group for people with the highest of IQ's have an investment club.  Larry E. Swedroe, in his book Rational Investing in Irrational Times wrote that:

"The June 2001 issue of Smart Money (a US Investment Magazine) reported that over the past fifteen years the Mensa investment club returned just 2.5%, underperforming the S&P 500 Index by almost 13% per annum." (RIIIT, pg 6-7)

It really shows that intelligence is not an attribute rewarded by the market.  If I had to guess intelligence would lead people to actively try and think of ways to outguess and beat the market.  They would have been better with a buy and hold index strategy.  So would pretty much everyone!


Posted by: Scott Francis AT 01:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 25 2007

This morning's Courier Mail had an interesting article about superannuation.

It said that 80% of Australian have their superannuation parked in the 'default' option of their superannuation fund.

What that means is that most funds have three or four different investment mixes.  'Conservative', 'Balanced' and 'Growth' would be three common choices.  If, when you set up your superannuation fund, you don't make a choice you will end up with a pre determined default option - usually the 'balanced' fund.

It suprises me that 80% of people are simply in that default option.  Superannuation is your own money - take the time to invest it in the manner that is best going to suit your own situation.  Don't leave it to the fund to decide what is best for you!

This is particularly true of people close to retirement, where quite often the default option will revert to a 'conservative' or 'cash' type investment option.  For people for who this happened in the last 5 years, this would have cost them thousand and thousand of retirement dollars in missed returns from growth assets like shares and property.  This is a real worry - people close to retirement are still looking at a 30 to 40 year investment time frame.  You need your portfolios to be exposed to growth assets to provide the sort of investment returns that will allow you to enjoy retirement.

Don't leave it to Mr or Mrs 'Default' to make investment decisions for you!

Success of the e-mail update service:  We continue to be very excited about the number of subscriptions for our e-mail update service.  Once a fortnight receive an e-mail dealing with all things investment related.  Click here to add your name to the e-mail list.

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 06:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 24 2007

I am in the process of studying towards my Masters of Financial Planning.  The past week has been spent completing a theoretical case study about a couple approaching retirement.  After years of working in an educational institution you would think that I would have listened to the sound advice I gave my students - get started on your assignments early and don't leave everything till the last few days!!  Of course not, where's the fun in getting an assignment done early!!!

 

However, even though the time to reflect on my responses was not extensive, the plain and simple message was clear - smart investing and planning within the new super environment will provide even greater advantages come age 60.  Let's go over the two basics:

 

  • After 60, all withdrawals from funds established within a complying superannuation fund will be tax free.  There are no limits (now know as RBLs) or distinctions about whether the funds were defined as being coming from pre-July 1983 or post-June 1983 employment.
  • If you choose to work past 60, the transition to retirement income streams become even more powerful.  You can purchase a pension using your superannuation account and receive regular payments, tax free.  This will allow you to re-contribute more money into super by way of salary sacrificing with these contributions being taxed at 15%.  This also reduces the amount of marginal tax paid, assuming you are in the 30% or higher tax bracket.

 

For those who can take advantage of these rule changes it could make a world of difference come the day you want to put your heels up and enjoy a well deserved retirement.

 

Regards,

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 02:22 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 19 2007

Fincorp and Westpoint collapses have bought investing in mortgages to the front of the minds of many thoughtful investors in Australia.

There has been a recent mortgage related disaster in the United States.  The disaster came from a rash of lending to consumers who had poor credit levels - 'sub-prime' lending they call it.  (I marvel at the way the financial services industry manipulates language.  Rather than describe the lenders as 'poor credit quality borrowers' they are actually only 'sub-prime'.  It does not sound nearly as bad.)

The lending was to investors who used the money to buy houses to live in.  The lending was from 'mum and dad' investors who were attracted by the high investment returns.  Unfortunately there are up to 2 million homeowners who will lose their properties, and many investos who will lose their investments.  A significant part of investors losing their money is that house prices are falling, which means that when they are forceably sold there is not enough money to return to investors.

In a different context the lesson is simple - be careful of mortgage as an investment, and the associated risks.

Regards,

Scott Francis

 

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 05:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 18 2007

An article in The Age newspaper published on the 18th of April highlighted the great performance of industry funds over the past 5 years up to 31st December 2006.  The article used data from SuperRatings regarding "balanced" funds.  These funds were used on the basis that the majority of people have their superannuation savings invested in balanced funds.  The results are very flattering for industry funds with them picking up 8 of the top 10 results.

 

(Source - http://www.theage.com.au/news/superannuation/industry-funds-dominate-field/2007/04/17/1176696767356.html)

 

The article goes on to suggest that the common characteristics of these industry funds are that they are low cost, the funds' trustees adjust their asset allocation in response to market conditions and they have embraced "alternative asset classes" like private equity, infrastructure funds and hedge funds.

 

The results are indeed impressive so I took the opportunity to find out more about these funds from their web sites.  All but one fund, AMIST, had detailed information about the funds in question.  As I read through the PDS for each fund, I became intrigued with the reporting of alternative assets by some of these industry funds.  Some fund managers treated these assets, or a healthy percentage of them, as defensive assets (like cash and fixed interest) whereas they seem to have greater levels of risk and could be better classified as growth assets.

 

Based on this contention I re-classified some of the top 10 funds to reflect the more aggressive and risky nature of their "alternative assets", and then compared them with the portfolios that we develop for clients at ?A Clear Direction'.  The following table includes the returns for our portfolio plus funds on a portfolio size of $100,000, after all fees have been deducted.  These results would improve for larger portfolios as % fees start to reduce for larger portfolios.

 

(Based on $100,000)

5 Year Returns

Growth Allocation

Basis of Growth Allocation

Portfolio Plus - 90% Growth

13.61%

90%

 

MTAA Super - Balanced

12.80%

90%

Estimated

Portfolio Plus - 85% Growth

12.78%

85%

 

Portfolio Plus - 75% Growth

11.95%

75%

 

Portfolio Plus - 70% Growth

11.53%

70%

 

AMIST- Balanced

11.00%

NA

 

HostPlus - Balanced

10.90%

75%

Estimated

AustralianSuper - Balanced

10.80%

75%

Benchmark

Westscheme - Trustee's Selection

10.50%

89%

Estimated

Equipsuper - Balanced Growth

10.50%

70%

Benchmark

Telstra Super Corp Plus- Balanced

10.40%

70%

Benchmark

CARE Super- Balanced

10.40%

75%

Benchmark

REST - Core Strategy

10.30%

70%

Benchmark

Intrust Super - Balanced

10.30%

75%

Benchmark

 

As you can see, we are very impressed with the results of the portfolio plus portfolios, beating all of SuperRatings top 10 ?balanced' options on the basis of growth asset allocation.

 

Of course, past performance is no prediction of future performance and we would not expect such returns to continue to occur but we do expect our investment philosophy to remain competitive amongst equivalent fund managers.

 

Regards,

 

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 06:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 17 2007

Up here in Queensland a debate between recreational fisherman and professional fishermen often flairs up.  The recreational fishermen often say that pro's are taking too many fish and depleting resources.  Similarly, the recreational fishermen are blamed by the pros for taking too many fish.  However, I wonder that the real problem might be the destruction of breeding habitat for fish through constant development? 

At least with my fishing abilities you can be sure it is not me depleting fish stocks.

In the same way the debate in the financial services industry might be too focussed on whether a fee based model or commission based model is the best for clients - and might overlook the fact that too many clients of the financial services industry (and not just clients of financial advisers) might be paying too much in fees!

I often see prospective clients paying fees of 2.5% or more in their financial situation.  Many people think that in low inflation times the returns from growth assets will only be 9% to 10% a year.  A fee of 2.5% gives away a quarter of the expected returns from a portfolio!

The reality is this - if you are paying too much in fees you will not have a successful investment experience.  It is possible to overlook the importance of costs when markets are booming as they are at the moment.  The reality is that these times won't last forever, and fees really matter!

Cheers

Scott Francis

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 08:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 16 2007

My wife and I regularly watch Channel 7's Sunrise program as we eat breakfast.  A recent issue they have been covering (placed on the ROSwall for those that follow the show) is the non-payment of superannuation entitlements by employers.  News reports have suggested that the amount was $352.9 million dollars in the 2005-06 financial year.

 

If you are concerned that you may not be receiving your entitled contributions you should follow these quick steps:

  • Confirm what your entitlements are:
    • On what exact salary components is your employer required to make the 9% superannuation guarantee payments
      • Does it include overtime payments, allowances, salary sacrifice and the like?
  • Check your pay slips to see if the contributions have been recorded correctly.
  • If you have access to your account online, check that the payments have been received by your superannuation fund.
  • If you don't have that access, check your statements from your superannuation fund to see that the correct contributions have been made.
  • If you think something is not quite right double check with the payroll department / manager / owner.
  • If you still have concerns call the Australian Tax Office - Superannuation Enquiries - phone service on 13 10 20

The Australian tax Office hold the responsibility for chasing up non-payment of superannuation entitlements by employers.

 

I hope that this does not involve any readers of our blog.  However, even if you think everything is above board it is worth checking - every extra dollar contributed now will lead to a more comfortable experience in retirement.

 

Regards,

 

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 06:35 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, April 15 2007

The front page of this morning's Courier Mail had the headline. 'Superannuation Heist'.

The article discussed the number of very small companies that were failing to pay superannuation benefits to employees.

This is, of course, a real problem for the employees.  The article discussed the effectiveness (or lack of it) or the ATO in chasing up what are often very small amounts - which is a pretty cost ineffective activity. 

The basis of the deception was that employers were filing 'pretend' pay slips that showed superannuation contributions being made, with the contributions not actually being made into their fund.

Probably the best prevention is for employees to keep an eye on their superannuation funds.  Sometimes this can be difficult with funds that only post a statement once a year, however people should not be shy about ringing the relevant funds.  They all have well set up call centres that are used to deal with queries.  Don't lose sight of the fact that you are paying good money to have your superannuation managed, so make sure you are getting your money worth.

Regards,

Scott Francis

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 08:57 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, April 12 2007

I have taken interest in a couple of newspaper and magazine articles published in the past few weeks, one from Bina Brown in the Australian and another from Leng Yeow in Asset magazine.  Both look at the issue of rebates offered by the providers of Wrap services and make some subtle and not so subtle comments about the response of financial planners to these rebates.  Neither of the articles paint financial advisers in a particularly pleasant light.

 

The crux of the story is that the big wrap account providers are providing rebates on the fees that they charge investors to use their services.  One mentioned provider, MLC, have actually taken the bold step of not providing rebates but instead reducing the direct cost of their service to investors.  The difference, compared to rebates offered by other providers, is that this takes the financial planner out of the picture.  With other styles of rebates it is the financial planner's decision as to whether the rebate is passed on to the investor in full, partially or not at all.  Leng Yeow's article actually suggests a financial planning firm are leaving the MLC wrap because they no longer have the right make this choice.

 

Our Response to Rebates

Our dealer group, FYG Planners, gives each financial planning firm the choice as to what to do with rebates.  We at A Clear Direction receive a significant rebate from our preferred wrap provider, Macquarie, and have decided to pass on this rebate in full thus reducing the cost of investing for our clients.

 

Regards,

 

Scott Keefer

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 01:00 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 09 2007

I am a regular viewer of ABC's Four Corners program.  Last night's edition had a story relevant to investors across Australia, that of agricultural managed investment schemes.

 

These schemes have covered a variety of agricultural products in recent times including wine grapes, olives and forest plantations to name a few.  Basically these schemes have been given encouragement by the federal government through favourable tax treatments.  This has encouraged investors to invest in the planting of crops.  Without the favourable tax treatment, investors would not receive any benefits until the crops or plantations bore fruit (for want of a better term).  This could be up to 20 years in some cases.

 

The federal government has however made recent changes to this industry by announcing the removal of favourable tax treatment for many of the schemes except forest plantations.

 

The Four Corners program raised a number of investment issues regarding some of the remaining forestry schemes including:

  • High commissions (up to 10%) for financial planners to ?sell' the products
  • Over-supply risk - so much money is being pumped in that there is a significant risk of over-supply (as seen in the wine grape industry) to further reduce possible returns
  • Agricultural risks, some schemes are planting in regions where the climate is not sufficient to meet growth expectations

 

(Not to mention some of the socio-economic issues that are being debated.)

 

It also became clear that the promoters of the schemes had a fairly risk-free business model, their job was to encourage investors into the scheme helped along by favourable tax deductions.  The investors bore the risk of the actual returns to be gained from selling the end product.

 

Our Philosophy

 

We treat these types of schemes as highly speculative and not something that we have ever used in our recommendations to clients.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 09:50 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, April 04 2007

My previous employment was in the education sector and to my knowledge my previous employer did not offer choice of super.  It was my understanding that as a part of the relevant enterprise bargaining agreement, the choice of super was bargained away.

 

Since moving back to the finance sector I have come across the portability of superannuation benefit provisions which effectively give the opportunity for some employees who believe they do not have choice of super, the ability to re-arrange their superannuation investments into a fund that they, and hopefully their financial adviser, believes better meets their needs.

 

There are a range of specific conditions that must be met:

  • The fund that you want to transfer into is willing to accept the amount
  • If it is not the full balance of the current fund, and employer contributions are still being made into the fund, than at least $5,000 must be left in the current super fund
  • A 12 month period must expire between rollovers or transfers before another rollover or transfer can be made

 

The compulsory portability of benefits rules do not apply to:

  • Unfunded public sector superannuation schemes (Eg Q Super), Self Managed Super Funds or to member benefits paid as a pension
  • Defined benefit components of a superannuation interest in a defined benefit fund

 

Basically, if you hold an accumulation account and have a balance of more than $5,000 you can continue to receive regular employer contributions into the fund but once a year make a lump sum transfer into another fund which you feel better meets your needs.

 

I have since contacted my previous superannuation fund provider and they have confirmed that this is the case.  They also suggested that if a superannuation fund account holder was no longer having contributions paid into the fund but wanted to keep the insurance benefits they could do so by leaving $3,000 in the fund.

 

This provides a lot more choice and flexibility for people who may have thought that choice of super was not available to them.

 

 

Have a great Easter,

 

Scott Keefer

 

The information I have used has come from the 2006/07 Australian Master Superannuation Guide published by CCH Australia Limited.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 10:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, April 03 2007

In the Australian Newpaper, in the Wednesday 'Wealth' section they publish 1 and 5 year returns for Australian managed funds.

The data makes interesting reading - and supports our use of indexing, and the use of Dimensional small and value funds.

The average annual return from Australian share funds to the 30th of March 2007 has been 14.25% a year.  The return from the Vanguard index fund has been 15.4% a year for the past 5 years - comfortably beating the average managed fund return.

There are 57 Australian share funds with 5 year returns listed in the newspaper.  The Vanguard index fund ranks 17th of the 57 funds.  (For clients - the Vanguard index fund and Dimensional large companies fund will have very similar performance).

The Dimensional Small company and Value companies trusts that we use have performed as we expected (or a little bit better).  The value company trust has returned 19.78% a year over the past 5 years and the small company trust 20.97% a year over the past 5 years. 

The results clearly support our investment philosophy.  Indexing is a powerful investment approach, systematically exposing portfolios to small and value trusts makes it even more effective!

Cheers

Scott Francis

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 06:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Monday, April 02 2007

The exchange rate can serve as a symbol of economic strength for an economy and it is easy to get caught up in this symbolism.  However there is much more to the story and as often is the case there are winners and losers from exchange rate movements.

 

Exchange rates are a particularly hot topic of discussion in my family.  My wife is Indonesian and we make annual trips back to Jakarta to visit her family.  For those of you who have travelled to Indonesia (or other areas of South East Asia) you will know that the shopping is great.  Wives are saving their families thousands of dollars all over the region!!!!  Even with these great savings to be had it is a natural instinct to want to squeeze the last cent out of your hard earned money.  The first step along that path is getting the best possible exchange rate.

 

My parents are currently staying with us in preparation for visiting two of my siblings living and working overseas in London and Kuala Lumpur.  If you have followed the recent movement of the exchange rates you will know that my parents are pretty happy with the exchange rate offered at the moment. This year alone has seen the following increases in the Australian dollar compared to other currencies:

        US Dollar - 2.50%

        UK Pound - 2.35%

        Indonesian Rupiah - 4.28%

        Trade Weighted Index # - 2.08%

 

My parents can now buy over 2% more UK pounds with their Australian dollars than they could have at the beginning of the year.  The same principle relates to Australian investors buying overseas investments as well as individuals, businesses and companies who are purchasing goods and services from other countries.

 

However with every story there are also some who have fared less well with an exchange rate gain.  These are the people who are trying to buy Australian dollars.  This could be foreign investors looking to purchase Australian assets, Australians returning home with overseas investments or people looking to emigrate here.

 

What Does This All Mean for Investors?

At ?A Clear Direction' we believe that exchange rate movements have a couple of implications.

  • Do we steer clear from international investments because of the risk of exchange rate movements?
  • Do we ?hedge' our clients away from exchange rate risks by using global investments that have in built currency hedges against rate changes? or
  • Do we try to capture this type of diversification in our portfolios by exposing some of the portfolio to exchange rate movements?

 

Our philosophy is to incorporate hedged investments in our high yield investments - international fixed interest and listed property.  This protects these income sources from exchange rate movements.  However we also look to expose investment portfolios to some exchange rate risk and diversification through using un-hedged international share funds.

 

Best regards,

 

Scott Keefer

 

# - The trade weighted index is an index calculated by the Reserve Bank of Australia based on the currencies of our major trading partners weighted in relation to the amount of trade that occurs between each of the nations. As such the Trade Weighted Index measures a basket of exchange rates important to Australia.

Posted by: Scott Keefer AT 11:21 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, April 01 2007

There was an interesting article in today's Courier Mail about HESTA, an industry superannuation fund.  There has been a lot of marketing by industry superannuation funds lately - Sunsuper, HESTA, the construction industry super fund and so on.  As a supporter of industry superannuation funds, this is a bit of a concern.  The last thing that we want to be seeing is industry superannuation funds behaving like retail superannuation funds - and starting to charge fees accordingly.

HESTA use the headline rate of fees of '$1.25 a week'.  They fail to mention that as well as this there is a investment management fee, plus they have started to charge a 'performance bonus' fee.  Not very industry superannuation fund like.

It is interesting to see that HESTA say that most of their clients have a balance of less than $20,000.  This is an interesting part of the equation.  This, to my mind, is the folks for who an industry superannuation fund is ideal for - people starting to accumulate some superannuation wealth.  They don't have to worry about high fees eroding their superannuation returns - as often happens with retail superannuation products.

Our benchmark for total superannuation fees is 1.5%.  Industry superannuation funds tend to be cheaper than this, retail funds less expensive.  Costs do matter in investing, and industry superannuation funds still have a cost advantage.  Let's hope that they don't spend so much money advertising this advantage that they have to raise their fees!

Cheers

Scott

Posted by: Scott Francis AT 09:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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