The nine most important things Shane Oliver has learnt about investing over the past 35 years


I have been working in and around investment markets for 35 years now. A lot has happened over that time. The 1987 crash, the recession Australia had to have, the Asian crisis, the tech boom/tech wreck, the mining boom, the Global Financial Crisis, the Eurozone crisis. Financial deregulation, financial reregulation. The end of the cold war, US domination, the rise of Asia and then China. And so on. But as someone once observed the more things change the more they stay the same. And this is particularly true in relation to investing. So, what I have done here is put some thought into the nine most important things I have learned over the past 35 years.

# 1 There is always a cycle

Droll as it sounds, the one big thing I have seen over and over in the past 35 years is that investment markets constantly go through cyclical phases of good times and bad. Some are short term, such as those that relate to the 3 to 5 year business cycle. Some are longer, such as the secular swings seen over 10 to 20 year periods in shares. Some get stuck in certain phases for long periods. Debate is endless about what drives cycles, but they continue. But all eventually contain the seeds of their own reversal. Ultimately there is no such thing as new eras, new paradigms and new normal as all things must pass. What’s more share markets often lead economic cycles, so economic data is often of no use in timing turning points in shares.

# 2 The crowd gets it wrong at extremes

What’s more is that these cycles in markets get magnified by bouts of investor irrationality that take them well away from fundamentally justified levels. This is rooted in investor psychology and flows from a range of behavioural biases investors suffer from. These include the tendency to project the current state of the world into the future, the tendency to look for evidence that confirms your views, overconfidence and a lower tolerance for losses than gains. So, while fundamentals may be at the core of cyclical swings in markets, they are often magnified by investor psychology if enough people suffer from the same irrational biases at the same time. From this it follows that what the investor crowd is doing is often not good for you to do too. We often feel safest when investing in an asset when neighbours and friends are doing the same and media commentary is reinforcing the message that it’s the right thing to do. This “safety in numbers” approach is often doomed to failure. Whether its investors piling into Japanese shares at the end of the 1980s, Asian shares into the mid 1990s, IT stocks in the late 1990s, US housing and dodgy credit in the mid 2000s or Bitcoin in 2017. The problem is that when everyone is bullish and has bought into an asset in euphoria there is no one left to buy but lots of people who can sell on bad news. So, the point of maximum opportunity is when the crowd is pessimistic, and the point of maximum risk is when the crowd is euphoric.

# 3 What you pay for an investment matters a lot

The cheaper you buy an asset the higher its prospective return. Guides to this are price to earnings ratios for share markets (the lower the better – see the next chart) and yields, ie the ratio of dividends, rents or interest payments to the value of the asset (the higher the better). Flowing from this it follows that yesterdays winners are often tomorrows losers – because they became overvalued and over loved and vice versa. But while this seems obvious, the reality is that many find it easier to buy after shares have had a strong run because confidence is high and sell when they have had a big fall because confidence is low. But the key point is that the more you pay for an asset the lower its potential return and vice versa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Global Financial Data, AMP Capital

# 4 Getting markets right is not as easy as you think

In hindsight it all looks easy. Looking back, it always looks obvious that a particular boom would go bust when it did. But that’s just Harry hindsight talking! Looking forward no-one has a perfect crystal ball. As JK Galbraith observed “there are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know.” Usually the grander the forecast – calls for “great booms” or “great crashes ahead” – the greater the need for scepticism as such calls invariably get the timing wrong (in which case you lose before it comes right) or are dead wrong. Market prognosticators suffer from the same psychological biases as everyone else. If getting markets right were easy, then the prognosticators would be mega rich and would have stopped doing it long ago. Related to this many get it wrong by letting blind faith – “there is too much debt”, “house prices are too high and are guaranteed to crash”, “the Eurozone will break up” – get in the way of good investment decisions. They may be right one day, but an investor can lose a lot of money in the interim. The problem for ordinary investors is that it’s not getting easier as the world is getting noisier as the flow of information and opinion has turned from a trickle to a flood and the prognosticators have had to get shriller to get heard.

# 5 Investment markets don’t learn

A key lesson from the history of investment markets is that they don’t seem to learn. The same mistakes are repeated over and over as markets lurch from one extreme to another. This is even though after each bust many say it will never happen again and the regulators move in to try and make sure it doesn’t. But it does! Often just somewhere else. Sure, the details change but the pattern doesn’t. As Mark Twain is said to have said: “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.” Sure, individuals learn and the bigger the blow up the longer the learning lasts. But there’s always a fresh stream of newcomers to markets and in time collective memory dims.

# 6 Compound interest is like magic

This one goes way back to my good friend Dr Don Stammer. One dollar invested in Australian cash in 1900 would today be worth $240 and if it had been invested in bonds it would be worth $950, but if it was allocated to Australian shares it would be worth $593,169. Although the average annual return on Australian shares (11.8% pa) is just double that on Australian bonds (5.9% pa) over the last 119 years, the magic of compounding higher returns leads to a substantially higher balance over long periods. Yes, there were lots of rough periods along the way for shares as highlighted by arrows on the chart, but the impact of compounding at a higher long-term return is huge over long periods of time. The same applies to other growth-related assets such as property.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Global Financial Data, AMP Capital

# 7 It pays to be optimistic

The well-known advocate of value investing Benjamin Graham observed that “To be an investor you must be a believer in a better tomorrow.” If you don’t believe the bank will look after your deposits, that most borrowers will pay their debts, that most companies will grow their profits, that properties will earn rents, etc then you should not invest. Since 1900 the Australian share market has had a positive return in roughly eight years out of ten and for the US share market it’s roughly seven years out of 10. So getting too hung up worrying about the next two or three years in 10 that the market will fall risks missing out on the seven or eight years out of 10 when it rises.

# 8 Keep it simple stupid

Investing should be simple, but we have a knack for overcomplicating it. And it’s getting worse with more options, more information, more apps and platforms, more opportunities for gearing and more rules & regulations around investing. But when we overcomplicate investments we can’t see the wood for the trees. You spend too much time on second order issues like this share versus that share or this fund manager versus that fund manager, so you end up ignoring the key driver of your portfolio’s performance – which is its high-level asset allocation across shares, bonds, property, etc. Or you have investments you don’t understand or get too highly geared. So, it’s best to keep it simple, don’t fret the small stuff, keep the gearing manageable and don’t invest in products you don’t understand.

# 9 You need to know yourself to succeed at investing 

We all suffer from the psychological weaknesses referred to earlier. But smart investors are aware of them and seek to manage them. One way to do this is to take a long-term approach to investing. But this is also about knowing what you want to do. If you want to take a day to day role in managing your investments then regular trading and/or a self managed super fund (SMSF) may work, but you need to recognise that will require a lot of effort to get right and will need a rigorous process. If you don’t have the time and would rather do other things like sailing, working at your day job, or having fun with the kids then it may be best to use managed funds. It’s also about knowing how you would react if your investment suddenly dropped 20% in value. If your reaction were to be to want to get out then you will either have to find a way to avoid that as you would just be selling low and locking in a loss or if you can’t then you may have to consider an investment strategy offering greater stability over time (which would probably mean accepting lower returns).

So what does all this mean for investors?

All of this underpins what I call the Nine Keys to Successful Investing which are:

  1. Make the most of the power of compound interest. This is one of the best ways to build wealth and this means making sure you have the right asset mix. 
  2. Don’t get thrown off by the cycle. The trouble is that cycles can throw investors out of a well thought out investment strategy. But they also create opportunities. 
  3. Invest for the long term. Given the difficulty in getting market and stock moves right in the short-term, for most it’s best to get a long-term plan that suits your level of wealth, age, tolerance of volatility, etc, and stick to it. 
  4. Diversify. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. But also, don’t over diversify as this will just complicate for no benefit.
  5. Turn down the noise. After having worked out a strategy thats right for you, it’s important to turn down the noise on the information flow and prognosticating babble now surrounding investment markets and stay focussed. In the digital world we now live in this is getting harder.
  6. Buy low, sell high. The cheaper you buy an asset, the higher its prospective return will likely be and vice versa. 
  7. Beware the crowd at extremes.Don’t get sucked into the euphoria or doom and gloom around an asset.
  8. Focus on investments that you understand and that offer sustainable cash flow. If it looks dodgy, hard to understand or has to be based on odd valuation measures or lots of debt to stack up then it’s best to stay away. 

Seek advice. Given the psychological traps we are all susceptible too and the fact that investing is not easy, a good approach is to seek advice

Written by Shane Oliver of AMP Capital

Protecting your Super – What does it all mean?


What is it?

The Protecting Your Super Package which passed in February 2019 has seen a range of measures recently introduced which affect the way that small and inactive superannuation accounts are handled.  In the main, these measures are a positive.  The key objective of the legislation is to limit the erosion of low balance super accounts by fees and unwanted insurance premiums.

For most of you, APC will have worked together with you to ensure your superannuation accounts are consolidated or in good working order.  But for various reasons, individuals might have a number of superannuation accounts at any given point in time – so sometimes it can be hard for you to keep track.   Given the pace of implementation of some of these changes, we have provided an overview of the key measures below – and always, APC is here to help.

Insurance Opt-In

The first stage of these measures has begun to take place. Certain people will have been asked to ‘opt-in’ for their insurance before 1 July 2019 – that is, an election made to keep your insurance despite having an inactive account.  Opting-in notifies your super fund that you are aware of the insurance and that you do want to continue paying the premium.  If you have done this, you won’t need to do it again.  It only becomes a question once an account becomes inactive and this generally means 16 months without activity, like any contributions received.

Inactive Low Balance Accounts

Super funds will be required to transfer ‘inactive low balance’ accounts to the Australian Tax Office if certain criteria is met, commencing in the coming months and then ongoing.  Low balance means less than $6,000.  The account must also be deemed inactive for the preceding 16 months.  If you have insurance that you ‘opted-in’ for attached to the account, you won’t be affected.

Once transferred, the ATO will aim to locate your ‘active’ account, ultimately consolidating your superannuation monies there.

What should you do?

Consolidation of your inactive accounts is likely to be a good thing for most, particularly if you might have accounts from previous employment that you have had trouble keeping track of.

If you think an unwanted change has been made to your accounts, please feel free to contact us or raise it at your next planning meeting.  This includes any cancellation of insurance cover that might have formed part of your wealth protection strategy.

Using MyGov to keep Track

A great place to start will be through your myGov account.  Specifically, ‘linking’ the ATO will allow you to see the information they have about your superannuation balances and accounts.

In fact, APC might ask you for information from time to time which can be found here and that will allow us to better advise you when it comes to your superannuation strategies.  This will be an important tool and ‘source of truth’ for most going forward.

As always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.

Understanding the Real Income Return on Property Investment


Investing in Australian residential property is an aspiration for many.  APC recognises the diversification benefit of owning an investment property in your financial asset portfolio. As it is unlisted, this asset class behaves differently to listed assets such as shares.  This is what is called ‘correlation benefit’ meaning that as assets move in value (up or down) they do so at different times resulting in a smoother rate of return over time.

However it is our experience that investors do not always take into account the risks associated with owning residential investment property.  Some of these include;

  • Illiquidity risk
  • Single asset risk
  • High transaction costs to both purchase and sell
  • High carrying costs

Over many years of assessing the rate of return of investment property, it is our experience that the actual return on investment (ROI) is often far lower than many owners actually believe it to be.

This article deals with understanding what the actual expenses are in owning an investment property so that you can accurately assess (hopefully before purchasing an investment property) what the likely ROI – return on investment – will be.  By doing so, you can compare that ROI with other potential investment assets to ultimately determine the best investment decisions for you.

Quoted Income ROI Figures – Gross or Net?
Generally speaking, an investor in Australian residential property has – or should have – a long term investment time horizon.   

We often see rental income ROI figures quoted by agents that on the face of it look quite attractive. However when you scratch beneath the surface all is not as it seems.  The following example illustrates some of the costs you should be well aware of;

Melbourne apartment – $600,000 with an income yield of 3.75%

 

 

However, the quoted purchase price does not include costs associated with the purchase itself such as stamp duty, agent and conveyancing costs.

 

 

 

So the actual purchase price is $634,070 and therefore the rental yield is 3.55%.

 

 

However, this also is not the full story as to produce the ongoing rental income, there are likely other expenses that are incurred.  These include agency fees, rates, body corporate fees, insurance and a provision for maintenance or a sinking fund.  The sinking fund is to cover the costs of ‘plant & equipment’ that over time will fail and need to be replaced.  This does not include the sinking fund for ‘Capital Works’ that a body corporate may also have if the investment property is an apartment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what started as an income ROI of 3.75% has now become 1.53%!

For some investors, another cost which is not included in this example is land tax. In Victoria, land tax is payable on taxable land you own over the value of $250,000. The rate of tax increases as the value of taxable land you own increases. Your home is not included as a taxable land value.

If you owe land tax then this cost also should be included in the ongoing costs of owning a residential investment property.

Depreciation
An important tax deduction available for residential property investors is depreciation.  This deduction improves the after tax return of a property asset. From July 1st, 2017 there were important changes to what depreciation on ‘plant & equipment’ such as dishwashers, carpets, hot water systems etc can be claimed. 

Essentially, if you purchased an investment property after May 20th, 2017 and the ‘plant & equipment’ in that property had already been ‘used’ at that date, you cannot claim any depreciation deduction on that asset. If however you then purchase a new asset (say a dishwasher) then a depreciation expense can be claimed.

So, if you are considering purchasing a residential investment property only ‘new’ plant & equipment may be depreciated and that value used as a tax deduction.

Travel Expenses
Also May 20th, 2017, you cannot claim any travel expenses related to that residential investment property.

Conclusion
Ultimately, the ‘after tax’ income ROI on an investment property will include other factors such as;

  • The owner’s marginal rate of income tax
  • The amount borrowed to purchase the asset
  • The interest rate on the loan
  • The legitimate depreciation claimed
  • Prevailing rate of inflation over the measure time period

Just ensure that you are incorporating all the associated costs of the property to ensure that you understand what the accurate income ROI actually is. Once you know this you can then more easily understand what the ‘break even’ rate of capital return needs to be.

With these two important pieces of analysis you are in a position to know if you should (a) hold an existing property asset or (b) purchase one.

As always, if you wish discuss this article with APC please contact any member of our advice team.

APC Investment Returns – Let’s Look Deeper


In reviewing the performance figures for the APC Classic Portfolios (click here) you will notice that for the first time in quite some time, some portfolios have underperformed their benchmark over the 1 Year time frame though they all outperform over longer timeframes.

One year returns can vary significantly due to short term factors, so this timeframe is really just ‘noise’ when it comes to understanding an investment portfolio’s long term capacity.  However it is important to understand why this has occurred. We explore this below and the reasons behind the variance from the ‘benchmark’.

A Quick Review: ‘Our Investment Philosophy’
As you may recall, Australian Private Capital (APC) has an Investment Philosophy that is evidenced based on many years of academic research with the following as keystone principles, when it comes to the equity component:

  • Risk and Return are related – the greater the Risk, the greater the expected Return
  • Small Cap stocks have a greater expected Return than Large Cap stocks given they have inherently greater associated Risk – (Size Premium)
  • Value (or cheap) stocks have a greater expected Return than Growth stocks- (Value Premium)

Hi

The ‘Size Premium’ is reasonably easy to understand.  All large companies were once small companies.  As an investor, if you buy a stock in a small company and due to it’s success it becomes a large company, you will do very well.  The risk of course is that not all small companies become large and some will fail.  This is the associated risk of investing in small cap stocks.  APC diversifies this risk by buying many ‘small cap’ stocks in our portfolios.   

The ‘Value Premium’ is also reasonably easy to understand.  An accountant values a company which is known as the ‘Book Value’.  The sharemarket will value the same company (it’s share price) and by multiplying the number of shares on issue by the share price this generates a ‘Market Value’.  Those companies that have a ‘Market Value’ less than the ‘Book Value’ are considered undervalued or ‘cheap’ and this is known as the ‘Value Premium’.  The reasons for this undervaluation can be varied however over time many of these of companies generate a greater return for investors given the greater associated risk of investing in ‘under-valued’ companies.  APC diversifies this risk by buying many ‘value’ stocks in our portfolios.

What is the Evidence?
As APC’s Investment Principles are based on a ‘rules based’ approach, it is possible to track how often the ‘Size Premium’ and the ‘Value Premium’ are evident over various time periods historically:

 

 

 

Based on this research APC’s portfolio ‘tilts’ towards ‘Small Cap’ stocks and ‘Value’ stocks will likely generate a greater Return than the broader market for the majority of the time, which historically has been the case.

So What Happened During the Last 12 Months?
However sometimes this is not the case and over the past 12 months both ‘Small Cap’ stocks and ‘Value’ stocks have underperformed ‘Large Cap’ and ‘Growth’ stocks both here in Australia and  overseas:

 

 

 

As illustrated above, both of the ‘tilts’ that APC adopt in the Australian and international shares sectors underperformed the broader market over the past year leading to the growth oriented APC Classic Portfolios underperforming their benchmarks for the first time in many years.

In Summary
Whilst these specific ‘tilts’ in APC’s Investment Philosophy are likely to generate greater portfolio returns over medium to longer timeframes, it is not always the case over shorter timeframes and in the 12 months to June this year we have experienced an absence of both the premiums we expect to observe. 

We understand this happens from time to time and have observed it before.

Past investment behaviour informs us that ‘Small cap’ and ‘Value’ stocks will likely return to generating an investment return premium but we just don’t know when. However when they do history illustrates their outperformance is likely to be significant and reward the patient investor.

As always, if you would like to discuss your portfolio with APC we would encourage you to contact any member of the advice team who will be happy to assist.

APC’s 30th anniversary


In March APC celebrated 30 years of holding our own Australian Financial Services License or AFSL.  This was quite a significant milestone as very few advisory firms would have remained privately owned and self-licensed for that length of time.  Most would have been acquired by larger firms as for many getting bigger is synonymous with being better.  However this is rarely true from the client’s perspective and is not aligned with APC’s ‘Client First’ approach.

This anniversary provides testament to APC’s enduring philosophy of being boutique and developing personal relationships both with our clients as well as our team.  By providing valued advice to our clients and professional opportunities for our team, APC strives to have long term relationships with both.  It is aligned with our goal to ensure that over time, as APC’s shareholding may change, APC as a privately owned, self-licensed advisory firm, will remain.

What did we do?
To mark the occasion APC took our team to Adelaide on Friday March 29 to enjoy a private wine tour of some wineries in the Barossa Valley.

 

Whilst Penfolds is of course perhaps the most well-known winery, we were impressed by the first winery we went to which was Seppeltsfield. Started by Joseph and Johanna Seppelt just 15 years after European settlement in South Australia, Seppeltsfield has the longest unbroken lineage of Tawny (from 1878 to present day) in the world.

It was not lost on us, given why we were in Adelaide and what we were celebrating, the significance of such a collection and the singular purpose and vision of the Seppelt family to create such a legacy.  Further, after a ‘relatively’ brief experience of being owned by a corporation (1985-2007), it returned to being privately owned which it remains to this day, under the stewardship of Warren Randall who worked for B Seppelt & Sons in the 1980s.  Warren believes that under private ownership, the estate can best endure as the custodian of the Seppelt family legacy.  For APC, its owners and team, this resonated quite profoundly.

After an enjoyable day in the Barossa, we returned to the Intercontinental Hotel for an hour or two of rest before reconvening for a team dinner in the hotel’s Shiki Japanese restaurant.  It was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable evening where we shared many APC stories and toasted the founder of APC, Michael Tratt and our inaugural Practice Manager, Marie Tratt.

 

That night partners arrived from Melbourne and the remainder of the weekend was our team’s to enjoy.  However it was lovely to see many catch up over the weekend with some visiting the Haigh’s chocolate factory, while others the Japanese gardens.  A few played golf at Royal Adelaide and Kooyonga.  Others went back for a second look at the Barossa!

Thank you!

Of course, we are able to celebrate 30 years of APC because of our enduring relationships with our clients.  We regard the opportunity to be of service as a privilege and one that all members of APC, both past and present, genuinely value and enjoy.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

All our best,

The APC Team.

 

 

Congratulations! Luke and Amy on their Wedding


In January 2019 Luke married his fiancee Amy in Merrimbula and we have obtained some photos of their special day to share with the APC Community. If you haven’t already be sure to congratulate Luke on this new chapter in his life.

Financial Wellbeing in the Workplace


The Royal Commission – APC’s Response


As you would likely have heard the Royal Commission’s final report was recently released.

This article summarises the Commission’s findings as they relate to client focused issues in Financial Advice and considers what APC’s approach to each is.

Australian Private Capital (APC) has adopted practices for many years that reflect the intentions of the Royal Commission.  Broadly this is that Financial Advisers should act in the best interest of their client and that there should be preferably no conflict of interest and if there is a conflict it should be adequately managed.  Whilst many in the Financial Advice space are anxious about the future, APC has no such concerns.  

We believe as the Government implements the findings of the Commission and ‘vested interests’ vocalise their worries, it will only serve to highlight the benefits of choosing a firm such as APC.

Recommendation – Annual renewal and payment

Commission
This recommendation is primarily focused on the issue of clients paying fees for services they have not received.  The Commission recommends that fee arrangements aref renewed annually and services that the client should receive are clearly explained.

APC
As a client of APC you will have signed a Private Client Services Agreement which clearly outlined the services we will provide you.  We conduct our Regular Planning Meetings every six months where we clearly outline and re-confirm what your Private Client Service fee arrangement is and annually we provide a Financial Disclosure Statement which confirms the fee paid and the services delivered.

We also re-confirm your Private Client Fee arrangement whenever we provide new written advice to you.  So we have a focus on ensuring clarity around fees, charges and services provided.

Recommendation – Disclosure of lack of Independence 

Commission
A substantial theme of the Royal Commission is to better manage conflicts of interest.  This recommendation provides for specific written disclosure where an Adviser receives conflicted remuneration or where any conflict exists that may influence their recommendation.

APC
APC is not remunerated by commission payments and has no conflicts that influence our advice to our clients.

Recommendation – Grandfathered income

Commission
The Commission recommends the removal of all grandfathered income which under current legislation is allowed. Grandfathered income is trail commission paid to financial advisers from products that have been in place prior to 1 July 2013. The commission believes that this provision potentially locks clients into old higher fee paying products.

APC
APC introduced our Private Client Service Agreements many years ago and as a result we have very few clients who fall under this category which represents less than 1.5% of our business income.  However in July 2018, prior to the Royal Commission discussing this issue, we commenced a project to assist these clients to access the relevant advice they need.  We would expect that by June 30 this year this project will be complete with all grandfathered income removed.

Recommendation – Life Risk Insurance Commissions

Commission
The Commission broadly considers that exemptions to laws should be eliminated in general, but specifically in relation to conflicted remuneration. However, it recognises that the current Life Insurance Framework has only been in place since 1 January 2018 and that ASIC is due to review it after three years. The Commission believes ASIC should be allowed to complete its review in 2021 and that no further changes to life insurance be made until this occurs.

APC
APC is not remunerated by commission payments.  Our firm’s position on this issue has been ‘ahead of the curve’ for many years having identified this clear conflict.  Our view is simple….Commission payments have no place in professional advice.

Recommendation – Mortgage Broker Commissions

Commission
Broadly the Commission is of the view that banks paying mortgage brokers a commission to place debt products for their clients is a structural conflict of interest.  Its recommendation is the removal of such payments so that the obligation of payment rests with the client.  In this scenario the client can be 100% confident that the Mortgage Broker is representing their best interest as the bank no longer is paying the Mortgage Broker a commission.

APC
APC completely agrees with this approach.  Since we commenced offering debt facilitation services approximately 10 years ago we have adopted the approach that all commission payments received were to be returned to our clients 100%.   This serves to lower cost as well as to remove the conflict of interest which is the outcome the Commission is seeking to achieve.

However representatives of the Mortgage Broking industry are lobbying hard in Canberra and both the Government and the Opposition seem to be moving away from the Commission’s recommendation.   Irrespective of this outcome, clients of APC will continue to receive conflict free, lower cost debt implementation.

Recommendation – Reporting Compliance Concerns

Commission
All Australian Financial Services Licence (AFSL) holders should be required, as a condition of their licence, to report ‘serious compliance concerns’ about individual financial advisers to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) on a quarterly basis.  This recommendation seeks to formalise and improve existing breach reporting by AFSL holders to ASIC where there are serious compliance concerns about an adviser.

APC
Australian Private Capital has held an Australian Financial Services License (AFSL), since March 1989.  Over that time the firm has always held the view that ‘our license is our business’ and considered the compliant operation of our firm and the integrity of the advisers within our firm to be of paramount importance.  Very few small advisory firms have a Practice Manager however APC has had one since 2002. This is an indication of the seriousness with which compliance is held at APC. 

Recommendation – Remuneration of Front Line Staff 

Commission
The Commission devotes a significant part of its final report to discussing the role of remuneration in driving behaviour in financial services entities. This recommendation is aimed at ensuring remuneration structures do not incentivise misconduct. The report references examples of limiting the proportion of remuneration that is variable and linking it to genuine non-financial metrics.

APC
APC measures the performance of all staff using the well-established 360 Balanced Scorecard methodology.  It is used by many large companies but very few small ones.  No staff member of APC has any financial metric on their personal balanced scorecard.  Staff performance is measured by an assessment against their position description and client satisfaction measurements such as our client survey.  All our staff are salaried and are entitled to receive a Short Term and Long Term reward.

Summary

The Royal Commission was clearly required to shine needed light on some very poor behaviour.  However, it has served to validate that decisions APC has made over nearly 30 years of providing advisory services to our clients.

APC’s ‘Client First’ philosophy demands that our client’s best interest is at the forefront of all the advice we provide. 

Integrity and honesty are guiding principles that are reflected not only in our client relationships but also our co-worker relationships as well.

We have a sincere interest in helping our clients achieve better outcomes for them and their families and we understand trust is a required ingredient for developing long term relationships.

It is the reason why still today over 80% of our new clients are referred to us by existing clients.

If there is anything in this article that you would like to discuss we would encourage you to make contact with your APC Advice Team. We are happy to assist in any way.

Industry Super Funds – illiquid asset valuations called into question


In recent E-News articles a number of issues in relation to Industry Superannuation funds have been raised.  Whilst they have been many and varied they can generally be characterised under the term ‘lack of transparency’.  Some of the more notable areas we have focused on have been;

• inaccurate definition of growth assets as defensive to ‘game’ the returns tables
• non-disclosure of bond credit risk
• non-disclosure of alternative assets use
• difficulties in understanding the specific assets invested in
• use of performance fees and the inaccurate reporting of true costs
• and finally how unlisted assets are valued

The union dominated sector has been in the news again recently with serious questions being raised as to how the funds are valuing unlisted property assets in their portfolios.

Rest Super reported in December 2018 that they had lowered their discount rate from 8.45% to 8.29%, effectively with a stroke of a pen, increasing the value of illiquid property assets in their portfolios. Asset values rise as discount rates fall.

A Discount Rate is comprised of a ‘risk free’ rate of return (usually based on an Australian Government bond return) plus a ‘risk premium’. The first component is easy to identify and is publicly available and independent. The second component is to a great extent quite subjective and, in the worst case scenario, is open to manipulation.

Sean Collins, lead partner for valuations at KPMG said “If you look back to 2015-16, we certainly went through a period of declining discount rates. As 2017 unfolded and we flowed into 2018, I think rates have bottomed out. They’ve stayed relatively flat over that period.”

The decision to lower their discount rates puts Rest Super at odds with this assessment. Most Industry Super funds do not disclose their discount rates and are not legally required to do so. Given the extent to which values can be ‘gamed’ this regulatory omission is quite astonishing.

The Industry Super fund, Australian Super, used to disclose its discount rates however in its 2017-18 financial statements this information was omitted. However it did disclose that it held 15 assets worth $9.16 billion. This compares with 2016-17 where it held 18 assets worth $9.03 billion.

The remainder of the main Industry Super funds, First State, QSuper, Unisuper, SunSuper, Cbus, Hesta, State Super and Host Plus, do not disclose their discount rates.

Industry Super public affairs director, Matthew Linden said “Trustees are required to comply with relevant superannuation laws and prudential standards and guidance on the valuation of assets”. He added “this involves valuing unlisted assets at arm’s length from the trustee by independent valuers”. But it begs the question, who employs the valuers? In this situation, the Industry Super fund, employs the valuer to value assets that are included in the Industry Super fund’s portfolios.

This arrangement is clearly a conflict of interest.

KPMG’s annual valuation practices survey found that most valuers adopted a risk-free rate of 2.5% – 3% and the majority of respondents adopted a market risk premium of between 6% and 6.5%. This implies a Discount Rate of between 8.5% and 9% which is materially higher than the rate declared by Rest Super.

Why is this such an issue?

As we raised in our last E-News article entitled “Do Industry super fund investors know what they’re investing in?”, major Industry Super funds hold between 26% and 45% of their member portfolios in unlisted assets. With such a large allocation, getting the assets valued accurately takes on significant importance.

Add to this the fact that performance league tables are used to promote and market funds (think the ‘compare the pair’ ads) and one can easily see why the direct employment of valuers by Industry Super funds (or any super fund) should be banned.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant

In the interest of transparency, investor awareness and a complete removal of the current conflicted scenario that exists in the valuation of unlisted illiquid property assets, super funds should not directly employ the valuer to value these assets and all discount rates should be published on an asset by asset basis. One would hope that regulators would see this as an obvious course of action however nothing to date has occurred to suggest this is the case.

With it highly probable our next government will be Labor, it is unfortunately even less likely.

Santa Clause rally arrives in January


Christmas was especially challenging with markets around the world experiencing significant falls in the final quarter of 2018.

On October 1st, 2018 the Australian ASX 200 closed at 6,172.  It fell to 5,467 on December 21st, a fall of 705 points or 11.4%.   Other major indices experienced similar falls or worse.  What precipitated such dramatic moves when seemingly corporate earnings, particularly in the US, were quite solid?

While issues such as the US/China trade tensions, Brexit, Italian debt discussions with the EU and finally global growth more generally were causing concern, the main culprit was Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve Chairman who on October 3rd 2018 said;

“The really extremely accommodative low interest rates that we needed when the economy was quite weak, we don’t need those anymore. They’re not appropriate anymore. Interest rates are still accommodative, but we’re gradually moving to a place where they will be neutral,” he added. “We may go past neutral, but we’re a long way from neutral at this point

Market participants around the world were alarmed at this statement particularly when they had become accustomed to immediate past Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen, delivering more measured commentary.  US President, Donald Trump berated Jerome Powell publicly and the Fed Chairman was under significant pressure from all sides to qualify exactly what the Fed’s position was given that inflation in the US was and remains quite benign.

On January 4th 2019, Mr Powell did just that, saying the Federal Reserve would take a “patient approach to monetary policy tightening”. Markets interpreted this to mean that not only was an accelerated series of rate rises off the table, but the Federal Reserve may well not raise rates as much as it had stated.  In just 3 months its position had changed quite significantly.

In addition, there was a détente of sorts between the US and China on trade talks which helped ease market concerns. These talks are ongoing and remain positive, though time will tell.

Market movement since Christmas-eve

 

 

So what’s the lesson?  The future will incorporate a series of unforeseen events that are impossible to predict.  Thankfully, you don’t need to know the future – what you do need however is to stay disciplined and not allow emotion to replace rational decision making.

As clients of APC this message is re-enforced because it has been proven time and time again to be true.  As you can see from the chart below, there are always events that can cause investor concerns.  This is called by some commentators as the ‘Wall of Worry’.  However as you can see, taking a long term approach has rewarded the patient investor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staying The Course’ is easy to say but sometimes very hard to do as humans are not wired in this way. We naturally feel the need to do ‘something’. When markets are falling, we feel we must act…. sell, move to a more defensive portfolio. When markets are rallying, we feel that we don’t want to ‘miss out’ so we must buy.

If you think this through though, the behaviour of focusing on the short term movement of share markets leads to selling in a falling market whilst buying in a rising market – selling low and buying high – exactly what you shouldn’t do.

Since 2001, if you invested in the top 300 companies in Australia (ASX300 Index) and made no changes to your portfolio, you’d have generated an average return of 8.3% per annum but if you missed just the 15 best days during that whole period your return would have fallen to 4.2% per annum – nearly half!

Your strategy, developed with APC, is long term by design.  We review that strategy during your Regular Planning Meetings making amendments as required.

Australian Private Capital believes that markets work.  They are efficient at determining the price of a share based on available information about that company.  Markets will do what they do and there will be good times and bad, as the chart demonstrates.  But through them all, our primary focus should remain long term and we should not allow the short term ‘noise’ to cloud our judgement.

There can be no better example of this than the significant market fluctuations we have all  experienced in recent times.

As always, if there is anything you wish to discuss about your strategy or portfolio we encourage you to make contact with your APC Advice team.

Our Team