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Did your super do better than this in FY19?

Most Australians hold their superannuation in funds selected by their employer. Although the default process faces criticisms and members are generally disengaged, it produces excellent results.

For the first time ever, according to Chant West, institutional super funds delivered a 10th consecutive positive financial year return, with the median growth fund up 7% last financial year. Growth funds have a 61% to 80% allocation to growth assets, although there is some debate about the accuracy of this categorisation. The average return over 10 years has been a healthy 8.8% pa. The funds are unlikely to achieve anywhere near that level in the next decade.

No one way to produce the best results

Surprisingly, the top two funds over one year, QSuper and UniSuper, manage vastly different portfolios, and they are both in the top few over a more meaningful 10 years, as shown below. Chant West’s Senior Investment Manager, Mano Mohankumar, said:

“QSuper, like most not-for profit funds, has a meaningful allocation to unlisted assets such as property, infrastructure and private equity. However, where its strategy is unique is that it further smooths out returns for members by investing significantly less in listed shares than other funds. Against that, it maintains a significant allocation to long duration bonds which carry sharemarket-like risk but are a better diversifier against sharemarket falls than traditional bonds.

UniSuper, in contrast, has a strong focus on listed assets. Unlike most other not-for-profit funds, it has very little invested in unlisted assets. Instead, it prefers to gain its exposure to property and infrastructure by taking large stakes in high quality listed companies. UniSuper believes that taking this listed market route has enabled it to be opportunistic in building a portfolio of higher quality property and infrastructure assets at attractive prices.”

It is estimated that 93% of Unisuper’s assets are listed securities available to anybody. How did your portfolio perform relative to these large funds? (results are net of investment management fees).

Top 10 performing growth funds, one year to 30 June 2019 (%)

Source: Chant West, red line is survey median.

Top 10 performing growth funds, 10 years to 30 June 2019 (%)

Source: Chant West, red line is survey median.

The table below shows performance by fund category. While 2% makes a material difference in a superannuation balance over 15 years, the ‘All Growth’ fund long-term return of 7.8% is only 2% higher than the conservative fund, although the latter’s result is aided significantly by falling bond yields.

Diversified fund performance to 30 June 2019

Source: Chant West.

In the last 27 years, as shown below, growth funds have delivered negative returns in only three years including the two years of the GFC. The last decade has been wonderful for super fund members, and the long period of strong returns suggests growth rather than defensive is worthwhile over multi-decade investment horizons.

Source: Chant West.

Australian shares managed funds results

Turning to managed fund results as reported by Mercer, the table below compares the Top 10 in Australian shares (ranked according to their one-year results) out to 5 year performance. It is evidence that fund managers should not be judged on short-term numbers. For example, the top fund over one year, the Martin Currie Australian Real Income Fund, was 108th out of 142 over 3 months and 99th out of 121 over 3 years. But its 5 year number was also strong.

The table also shows:

  • In the last year, the median manager (up 9%) has significantly underperformed the S&P/ASX300 index (up 11.4%) but they were much closer over 5 years with the median at 9.5% and the index at 8.9%. However, the results are before management fees so the median manager would struggle to match the index.
  • Although a challenge for any investor, picking the top fund manager versus the bottom produces a major result difference. For example, the top fund over 5 years was Selector High Conviction Equity Fund at 19.2% while the bottom quartile delivered only 8.7%. With each quartile holding 26 managers in the 5 year numbers, that’s a lot of talented fund managers delivering poor long-term results.


Graham Hand is Managing Editor of Cuffelinks. This article is general information and does not consider the circumstances of any investor.


August 12, 2019

Karen, GESB aims to provide on its website all the information that a member needs to evaluate the range of investment options that are offered. GESB doesn’t subscribe to Chant West, so doesn’t appear in their performance tables.

Although the Board and Investment Committee (on which I sit) isn’t all that interested in short term peer comparisons, I can’t let Steve’s throwaway remark stand. “Modest” is a subjective term, so let me share some facts.

The GESB Super Growth Plan over 2018-19 year returned 7.5% after fees – which would place it above median, but just outside the top 10 in the chart. Over the 10 years the net return was 9.5% per annum, which would place GESB in the top 10.

As a member of GESB’s investment committee, I’m reasonably satisfied with those numbers, but not because they seem to line up well in an arbitrarily defined category in a table of several superfunds. Rather, it’s because they deliver solidly against the return objectives that we indicate to members we’re seeking to provide.

Returns data across the range of funds can be found here:

August 10, 2019

Why did the CFS Wholesale Diversified fund not make the list? Their website is showing a return of 8.71% for the 12 months to June.

August 04, 2019

Thanks for your article. Can you please elaborate on your comment in the second paragraph… “The funds are unlikely to achieve anywhere near that level in the next decade.”

Graham Hand
August 04, 2019

Hi Hamish, a few points. Average returns for the last 10 years for ‘growth’ funds with 61 to 80% allocated to growth assets:

1. The bond allocation has done well with falling interest rates. With cash at 1% and 10 year bonds at 1.25%, how much further can they fall to generate capital gains (or income).

2. Equity markets at all-time highs a decade after the 2008-2008 GFC.

3. Valuations are high and while these levels do not tell you when the market will fall, they do indicate future returns will be lower.

I’d say 5% over the next decade will be a good result.

August 04, 2019

just to answer the question in the headline: yes. My SMSF increased 14% last financial year and 17% the year before. And that’s after brokerage, auditing, life insurance and all the other unnecessary costs that we are burdened with.

August 04, 2019

Yes, mine is invested in only aust shares and cash and returned 66% in FY19.

August 04, 2019

Interesting how some of these ‘balanced’ industry funds hold up to 70-80% growth assets.

I wonder if members are aware of the higher underlying risks contrary to what the ‘balanced’ option implies?…. ‘Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.’

August 04, 2019

Some of the funds in the top 10 hold 90% growth assets, but this is depends on your definition of “growth”. Let’s just say that to call them “defensive” instead might be misleading.

Graeme B
August 04, 2019

Not a lot of us who didn’t beat the market are going to respond I suppose. It is probably vulgar to talk money but if I can shout or whisper I believe I did. Admittedly by taking a higher level of risk than the fundies could get away with.

August 04, 2019

What I find interesting is that all of the funds in these “best of” league tables still underperform the growth (i.e. 70%) multi-sector index! This is despite them having more than 70% growth as well (QSuper possibly excepted) over these periods. Even if you take a multi-sector index fund which is net of fees (which are low), there is still underperformance.

Everyone is battling it out to second best. It will be interesting to see if indexing continues to outperform over the next 10 years.

karen staniforth
August 04, 2019

Why do we never see performance figures for GESB Weststate/GESB Superannuation products? I would like to know how GESB is rated amongst other Superannuation Funds. Thankyou

August 04, 2019

You can find their results at their website (if you look right now). You will discover that their returns were modest for the past 12 months.

August 04, 2019

It is interesting to note that all of those fund members who rolled all of their super funds into HostPlus last year, simply because financial journalists & book authors sang their praises as Super fund of the year, only to discover that HostPlus didn’t even make it into the Top 10 funds for 2019.

Of course, no Statements of Advice were supplied to these fund members explaining why it was in their best interest to do so. It’s a good business selling books to the masses.


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