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Franking debate is signal to review SMSFs

To say that the Labor Party’s proposal to cancel cash refunds for excess franking credits caused consternation among Cuffelinks readers would be an understatement.

Cuffelinks received well over a thousand comments on the proposal and wasn’t alone in preparing SMSF trustees for the potential impact had the Federal Election panned out as many expected.

So, it’s not surprising that the hundreds of thousands of SMSF investors receiving income via franking credits breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Coalition claimed victory.

Don’t exhale too hard, too soon

Many SMSF trustees may now believe they don’t need to think about making any changes to their portfolio to deal with the impact of a franking credit removal. In fact, it's actually an excellent opportunity to reconsider whether portfolios are really fit for purpose.

The over-reliance on franking credits has meant too many SMSFs have investment portfolios that are dangerous for their purposes. The available data and anecdotal evidence from accountants who administer many SMSFs suggest that a significant percentage of self-directed SMSFs have an over-reliance on the ASX Top 10 in their portfolios.

There are two main reasons for this. SMSF investors long ago fell in love with high, fully-franked dividends as an income stream, but they also feel a degree of comfort investing in companies that they’re familiar with and always thought of as stable pillars of our economy. But such overly-concentrated portfolios highlight the dangers of insufficient diversification.

In November 2018, the SMSF Association reported that 47% of SMSFs have more than half of their portfolio invested in one asset class, usually shares but in some cases, property (the latter is most likely to be business owners putting their own premises into their SMSF). An even higher two-thirds of SMSF survey respondents believed a portfolio of 20 shares was well-diversified.

The following table is instructive. It shows the Top 10 shares held by SMSFs, according to the Class SMSF Benchmark Report (March 2019; based on Class’s database of 160,000 SMSFs, so it is representative).

We’ve added the column on the far right, showing the price performance of each stock over the past five years, excluding dividends.

Prices as at 7 June 2019.

Eight of the Top 10 stocks are worth less now than five years ago, while the broader S&P/ASX200 Price Index is up about 18% over the same period, with other international markets rising even higher.

We also know SMSFs are underweight global equities compared with local institutional superannuation funds, missing many sectors and opportunities not available in Australia. And about 20% of SMSF assets are held in cash and term deposits where it's a struggle to achieve positive real returns.

The world of investing is the real world

What does this tell us? The most obvious take-away is that set-and-forget share portfolios make little sense, even when they seem to work for an extended period. It is folly to pretend that we live in a static and stable world where the fortunes of major companies do not change.

The world we live in is a complex place. Political upheaval, management failings, regulatory shocks, aggressive competitors, demographic change and technology breakthroughs impact markets just as they impact people’s lives.

If you're not thinking about these issues and managing your portfolio accordingly, your ‘strategy’ is one of hoping for the best, rather than planning for the best. It’s rolling the dice rather than playing chess.

As an SMSF is the primary means its trustees rely upon to give themselves a dignified retirement, and to provide for their dependants, the stakes are too high for such a gamble. The franking credits ‘scare campaign’ ought to be the wake-up call many of Australia's self-directed SMSFs needed.

What should self-directed SMSFs do?

Revisit your portfolio and ask yourself:

“Am I really managing my portfolio, making appropriate changes as required, and ensuring that it’s appropriately diversified for the current conditions and my circumstances?”

If you can’t answer “Yes” confidently, then ask this one: “Do I need to find a professional who can manage my portfolio for me or with me?”.

Your options are to find a trusted licensed financial adviser, or access professional asset management expertise and choose one or more to manage your portfolio.

After all, you shouldn’t be losing sleep or money, let alone losing sleep about losing money!

 

Andrew Varlamos is Co-founder and CEO of OpenInvest, a sponsor of Cuffelinks.

OpenInvest is a new end-to-end online solution for self-directed investors, including SMSF trustees. OpenInvest empowers you to choose how your wealth is managed, providing direct access to portfolios managed by your choice of investment management firms and designed to meet the needs of investors seeking diversification, security, income, and growth.

 

12 Comments
Graham Hand
July 01, 2019

Seems SMSF trustees are already making the move. This in a Media release from SuperConcepts today.

"SMSF investment decisions in FY 19 revealed the end of an era with blue chip stocks unloaded due to poor performance, according to an SMSF investment specialist."

“FY19 marks the souring of an enduring love affair between SMSFs and blue-chip stocks,” said Phil La Greca, SuperConcepts Executive Manger SMSF Technical and Strategic Services.

“We saw huge swings away from low growth mature Blue Chips towards Infrastructure and ETFs in FY19.

“At June 2018 ETFs represented 4.7% of total assets and has increased to nearly 7% by 30 June 2019, while and investments in non-traditional managed funds (the primary way for SMSFs to access infrastructure) jumped from 0.28% to 0.55% of total assets,” said Mr La Greca.

Peter Thornhill
June 30, 2019

According to our super fund administrator the ASX 200 accum index has returned 8.3% p.a. compound since the 1st July 2000 when we commenced our SMSF.
We have been around 100% equity since then with almost no resources or property and from the same source, our fund has produce almost twice the index (13.4% p.a compound).
I find it hard to justify taking the risks associated with diversification. Something no one ever tells investors is the opportunity cost associated with "RISK" reduction.

Geoff
July 01, 2019

By my numbers, CPI over that period has averaged about 3.5% p.a. or thereabouts - knowing your investment philosophy as I do, it's another demonstration that given time and the ability to not sell down assets, the returns you can generate using your "benign neglect" thinking are more than enough to keep you ahead of the curve.

Personally, I'm trying to get a capital base, 4% of which will deliver my income requirements in Retirement Year 1, starting within the next two years, and hopefully get similar returns in the 20 years following.

Also made easier now there are relatively low cost direct investment super funds available allowing you to buy individual equities with the dividend and imputation credits attached, with relatively low funds under management % costs compared to a standard managed fund, to help me along the way. No need for an SMSF.

Rob
July 01, 2019

Once again, I'm in total agreement with you, Peter.

"Diworsification" is sometimes simply used as a means to sell product in many cases.

craig
July 02, 2019

yep, keep investing in stocks that are priced incorrectly due to government subsidies. if they ever get threatened to be removed, stamp up and down and make your election choice

craig
July 02, 2019

Diversification reduces risk, unless you keep investing in a government subsidised oligopoly that takes tax revenue away from future generations. these stocks are not risky - because company tax is redirected away from the public to baby boomer SMSF. thank you for perpetuating a broken market of inefficiency that will implode on the next generation

John T.
June 27, 2019

If one is reinvesting one's dividends then a low share price is not to be sneezed at .. it can mean many more shares over the medium to long term from which to receive more dividends... As long as the company being invested in is sound... As pointed out in the article..... i.e. compounding goes to work.

Ravi
June 28, 2019

Taking the example of the banks, prices have fallen, and re-investing dividends is a valid point John T, 'as long as the company being invested in is sound.'

Facebook releasing a global electronic currency is perhaps first step to becoming a global bank, who knows how it will play out. The state and incumbent monopoly over control/issuing of money is under threat by Facebook and other technology. Facebook has a reach of over half of the worlds population in terms of monthly users, its not that impossible to think of it has the worlds' bank!

Australian banks are always going to be safe and free from aggressive comp and are a 'sound investment', right!?

The world changes too fast, I agree with the article; key is to appropriately diversify and to get appropriate professional help.

David
June 30, 2019

No. The franking credit debate is not a signal to end shareholders love of investing in capital loss making shares that pay franked diviidends. The electorate over whelmingly voted in favour of maintaining the government policy of subsidising shareholder capital losses.

Andrew Varlamos
June 27, 2019

Thanks Leo, great questions.

1. No, we did not factor in the Coles spin off, but clearly should have done.
2. We did the assessment a fortnight or so back, and simply went back 5 years from that date. We didn't seek any particular High or Low points to try and amplify our arguments.
3. I haven't compared this to average managed fund performance, but I did reference the performance of the ASX 200 over a comparable period.

Notwithstanding the Coles spin-off point, I maintain my major contention is correct: being overweight to the ASX top 10 (because self-directed investors love franked dividends) was never a sensible strategy, even though it worked beautifully for many years. But like all flawed strategies, eventually the risks you are taking on become more evident, as the table showed.

Self-directed SMSFs largely understand this. The issue is that until recently, for those who haven't wanted an ongoing personal advice relationship, they haven't had a ready solution to their desire and need to access properly diversified, professionally managed portfolios.

Rob G
June 27, 2019

"....Am I really managing my portfolio, making appropriate changes as required, and ensuring that it’s appropriately diversified for the current conditions and my circumstances?”

Wrong question.

"Will my portfolio meet my future liabilities in retirement?" is the right question

Leo
June 27, 2019

Interesting article yet not clear if Mr Varlamos has factored in the spin off of Coles from Wesfarmers or other like activities?

Was there a specific comparison date from 5 years ago or are these "highs" during that period?

Factoring in dividends and in reflection of volitile economic and political changes, how did the average of Managed Funds perform through the same period?

 

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