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Garry Weaven on 5 areas of super investment

[Introduction: Garry Weaven chairs IFM Investors, a fund manager owned by 27 industry superannuation funds with over $100 billion in assets under management. This article reports on his presentation at the 2018 Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees' Super Investment Conference in Cairns on 5 September 2018].


Garry Weaven started with a slide showing superannuation assets will grow from the current $2.6 trillion to $6 trillion in 2030, a more than doubling in size, while GDP would increase from $1.3 trillion to $1.9 trillion. It demonstrated super’s growing role in the Australian economy. Said Weaven:

“The business community and governments of any persuasion would be totally mad looking at those numbers not to pursue greater collaboration with super funds.”

He then identified five areas of potential growth for superannuation investment:

  • Corporate debt
  • Infrastructure
  • Residential property/affordable/social housing
  • Agriculture
  • Growing new industries

Edited transcript of Weaven's future focus on these five areas

"Generally speaking, the corporate debt field has been left to the big banks and their large credit assessment teams but the changing regulatory environment is restricting bank balance sheets from fully servicing that sector. They will focus more on lower risk or higher profit businesses. This will expand opportunities for our sector to step in, possibly in partnership with the banks. Something like $95 billion per annum is lent to non-financial corporations from the banking sector each year. It’s potentially very big business that can be addressed by us.

Second on infrastructure, almost everyone agrees we could spend hundreds of millions over the next decade if we could get the correct frameworks in place. I’ve been arguing there is a better way, a partnership approach between governments and the superannuation sector where a bargain will occur in a very transparent way about the target rate of return on particular projects with risks allocated between the parties. There would be a ceiling above which the taxpayers would share in any outperformance. The manager should not make windfall profits. The deal once negotiated would be offered to every registered superannuation fund in Australia.

Third on residential property, the first investment ever made by IFM Investors' predecessor was to assist people into affordable housing. In the thousands of seminars since, housing and affordability has got worse. It’s time something was done.

Fourth, some of you will have noticed rural politicians squawking about agriculture, lamenting the fact that superannuation funds were not investing more. The reason is very simple: the returns are very poor and the volatility is substantial due to commodity prices and drought. The reason large offshore investors are able to come in here and invest in a significant way is because they can participate in the margins of the downstream processing or distributions of the agricultural output in the destination markets – China or Canada or wherever it is. If the government wants to do something useful in the area, it should be using its trade and foreign affairs diplomacy to broker deals where the super sector could partner with some of those organisations so the returns would be more attractive.

The fifth thing is industry policy generally. A really bold view would include governments collaborating with the super industry in the development of proactive industry policy."

Weaven called for a new era of cooperation between industry funds and the Coalition:

“Over 35 years of history in the industry fund movement, we’ve hardly had a year go by where there hasn’t been some attack in one form or another from the Coalition, in either government or opposition. There could be an emergence of an opportunity for all of that conflict and opposition to finally turn to collaboration, at least to some degree, between the business community, the super sector and governments – both state and federal.”

 

Graham Hand is Managing Editor of Cuffelinks. Garry Weaven is Chair of IFM Investors. As ACTU Assistant Secretary in the 1980s, he played a seminal role in the development of the industry superannuation fund movement.

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