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Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 385

  •   25 November 2020
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Weekend market update: Friday continued the strong run in global markets on vaccine optimism and the nomination of the dovish Janet Yellen as US Treasury Secretary. The S&P500 rose another 0.25% on Friday to close at a record high, up 2.3% for the week, while NASDAQ put on almost 1%. The market only hears good news for tech. And so much for the uncertainty of the US election ... the Australian market is up 11.4% in November so far and Europe has risen an amazing 18% despite more lockdowns. 


The Retirement Income Review was a welcome surprise packet. Far from being simply a 'fact based' set of statistics or rules, the Review takes a firm stance on many controversial subjects and gives momentum to superannuation alternatives. While not formally making recommendations, its findings are no less powerful. We explore five ways the Review will guide future policies, setting up retirement planning for significant changes.

It will stand as a turning point in the way we think about superannuation and retirement incomes, although as far back as 12 April 2018, I wrote an article pre-empting a major finding of the Review, saying:

"Superannuation involves a calculated drawdown of capital for most people. This is not only about 'income' but access to money and cash flow."

Two other pieces on this important document. David Bell highlights how the Review focusses on this need to draw money from assets (including super and the home) and not only live on income. Then we provide an edited transcript of Paul Keating's discussion with Leigh Sales on the ABC's 7.30, plus links to the full video. Keating was critical of major findings and not surprisingly, took the opportunity to make a passionate defense of the existing superannuation system.

My interview this week is with Steve Bennett of Charter Hall, who is also Chairman of the Property Funds Association. Many property sectors have been resilient during the pandemic, and he explains how funds with long-term leases to prestige clients provide an income alternative for investors, as well as exploring various property trends.

The rapid rise in share prices of tech stocks (and Tesla's market cap is now an extraordinary USD520 billion) is leading to portfolio concentrations that many investors may not have expected. In the US, the broad S&P500 is now one quarter tech. Amy Arnott asks whether it is time for some diversification into other sectors.

On a similar theme, for those looking for diversification opportunities in Emerging Markets, there is an even stronger index dominance of 'China tech', with the top 5 companies making up 40% of the index. The White Paper from Realindex is a warning to everyone to check what's in an index before assuming it delivers broad-based exposures.

For the moment, all governments are providing fiscal stimulus with a bottomless pit of debt, but at some point, it will need to be repaid. Kate Howitt looks at how the problem was faced in the past, Australia's adoption of similar policies and the likely future drag on share prices.

Amid all this market and political action, we can't avoid the need to manage our SMSFs. Graeme Colley warns of a little-discussed consequence of the new bankruptcy rules, that there is no forgiveness of the need to meet pension payments simply because an asset is no longer throwing off the required income.

What else is happening?

The one market most analysts expected to fall during the pandemic was residential property prices. How could they withstand the loss of migrants, rise in unemployment and businesses closing? Enter 2% borrowing rates, an easing of lending restrictions, fiscal spending and ex-pats returning. Among many who have changed their forecasts, ANZ Bank now expects a combined capitals small price rise in 2020 and up 9% in 2021. Loan servicing is easier than ever for most people, as a 2% fixed rate on $1 million in only $20,000 a year (assuming no repayment of principal).

Matt Comyn, CEO of CBA, said last week:

"I don't think the housing market is a risk anymore. I mean we've substantially upgraded our forecast in and around housing versus where we were in May and even in August."

Finally, while there are signs Donald Trump has slowly realised he has lost the election, his Twitter feed shows he continues to stoke the flames with fraud claims. He also takes credit for the strong US stock market.

Despite his failure to prove anything in courts, his stance on election legitimacy is widely supported by Americans. As a poll last week in The Economist showed, three-quarters of Republican voters believe there was 'a lot' of fraud in the election, although only 6% of Democrats held the same view. This chart illustrates how stark the blue/red divide has become.


Graham Hand, Managing Editor


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November 30, 2020

Great stuff graham

Another thought provoking newsletter as usual, in particular about super

It raises some questions which really need to be addressed in your next edition

First question: why do we need super? Although we know paul keating thinks it’s a good idea, how many Australians agree with that?

After all the government leaves us alone on most other things like marriage, who our friends are, who we vote for, what car we drive, where we live, whether we buy a house or rent

The list goes on

Why is it the government’s business to make us save for our retirement? It might well be a good idea, but I think the pros and cons need to be spelt out and they haven’t been

Second idea, if we are to have super, why not make it saving for an annuity up to a maximum level, say to provide $30k pa?

Once you have reached your limit and saved enough to buy the annuity, then there are no more tax concessions

I think the pros and cons of this need to be discussed as well

One of the biggest loopholes in the current system is that you can withdraw the whole lot once you retire and use it for whatever; big holiday, gambling etc

Then go on the pension no questions asked

Another question: some newspaper articles have said that the current system is a big cost to the budget, so why not abandon super and provide for a bigger government pension in retirement?

You could still make it means tested or make it universal

Perhaps the best thing the government can do is invest in basic financial education at school because it is an area that is sadly lacking. Just ask the barefoot investor.

The Victorian government has just announced a financial literacy scheme for next year which sounds on the right track


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