Switch to safety worked

Spare a thought for investors in pension products. While all super fund members copped a flogging during the global financial crisis, pension fund investors don't have the luxury of being able to rebuild their retirement savings.

Quite the reverse, in fact, as they still need to draw down money to live on.

Perhaps that's why, while accumulation fund members have largely stuck with the more traditional balanced and growth funds in the wake of the GFC, pension fund investors have been more inclined to switch into more defensive investment options.

The the chief executive of SuperRatings, Jeff Bresnahan, says there has been a ''massive swing'' by pension fund investors into capital-stable and cash options in recent years.

The GFC, he says, forced them to face the reality that it is up to them - not solely their super fund - to determine the right level of risk for their needs.

That switch certainly paid off in the past financial year with capital-stable funds outperforming balanced options fourfold. The average capital-stable pension fund surveyed by SuperRatings returned 4.8 per cent for the year, compared with a 1.2 per cent return for the balanced funds.

Balanced funds have between 60 per cent and 76 per cent of their investments in growth assets such as shares and property, whereas capital-stable funds hold more defensive investments such as bonds and limit their growth exposure to 20 per cent to 40 per cent. That still provides some upside when sharemarkets are rising, but protects investors from the full impact of a market fall.

Pension funds performed better over the year than accumulation funds, though this difference is largely due to favourable tax treatment. Pension funds pay no tax on their investment earnings.

Accumulation funds are taxed at 15 per cent, or an effective rate of 10 per cent on capital gains where the investment is held for 12 months or more.

SuperRatings says the top-performing capital stable pension funds returned more than 8 per cent last year, largely on the back of an 8.3 per cent return from fixed-interest investments. LGSuper's defensive allocated pension topped the list with a solid 8.6 per cent return, followed by Commonwealth Bank Group Super with 8.1 per cent.

For those still in balanced options, the best return in the SuperRatings survey was 6.2 per cent with ESSSuper.

But thanks to the strength of bonds over shares, all other balanced pensions returned less than the top 10 capital stable funds.

Russell Investments' director of client investment strategies, Scott Fletcher, says the GFC has highlighted the huge ''sequencing risk'' faced by people nearing retirement.

This is basically the risk that they will need to draw on their money at the worst point in the investment cycle.

The story Switch to safety worked first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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