Ignore it and focus on future

When this year's super statement lobs, chuckthe bumf in the bin.

When this year's super statement lobs, chuckthe bumf in the bin.

AT THE risk of never getting invited to another finance industry shindig (granted, not really a sacrifice) I have some controversial advice. When the annual super statement lands in your letterbox in the next few weeks, don't pore over it, don't despair of the performance, in fact, don't even read it.

Throw it straight in the bin where rubbish - and rubbish returns - belongs.

The median balanced fund, the default fund for everyone who fails to nominate an alternative, looks set to deliver the worst financial year performance since compulsory super began in 1992: between negative 6 and 7 per cent, research house SuperRatings says.

So if you had a super balance of $100,000 at the end of last year, it will have shrunk to, say, $93,500. And if you had $200,000, it could now be more like $187,000.

That news makes for grim breakfast reading. But it's crucial you bear in mind that in the past four years your returns have been in the vicinity of 15.7 per cent (2006-2007), 14.5 per cent (2005-2006), 12.9 per cent (2004-2005) and 13.2 per cent (2003-2004).

Even with the recent slump, this means the median fund has averaged 11 per cent a year over the past five years and super balances have correspondingly swelled by 60 per cent.

So it's important to keep it in perspective.

It's also crucial to realise that you have fared far better than the sharemarket, which since the high in early November is down not 6 or 7 per cent but nearly 30 per cent. Balanced funds invest in not just shares but also in listed property, fixed interest and cash - and these other assets have held up returns (see David Koch's column, page 4, for the outlook for the asset classes today).

What's more, your particular fund manager may well have performed better than the median.

But even if they have instead fallen short, now is not the time to exercise super choice and switch to a manager that has chalked up higher returns. First of all, by doing so you will be turning your paper loss into a real-life loss because the manager will have to sell shares to cash you out.

Second, picking the winners in the past eight or so months has had very little to do with skill.

Even if funds managed to avoid the high-profile share price collapses - think Allco Finance, ABC Learning, Centro Properties Group and, more recently, Babcock & Brown - investor fear has seen other stocks in those sectors punished indiscriminately.

As a result there are a lot of solid, investment-worthy companies trading at ludicrously cheap prices. And until debt and credit markets stabilise, they will probably continue to do so.

So the message is that the past year is not the year on which to judge your super fund manager. Good managers and bad will have been caught up in the melee.

Besides, not even in a normal year should you make a call on that short a time frame. Only by looking over at least three years - and preferably in different types of conditions - can you ascertain that you've got a dud fund.

So there really is little point subjecting yourself to the trauma of opening your superannuation statement when it arrives this year. Better instead to go to your happy place and stay there until markets regain their lost ground.

If you would like to appear in Investor Overhaul and receive free financial advice, send an email to investor@fairfax.com.au. You need to be willing to have your photo and financial details published.


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