Super year but gold loses its shine

BusinessDay writers look at how you would have fared had you invested $100,000 in various asset classes over the past year.

BusinessDay writers look at how you would have fared had you invested $100,000 in various asset classes over the past year.

PROPERTY

An investment of $100,000 in Australian real estate earned the average home owner about $3700 in capital value over the last financial year, according to RP Data's daily home value index.

Nationally, dwelling values in five key capital cities have risen 3.7 per cent over the year.

The gains came after several tough years when many Australians watched the value of their homes erode as governments ditched first home buyer handouts and consumers worried about Europe's economic woes.

The country's biggest home market, Sydney, bounced back most this year.

Investors piled back into the market, pushing up values by 5.3 per cent.

Despite the faltering mining boom, Perth's property market remained strong. Dwellings values there were up more than 6 per cent at the close of the financial year.

But in the regions, mining towns are now struggling. Owners and investors are finding it difficult to sell unwanted rentals.

If you bought in Melbourne and Brisbane with the hope of riding a new wave of growth, your investment was misguided. Those markets underperformed.

In Melbourne, home values rose just 3 per cent, only 0.5 per cent ahead of inflation.

And in real terms, Brisbane's dwellings lost value, increasing only 0.9 per cent.

But the outlook is brighter now than a year ago with most housing markets on the rise.

GOLD

Don't be too hard on yourself - a punt on physical gold one year ago was not that bad a decision, despite the yellow metal losing about 25 per cent of its value over the period.

Investors in physical gold were in front for the bulk of the year, until the froth finally blew off the top of the sector over the past three months.

After beginning the 2013 financial year about $US1600 an ounce, gold tested $US1800 in October before the rout began in earnest in April. The yellow metal was trading below $US1200 over the past 48 hours.

The popular SPDR - a New York-based exchange traded fund linked to the gold price - ended the financial year almost 26 per cent lower.

Those investing in gold stocks fared far worse, after miners once again failed to close the gap between the gold price and their share prices.

Many Australian gold miners lost more than half their value, with numerous mid-tier companies such as Kingsgate and Medusa losing about 75 per cent of their value.

OceanaGold and Regis Resources limited their losses to a relatively respectable 25 to 30 per cent.

The recent 10 per cent fall in the Australian dollar will provide a buffer to the pain for some local gold stocks, but there has been no sign of that in the share prices.

As for the future? Most predict the gold price will continue falling, with several investment banks predicting it will test $US1000 next year.

CASH

Putting $100,000 in the bank would have produced a return of $3240 in the financial year about to end, as the Reserve Bank slashed interest rates and much of the heat came out of the war for deposits.

The return of 3.24 per cent is based on the UBS Bank Bill, a proxy for returns from cash.

While it is above the latest inflation rate of 2.5 per cent, it is well below what the sharemarket delivered investors this year.

Cash used to be a much stronger performer. In previous years, interest rates on savings accounts were pushed to higher levels as banks clambered to get a bigger share of their funding from households. But this year there have been growing signs this rivalry is easing as funding conditions on global markets improve - at least until the volatility after US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke signalled a plan to wind back stimulus.

At the same time, the Reserve Bank has cut official interest rates from 3.5 per cent to 2.75 per cent in the past 12 months, with banks passing on much of the reduction.

Against this relatively weak performance, cash returns are as near "risk free", as Canberra has guaranteed deposits of up to $250,000 a person in the event of a bank failing.

SHARES

Banks and other high-yielding blue chips have been the big winners on the Australian sharemarket this financial year, as the slowdown in China drags down commodity prices and takes the shine off mining stocks.

After several weeks of volatility, the S&P/ASX 200 Index ended the period up 17 per cent, with the highest total returns since the global financial crisis.

Edward Smith, head of portfolio management at Australian Unity Investments, said bank stocks had thrived as conditions improved in Europe and interest rates fell.

"In May last year we had a bit of a turnaround from the European Central Bank, and that effectively removed the main hurdle for equity performance," he said.

Total returns for the ASX 200 were 26 per cent for the period, including dividends. This was up from a loss of 3.5 per cent the year before.

A large proportion of the 2013 returns were driven by a narrow band of high-yielding, larger cap stocks, in particular the big banks and Telstra.

"If you have a look at the small caps, small resources in particular haven't done well at all.

"They've really struggled, and that's partly attributable to the perceived end of the mining boom and decline in commodity prices," he said.

Mr Smith said the experience of the big miners over the year, with many forced to cancel projects as commodity prices fell, had taken some investors by surprise.

"The big experienced miners are pulling their horns in, and have a more cautious approach".

SUPER

It's almost official: superannuation returns are reaching those heady days before the financial crisis.

Balanced super funds are expected to return 15 per cent return in the year to June 30, said Mano Mohankumar, investment research manager at super researcher Chant West.

This is a touch off the 15.6 per cent return recorded in the 2007 financial year, and the second highest return since the late 1990s, he said.

Balanced funds are the most common super category, mostly invested in growth assets such as equities.

Much of the return can be attributed to the rally in sharemarkets over the eight months to February. Despite recent troubles, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 looks set to close up 19 per cent, 27 per cent including dividends, this financial year.

Alex Dunnin, research director at super researcher Rainmaker, agreed double-digit returns were likely.

"The post GFC period has been a good one for super investors as in 09-10 funds returned 10 per cent, in 10-11 they returned 9 per cent, in 11-12 they returned 1 per cent and this year they should do 10 to 11 per cent," Mr Dunnin said.

"That's a cumulative return of 33 per cent since the GFC, or 7 per cent. This is not bad in anyone's language."

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