SMSFs are doing “pretty well”

Founder and Publisher of the Switzer Report
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At a time when both industry and retail super funds are losing some of their best customers to self-managed super funds (SMSFs), it was interesting to hear what the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) thinks of us as a group of investors.

“They’ve done pretty well as a group,” said Stuart Forsyth, the Assistant Commissioner of Taxation for SMSFs. (He said it! You can watch the video evidence on Super TV.)

I found that an intriguing observation because the ATO has the data to make such an opinion because it’s the chief supervisor of SMSFs.

Now, prior to the GFC, there was always a bit of an industry expert concern that too many SMSF trustees were too heavily exposed to cash. A variety of arguments were advanced such as, “they were talked into an SMSF by their accountant but don’t know how to invest like a fund manager and so they just leave their money in term deposits”.

And while there was some accuracy in these disparaging observations for some busy types, I suspect that the importance of the job for the chief investment officer — that is, the trustee that actually owned the money — meant that they didn’t want to leave themselves too exposed to the stock market.

This proved to be a very sensible view to have in 2007, especially after five straight years of double-digit gains of which four of them exceeded 20%!

But that’s the past. What should the sensible investor do right now?

The gambler punts that Europe gets it right at the European Union (EU) Summit in Brussels on Friday night (AEST) while the safe player waits. The cautious investor will miss the market bounce if a consensus in the eurozone happens faster than history suggests it possibly could.

That said, putting your money on the Europeans has been a failed strategy for two years and while I think over the next few months, we will see the groundwork laid to build a bull market – it won’t happen overnight.

Geoff Wilson of Wilson Asset Management thinks that 2013 will bring the take-off for the stock market but that doesn’t mean some really positive moves can’t happen before that time.

History says the stock market does well in the last two years before a US presidential election, though the third year of the four-year cycle is better than the fourth.

Also, when 10-year bond yields are less than average dividend yields, as they are in the US now, history points to a 20%-plus uptick in stocks in the ensuing year.

The New York Times in analysing Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel noted she’s seemingly ignoring financial market pressure to act quickly, while others in the EU look like nincompoops.

The NYT even had a more compassionate take on her colleagues: “But as European leaders prepare for crucial meetings this week in Brussels, what may have seemed like timid or even bumbling leadership is looking more like a consistent strategy of brinkmanship aimed at remaking the eurozone in Germany’s likeness.”

Merkel is seen as a new age ‘iron maiden’ — a Mrs Bismarck, if you like — who has been whipping her PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) into shape. But this is a double-edged sword as both success and failure for the EU will be hers to savour or regret.

Apparently she is in daily contact with the Obama administration, but it will be her European co-members she really has to keep onside and committed to her German-style economic repair plan for the EU.

This is an important week for Europeans and the world’s investors as not only will the Brussels summit have a big bearing on the longevity of the eurozone, but the European Central Bank (ECB) should also cut interest rates at their meeting on tonight (AEST).

Markets are tentatively optimistic about this week and if they are right, it puts me closer to the time when I will tell anyone who is prepared to listen that the worst is behind us. That’s when the bull market stampede will begin, the bears will go into hibernation and SMSF trustees will see much better returns. But I guess — given what the ATO says about you — many of you already know much of this!

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.

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