Posts Tagged ‘superannuation’

Can the idea of retirement continue?

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

The global financial crisis (GFC) had brought many cans of worms for governments. One of them is the idea of funding your retirement through superannuation. The idea of retirement is relatively new in the entire history of human civilisation. Up till a 120 years ago, it is either you work till you drop or your children will look after you when you are too old to work. It was the German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, who introduced the idea of old-age social insurance program in 1889. Initially, the retirement age was set at 70. However, since life expectancy at that time was well below that, it was pretty much work-till-you-drop. You can imagine how cheap that program was for the government.

As the decades went by, people lived longer and longer. As a result, the public cost of old-age social insurance grew more and more prohibitive for governments. With the introduction of defined contribution schemes, the risk of funding retirement was transferred from the state/employer to the individual. That went well until…

With the financial panic of 2008, the retirement savings (actually, the word ‘savings’ is conceptually wrong- see The myth of financial asset ?investments? as savings) of many people were decimated because of major losses suffered by their superannuation funds in the stock markets. Some people had to contemplate postponing their retirement and returning to the workforce. To make matters worse for these people, they had to do so at a time when the whole world is facing a synchronised recession (or maybe even a depression) when jobs are becoming more scarce.

This put a very big question mark on the idea of compulsory superannuation. In June 2007, as we wrote Epic, unprecedented inflation, when the world was experiencing a synchronised boom in all asset classes in all regions of the earth, it seemed like a good idea. Today, with synchronised price deflation in most asset classes (except gold and US Treasury bonds) in all regions of the earth, does it mean that the whole idea of the superannuation system is a mistake?

With deflation, the tide turns and we all know who had been swimming naked. The problem is, it turned out that most people are swimming naked! It turned out that many of the ‘assets’ that we hold are not reliable store of wealth after all. Most of these assets are in the form of paper (financial) assets. From what was happening overseas, even physical, tangible and fixed assets (e.g. property) are suspect. In other words, there was a divergence between the nominal price of these ‘assets’  and the economic value of their underlying businesses and usefulness. What greased that divergence? The answer is, inflation of credit. In the days, months and years ahead, governments will try to inflate the supply of money and credit while the free market will wake up to the extent of the divergence between the price and value.

We suspect that for this current cohort of working people, the idea of retirement planning will be radically changed. Perhaps cultivation of relationships and friendships, networking with people of specific skills, reconciliation and sacrifice of independence will gain more prominence in your plans for retirement?

Why you may not get the best returns from the professional money managers?

Wednesday, December 20th, 2006

The vast majority of the money sloshing around and influencing the movements in the market today is from managed funds (e.g. superannuation, life insurance, hedge funds, etc) and the ?professional? money managers. Individual private investors and traders usually do not have enough weight of money to move or affect the markets in a big way.

One of the pressures that fund managers often face is the unrelenting judgment on their performance. Their performances are usually measured against their competitors? performance and against the market average. To compound their pressures, their performance is often measured on a quarterly or annual basis, which in our view is woefully too short a time-frame to form an opinion on a money manager?s skill. Thus, if they under-perform their peers in the short-term, they risk losing their lucrative jobs. As a result, many fund managers have to focus on chasing short-term gains to grab an edge from their peers even though their performance, in absolute terms are unimpressive. For example, if they lose 20% in a year, they will be considered doing well if their peers perform worse and the market average is not any better.

Where is the source of such pressure?

Many managed funds seek their business among the mass retail consumers. Most of these retail investors are insufficiently educated in the art of investing. That means the only way these investors can judge the quality of fund managers is through their performances, which are measured in ridiculously short time-frames of a few months to a year. Some of these retail investors are quick to switch their wealth to another managed fund the moment they perceive that their fund manager is ?under-performing.? As we said before in How do you define risk?, one?s perception of risk will depend on whether one is investing from the retail level or among the legendary investors of excellence. Since most people investing in managed funds are investing from the retail level, managed funds have to cater to their needs by using such simplified but inadequate and misleading metrics as quality measures.

Now, our question to you is, do you want to be just an average investor or do you want to run along with the best in investing? If you decide to choose the latter, it will certainly demand a lot of commitment to acquire the necessary skills, knowledge, wisdom and patience. Many of the most lucrative returns involve taking contrarian positions, which require patience to see them bear fruit. In the meantime, short-term relative performances are irrelevant.