Your superannuation asset allocation

11 Feb 2013

By Shadforth Financial Group

The asset allocation of a portfolio simply refers to where and how much you have invested in each asset class (for example cash, fixed interest, property, Australian shares and international investments).

Each asset class has different levels of expected return and risk so each performs differently depending on the underlying economic conditions at the time. By diversifying amongst and within each of the asset classes, the overall risk of the portfolio can be reduced.

For many people this decision can be a nightmare and they simply put their head in the sand and let the fund choose. We are lucky in this country in that nearly all of the superannuation funds provide what is known as a default asset allocation. In simple terms this means that the fund in consultation with asset consultants develops an asset allocation that will hopefully suit the majority of the members of the fund.

In most instances this is usually a balanced asset allocation made up approximately as follows:

Asset typeTargetRange
Australian Shares20 %15-45 %
Overseas Shares25 %5-35 %
Property13 %0-25 %
Infrastructure6 %0-15 %
Growth Alternatives11 %0-25 %
Total Growth Assets75 %25-85 %
Defensive Alternatives5 %0-25 %
Bond10 %5-75 %
Cash Securities10 %0-25 %
Total Defensive Assets25 %15-75 %

A balanced asset allocation usually consists of a mix of shares and bonds, property, infrastructure, alternative assets and cash.

However what these default funds often fail to take into account is that "one size does not fit all", so what may be appropriate for one person may not be appropriate for another person. Determining an appropriate asset allocation is an important decision as approximately 70-80% of the return is determined by the asset class in which you invest in.

A simple solution 

Many investors use the old rule of thumb that you subtract your age from 100 and that's the percentage of your portfolio that you should keep in growth assets. For example if you are 40 you should consider having at least 60% of your portfolio in growth assets. If your 60 an allocation of 40% may be more appropriate.

This rule of thumb is based on the notion that when you are young you need growth- you can afford to take risks as you have a longer period to make up any money you lose. However when we get older the time period left to recover is less so we need to adopt a more conservative approach. This is particularly the case when you enter what I refer to as the "retirement risk zone," the 5 years before and the 5 years after retirement.

What you need to remember 

We are all different and you are the only person who knows what level of risk you feel comfortable with. There is no point having an asset allocation that keeps you awake at night.

However when considering what is an appropriate asset allocation for you, here are a couple of points to remember:

  1. Different asset classes offer different expected rates of return and different levels of risk. This is often referred to as the "risk-return tradeoff" which means the more risk you take the higher your expected return is over the long term. This is not always the case as the falls in the global financial crisis highlighted when, at one stage, some Australian listed property trusts fell in value over 80%.
  2. Determine your long and short term goals
  3. Time is your friend and use this to your advantage. Having a reasonable investment time period allows you to take advantage of compounding, the time value of money and also ride out any periods of poor investment returns.

However there is no perfect asset allocation, but you can get it horribly wrong if you don't take a little care. Asset allocation is an ongoing process and just like a motor vehicle requires servicing from time to time.

If you have any questions in relation to your portfolio please don't hesitate to contact your local Shadforth office.

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