To help members achieve their best possible retirement, AustralianSuper invests funds in a variety of assets to meet the return objectives of the investment options. These fall into 2 main categories - listed and unlisted. Find out more about these investment types, the difference between them, and what they mean in relation to your super.
Many people aren’t aware of how their super fund invests, it’s often not top of the financial priority list, but understanding your fund’s investment strategy is a good way to review performance, year on year.
AustralianSuper’s diversified investment options invest in multiple asset classes, such as Australian shares, international shares, infrastructure, and property, to achieve the best possible return for members, while taking an appropriate amount of investment risk. These asset classes include both listed and unlisted assets.
Types of listed assets
Listed assets are investments that are ‘listed’ on a secondary market or ‘stock exchange’, such as the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Being listed means investors can easily buy and sell their investments on a regular basis on the relevant market exchange.
- Bonds: a product that reflects a fixed-term loan between a government or company and an investor
- Hybrid securities: securities that combine elements of both debt and equity
- Exchange Traded Products (ETPs): shares or other assets that track the performance of an investment index, such as the S&P 500 Index
- Managed funds: pooled funds of individual investors
- Warrants, options and
derivatives: sophisticated investment tools that provide investors with alternative
ways to invest in large companies, currencies and commodities.
Unlisted assets are investments that aren’t listed on an exchange, for example the stock exchange. They are an integral part of most member investment options, as they provide diversification (that is, not having ‘all your eggs in one basket’), relative return stability, historically better risk-adjusted returns (essentially how much risk is involved in producing that outcome), and a long-term focus. Unlisted assets have historically proven to be a great long-term investment for AustralianSuper members.
Types of unlisted assets
They can include:
- Infrastructure (roads, power grids, and airports)
- Property (large office buildings and shopping centres)
- Private equity (investments in private companies)
- Private credit
Although unlisted assets are often categorised together, there are significant differences between unlisted property, infrastructure, private equity and private credit. For this reason, AustralianSuper invests in all 4 unlisted asset classes.
Property investments involve directly acquiring property, such as:
- Shopping centres
- Office buildings
- Industrial warehouses
Returns can be generated from increases in the property value – due to development and price growth – or rental incomes. Careful management can help an owner enhance the value of the property and improve income generation.
Infrastructure investments provide money to develop or maintain assets that are essential services or facilities, such as:
- Power services
These types of investments can improve living standards, as well as a country’s economic development. Infrastructure projects often rely on substantial upfront investments.
Private equity investments provide money for private companies that aren’t listed or publicly traded. The most common categories of private equity include:
- Venture capital
- Growth capital
- Leveraged buyouts
Private equity investments require a commitment to specialist fund managers that drive value in their portfolio of companies through sophisticated governance, and financial and operational management.
Private credit is a general term that describes non-investment grade debt, such as:
- Corporate loans
- Infrastructure debt
- Real estate debt
Why does AustralianSuper invest in unlisted assets?
Unlisted assets have been a valuable part of AustralianSuper’s investment portfolio due to their limited connection to listed markets – meaning they have been relatively stable by comparison – as well as their distinct characteristics, which provide benefits to a balanced portfolio.
There are 5 key reasons the Fund invests in unlisted assets. They are:
Diversification – not having all your eggs in one basket
Allocating to multiple asset classes with lower correlations, to each other, (where prices of assets react differently to market conditions), diversifies portfolio risk. Unlisted asset returns can be less exposed to short-term market ups and downs, compared to listed equities.
The use of unlisted assets to diversify returns through market cycles can provide some stability in the portfolio during listed share market downturns, potentially resulting in greater return stability in comparison to listed share market returns.
Relative return stability – more ups, less downs
Unlisted property and infrastructure can generate steady income streams. For example, income can be earned from rents locked in over a fixed-term contract period, or money generated from a toll road that’s subject to a long-term agreement.
Due to their long-term outlook and less frequent valuations, unlisted assets are less prone to short-term market ups and downs, in normal market environments. From a total return perspective, unlisted property and infrastructure assets tend to display less volatility than their listed counterparts.
Premium on returns – hard work can pay off
Investing directly into unlisted assets has high barriers to entry, which historically has provided a return premium over listed assets. The potentially higher return is gained from the difficulty of transacting in unlisted assets, as well as their illiquidity (that is, their lack of ease to sell).
Investing in unlisted assets requires specialised expertise and has large transaction costs. Having sufficient resources – such as that of Australia’s most trusted super fund – to analyse and evaluate unlisted opportunities, as well as negotiate and implement contractual terms, requires adequate upside to justify the allocations of resources to execute at a reasonable cost.
Unlisted assets also require large financial outlays and an extended timeframe for investment. These factors provide an illiquidity return premium for patient investors that can allocate long-term funds to invest in unlisted assets.
Better risk-adjusted returns – potentially a safer choice
Unlisted assets have historically made better risk-adjusted returns, when compared to many other asset classes.
This involves measuring an investment return in relation to the same amount of risk taken to achieve their return. Historically, some unlisted assets were positioned on the risk/return curve between fixed-income investments and listed shares, enabling an investor to extract additional return for the level of risk taken.
Long-term focus – looking after your future retirement funds
The longer term investment outlook for unlisted assets is aligned with the long-term nature of superannuation funds. Unlisted infrastructure, property and private equity investments are generally held for the long-term. This helps asset owners and government bodies to make decisions to improve the long-term value of unlisted assets. In contrast, listed boards can sometimes be pressured into making shorter term decisions – in order to meet shareholder expectations – which can affect long-term value.