Understanding listed and unlisted assets

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.

 

Listed 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

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

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

Infrastructure investments provide money to develop or maintain assets that are essential services or facilities, such as:

  • Transportation
  • Communication
  • Sewage
  • 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

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.

Credit

Private credit is a general term that describes non-investment grade debt, such as:

  • Corporate loans
  • Infrastructure debt
  • Real estate debt
'Unlisted assets have historically proven to be a great long-term investment for AustralianSuper members.'

 

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.

 

Considerations when investing in unlisted assets

The benefits of investing in unlisted assets do come with a trade-off: their illiquidity. They’re considered illiquid because they can be harder to trade or find buyers willing to transact at a given price. At AustralianSuper we define illiquidity as not being able to sell an asset at its fair value within 3 months. In some situations, the valuation of unlisted assets can change sharply, as they’re typically valued infrequently relative to listed assets, such as shares.

During distressed market environments, it may not be possible to sell unlisted assets at a fair or reasonable price. AustralianSuper places limits on the amount of illiquid assets that are included in the PreMixed investment options to help manage liquidity risks.       

In response to current market conditions AustralianSuper has revalued its unlisted asset portfolio. This step was taken to ensure that these assets continue to be valued at fair market value, and was reflected in member balances from Friday 20 March 2020.

READ MORE: REVALUATION OF UNLISTED ASSETS

 

AustralianSuper is invested in your retirement

Unlisted assets have historically proven to be solid investments for AustralianSuper’s members. Their long-term value, relative return stability and contribution to portfolio diversification helps to realise the Fund’s mission: to help members achieve their best possible retirement outcome.

 

DISCOVER MORE: HOW AUSTRALIANSUPER INVEST

 

Image: The Ala Mona shopping centre, Hawaii. An unlisted asset which AustralianSuper invest in.


Investment returns are not guaranteed. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future returns. This information may be general financial advice which doesn’t take into account your personal objectives, situation or needs. Before making a decision about AustralianSuper, you should think about your financial requirements and refer to the relevant Product Disclosure Statement available at australiansuper.com/pds. AustralianSuper Pty Ltd ABN 94 006 457 987, AFSL 233788, Trustee of AustralianSuper ABN 65 714 394 898.

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