Five questions in 5 minutes with Mark Delaney

Mark Delaney September 2015 video

Five questions in 5 minutes with Mark Delaney
AustralianSuper’s Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Investment Officer answers these five questions:

  1. How has my super been performing?
  2. What's been driving returns?
  3. How's the world travelling?
  4. What about Greece and China?
  5. What’s AustralianSuper's investment strategy?

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Video transcript

Last year was another very strong year for investment returns. The balanced plan's returns were up 10.9% and that's actually the third year of double digit returns. Looking over that three-year period, you might be surprised to know that returns are up 46%. That's an incredible increase in a three-year period. It's quite doubtful whether we're going to continue to get returns of this magnitude going forward. In the longer run, we expect the balanced plan to earn around CPI +4 or between 6% to 7%. So I think it's more likely we're going to move down toward those long-run return style numbers rather than continue to get double digit returns....
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A few factors have been the main drivers return in the last year. The biggest of those has been the decline of the Australian Dollar which has increased the value of our overseas equity investments. This has been a very big factor. Also important has been the evaluations and strong returns in property and infrastructure as those asset classes have solid long-term earning streams which investors are attracted to in the current low interest rate environment. The third thing which is important, but not as big in the portfolio, has been very strong returns from private equity and that reflects the fact that these investments have been written up quite strongly in the last year.

An implication of the current low interest rate environment is that returns on cash have been very weak. As you know, the reserve bank has been cutting interest rates in Australia. That's feeding through the low interest rates. That's also been the case globally. We expect cash returns to remain very modest over the next three to four years.

The world investment outlook continues to be very mixed. We've had low interest rates as policy makers have cut rates to try and stimulate economies after the financial crisis. This continues to be the major driving factor for global equities and also for fixed income. In the U.S., they've got a modest economic recovery and the Fed is thinking about raising interest rates. This will be the first time they've lifted interest rates since 2008. In Europe, the central banks are moving towards much more stimulus as the European economy is being very weak and the markets are anticipating this will lead to better earnings outlook and better share market performance. So hopefully that will be a positive.

By contrast, in Asia and the emerging markets, economic conditions remained quite difficult as tight monetary policy, high debt levels, and in some cases, falling exchange rates, are impacting upon investment returns. Turning to Australia, the same factors are operating slow but steady economy growth, low interest rates, and companies struggling to make strong earnings growth. All these factors are leading to more modest returns than what we're used to.

Greece and China have occupied the investors' attention for much of the past three months. In Greece, we've all seen news reports about the high Greek debt levels and what that means for the Greek economy. It now appears as if the Greek and European authorities have found a way through this, enabling debts to be rescheduled and Greece to work its way through those problems. So we don't expect Greece to be a big factor for markets in the next 12 months as what they have been for the past 3 months.

Turning now to China, what we're seeing is the market has become concerned about the sharp falls into China's equity market. We need to have those in the context of the very rapid rises in China's equities over the previous year. And when you look at how high the equity market went, some fall seems quite appropriate. So we are not worried about China's equities at the current level, nor are we worried about the modest slowdown in China's economic activity as China adjusts to a new normal. We think this is the way things will be going forward and China will be fine.

AustralianSuper's investment strategy is to maintain a diversified portfolio. In the last year, we've been looking to increase our exposure to unlisted assets, property and infrastructure, with the major focus being on buying global property. We've bought four groups of assets in the last year. In the U.S., we've bought a 25% stake in the Ala Moana Shopping Centre in Honolulu, which I suspect a number of you may have already seen. That's the world's largest open-air shopping centre and is a fantastic asset with really high quality tenants and strong patronage.

Also in the U.S., we've bought some office properties, a portfolio office property in Washington and a large prime building in Boston. All these office properties are well-lent, strong tenants, and provide good long-term earning streams, something we've been after in the portfolio. In the U.K., we've also been active. We've invested in the King's Cross redevelopment, which is a large mixed-use redevelopment next to King's Cross Station. This is a quite interesting investment because it involves both office, retail, and residential development, and provides a platform to build our U.K. property portfolio.

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