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Like all the animated charts added over the past two years, this information gives perspective and grounding for a better understanding of how the world changes. Australia’s per capita income in 2018 was US$50,500.

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Last week, Vanguard and Investment Trends launched the 2020 SMSF Investor Report. This year's report surveyed over 3000 SMSF trustees on their investment priorities and industry outlook, providing an insight into how trustees navigated through COVID-19 volatility.

         

Market Overview

While the SMSF market continues to grow, the impact of COVID-19 and subsequent macroeconomic uncertainty appears to have exacerbated the slowing rate of new SMSF establishment.

The size of the SMSF market now represents one-quarter of the Australian superannuation industry and currently sits at A$676 billion, a two-year low.

Greater control over investments remains the main reason investors set up new SMSFs however more trustees than ever are also maintaining their existing super fund.

Record switch to defensive assets

As a result of the extreme market uncertainty this year, nearly half of SMSF trustees surveyed made substantial changes to their asset allocation.

Some 55 per cent of SMSF trustees took a more defensive stance and increased their cash and property allocations, driven primarily by a negative outlook on both domestic and international equities.

Exposure to direct shares declined in line with the market sell-off in Q1 2020. On average, direct shares now comprise 31 per cent of SMSF portfolios, decreasing four per cent year on year and reaching levels last seen in 2009 post Global Financial Crisis.

One-third of SMSF trustees have fixed income exposure within their portfolios, with hybrid securities remaining the most popular product despite more investors turning to direct bonds and ETFs.

Although SMSFs have a desire to used fixed income products to diversify their portfolios and achieve a sustainable income, there is a lack of understanding of what constitutes a true fixed income product and the fundamental role they play within a portfolio.

It is worth remembering that hybrid securities do not provide the same level of safe-harbor stability as high-quality bonds do as they still have equity-like features, and in times of market stress may not provide true diversification across asset classes.

Yield concerns

Findings also show that SMSFs' dividend yield expectations have dropped from 4.8 per cent pre COVID-19 outbreak to 3.6 per cent.

For pension phase SMSF trustees, who make up nearly half of all SMSF investors in Australia, these are very unsettling times with real concern about low yields and returns and how that will impact portfolio income.

Rather than focusing on an income-oriented strategy, a total-return approach – where an investor makes withdrawals from the full return of their portfolio – coupled with a spending strategy, can assist investors to take back control of their income stream.

Optimistic on recovery, but still lacking in advice

Despite wavering confidence earlier in the year, SMSF trustees are relatively optimistic about market returns going forward.

More than ever, SMSFs are focused on maximising capital growth.

In the short-term, SMSFs show significant appetite to rotate back into equities with 37 per cent of trustees willing to increase their allocation to Australian shares, and 23 per cent to increase investment in international shares.

There is still a strong and growing preference for blue-chip shares and considerable appetite for ETFs and international shares.

The number of SMSFs with unmet advice needs continues to grow, with investment strategy review and pension strategy advice most sought after in these uncertain times.

 

Vanguard Investments
25 August 2020
vanguardinvestments.com.au

 

 

The ATO has confirmed only payments made to a member after 24 March in excess of the reduced minimum pension can be treated as a lump sum, even where a valid election was previously in place, says the SMSF Association.

 

       

In an online opinion piece, SMSF Association technical manager Mary Simmons said where members opt to take withdrawals in excess of their minimum pension as a lump sum, it is a common industry practice to put documentation in place at the start of the financial year electing that these amounts above the minimum be treated as a lump sum withdrawal.

While this has traditionally been an acceptable practice to the ATO, Ms Simmons said there has been a lot of discussion about how this applies with the reduced minimum drawdown amount for the 2019–20 financial year.

Recognising that there was no unanimous industry view, Ms Simmons said the SMSF Association sought clarity from the ATO to ensure that the industry is consistent in its application of the law and that any associated tax liabilities and transfer balance account reporting (TBAR) obligations are met.

The ATO has previously made clear on its SMSF FAQ website that it is not possible to re-classify pension payments already received by a member.

“Essentially, pension payments made up to 24 March 2020, the date of the government’s announcement, in excess of the new reduced minimum annual payment will be treated as pension payments in 2019–20 and cannot be treated as lump sums,” she explained.

More importantly though, Ms Simmons said the ATO has confirmed that this treatment also applies where a valid election was in place as far back as 1 July 2019, requesting that the trustee treat any payment over the minimum pension amount required for the year as a lump sum.

“In this situation, only payments made to a member, after 24 March 2020, in excess of the reduced minimum annual pension drawdown, can be treated as a lump sum,” she said.

“Unfortunately, what this means is that some retirees will be disadvantaged. Essentially, it’s just bad luck for any member who took more than the reduced minimum amount as a pension before the change became law on 24 March 2020, despite having in place a valid election to treat any excess pension payments as lump sum commutations. These members can only treat payments made after 24 March 2020 as lump sum commutations.”

On the other hand, for those members who chose to receive their pension in the later months of 2019–2020, provided they had a valid election in place prior to receiving the payment, Ms Simmons said they will be able to take advantage of the retrospective nature of the reduction in the annual minimum pension drawdown requirements and can treat any excess pension payments as lump sum commutations.

For SMSFs impacted who have quarterly TBAR obligations, the reporting of any partial commutations in the last quarter of 2019–2020, she said, was due by 28 July 2020.

“For example, on 1 July 2019, Simon, aged 66, instructed his fund to treat any withdrawal from his account-based pension, in excess of the minimum pension drawdown amount, as a lump sum. Simon’s pension balance on 1 July was $1 million and his minimum pension withdrawal was originally calculated as $50,000 for 2019–20. His reduced minimum was re-calculated to $25,000,” she explained.

“Simon had arranged to withdraw $5,000 on the last day of every month for 2019–20. As at 24 March 2020, he had withdrawn $40,000 from his SMSF. Even though this amount was greater than his reduced minimum, he must treat the entire $40,000 as a pension in 2019–20. The remaining withdrawals, valued at $20,000, could be treated as lump sums.”

Had Simon opted to withdraw his benefits in two equal payments, one in December 2019 and the other in June 2020, then only the $25,000 received prior to 24 March 2020 would need to be treated as a pension payment, she said.

“The entire $25,000 received in June 2020 could be treated as a lump sum because, at the time of the payment, Simon’s reduced minimum had already been paid,” she stated.

“Although unintentional, this is an example of how retrospective law changes can sometimes lead to inconsistent treatment of retirees.”

This is also the case for members with a market-linked pension who restructured into the new market-linked pensions based on the original formula, she added. These members may now face themselves at risk of being in excess of their transfer balance cap.

“We continue to work with the ATO on this issue and have called for the use of the regulator’s regulation-making powers to essentially create a write-off transfer balance account debit for those members who, prior to the announcement of the new formula, restructured into a new market-linked pension in good faith based on the original law,” she said.

 

 

Miranda Brownlee
25 August 2020
smsfadviser.com

 

 

It's often said that starting out early on one's investing journey will deliver good long-term results.

 

         

But in light of recent volatility on investment markets, you may be thinking, is this the right time to start off?

Taking your first step is often daunting, but the reality is that investment markets have shown consistent growth over many decades.

And what's clear is those investors who stay the course over time, riding through the regular ups and downs of the markets, have a much better chance of achieving investment success than those who try to cherry pick when to buy and sell.

What's more, it's also clear that because the returns from different types of assets always vary from year to year, spreading your money across a broad range of investments will enhance returns and help reduce your overall risk.

The power of compounding returns

Renowned scientist Albert Einstein famously described compound interest as “the eighth wonder of the world”.

Which is where starting out early really comes into play. By following a strategy of reinvesting investment distributions such as dividends, and by making additional contributions over a long period of time, the combination of market growth and compounding returns will likely deliver strong results.

In other words, it's about time in the markets rather than timing the markets.

The 2020 Vanguard Index Chart below shows that a $10,000 investment made into Australian shares in 1990 would have achieved an 8.9 per cent total return per annum over 30 years, with the reinvestment of all distributions, and grown to $130,457 by 30 June 2020.

Over the same time frame and using the same strategy, a $10,000 investment into the broad US share market would have delivered a 10.3 per cent per annum return, and now be worth $186,799.

There is no minimum amount that one needs to make as an investment. However, even a low initial balance will grow substantially over time when combined with compounding investment returns.

Make ongoing investments
But imagine how your wealth could grow if you put in even more. An initial contribution combined with a regular investment savings strategy and the reinvestment of distributions will deliver even higher long-term results.

Investing the same amount of money at set intervals over a long period is known as dollar-cost averaging. That means you're averaging out the cost of your investments through incremental investing – regardless of whether market prices are up or down.

The easiest way to illustrate a dollar-cost averaging strategy is to calculate how investment balances can build up over time, using a combination of regular contributions, the reinvestment of distributions and compounding returns.

How extra investments add up over time

Source: Andex Charts Pty Ltd. Data based on annualised returns since 1990.

The chart above is based on actual market returns and follows someone who started out investing on 30 June 1990 and who continued making set monthly contributions over the last 30 years.

If they'd stuck to a strategy of investing $250 a month into Australian shares, irrespective of market movements, they would now have a balance of more than $443,000.

If they'd had the financial capacity and discipline to invest $1,000 a month over the same period of time, their balance would now be more than $1.77 million. That's despite the sharp fall in markets in early 2020.

Of course, a more realistic pattern for most people is to increase their investment contributions over time as they earn higher wages and other expenses fall.

The bottom line

If you're just starting out, or quite early on in your investment journey, these are all factors to consider – even if you're many years away from retiring.

Successful investing revolves around having a well-planned and diversified strategy that's aligned to your specific goals, and the discipline and resolve to stay the course, even during the most volatile investment times.

And, make no mistake, the earlier you start off investing the more money you're likely to have to enjoy the things you want to do when you do eventually stop work.

With many of us living longer, having the ability to live a financially comfortable lifestyle without fear of running out of money is definitely a long-term goal worth pursuing.

 

 

Tony Kaye
Personal Finance Writer
11 August 2020
vanguardinvestments.com.au

 

 

SMSFs with outstanding compliance issues should consider making a voluntary disclosure while the ATO still has a more flexible approach in place and before they implement tougher admin penalties, says a law firm.

         

Recently, the ATO’s acting assistant commissioner for superannuation, Steve Keating, outlined the ATO’s current approach to dealing with SMSFs facing compliance issues and making voluntary disclosures, said Shaun Backhaus from DBA Lawyers.

“The ATO has recognised that many Australians are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore it is not pursuing its usual audit program,” Mr Backhaus said.

“For the time being, the ATO is primarily engaging with and resolving issues for those SMSF trustees who have initiated contact with them, mainly through the ATO’s early engagement and voluntary disclosure program.”

Mr Backhaus said, typically, a voluntary disclosure will involve providing all relevant facts, supporting documentation and a rectification proposal or proposed enforceable undertaking to the ATO.

At the moment, the ATO is seeking to resolve issues while minimising the financial sanctions and penalties that might otherwise be applied during these difficult times, he noted.

“This more flexible approach has been brought about as a result of the difficult environment we all face with the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

With the ATO planning to undertake a tougher approach on administrative penalties once it issues its law administration practice statement (PS LA), SMSFs who have compliance issues may want to use the ATO’s voluntary disclosure service sooner rather than later,” Mr Backhaus stressed.

“The ATO has recently reviewed the application of its administrative penalties under s 166 of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 (Cth) which highlighted that its staff have been too lenient in remitting these penalties.

“The ATO wants to rebalance its handling of imposing these penalties with a firmer approach.

“There is no date on when this flexible ATO approach will end, but we suspect that this will depend on when the PS LA issues and how many contraventions arise as a result of COVID-19.”

Mr Backhaus said it’s likely that, in the current environment, there are a considerable number of SMSFs with contraventions as families and businesses focus on paying for immediate necessities, rather than complying with the super rules.

“These financial pressures do not, however, provide any excuse or defence for contravening the super rules, and advisers in particular should be proactive in alerting clients that illegal early access to super benefits will still be treated seriously,” he warned.

“Sanctions that may apply to illegal early access could, for instance, include hefty tax and administrative penalties, non-compliance, disqualified status and a range of other penalties.”

He also pointed out that the ATO’s more flexible approach is only applicable to SMSF trustees that make a voluntary disclosure before an ATO review or audit is commenced.

“A different treatment applies if any contraventions arise from any ATO review or audit activity,” he said.

“Most contraventions are reported to the ATO by SMSF auditors engaged and paid by each SMSF via the auditor contravention reporting system. Thus, if there is any contravention, it is likely to be notified to the ATO in due course, and early engagement and voluntary disclosure is generally the best way forward.”

 

 

Miranda Brownlee
01 September 2020
smsfadviser.com

 

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