My 2018 checklist for investors

The Australian

16 December 2017

James Kirby

Looking out 12 months is never easy, but most investors would agree conditions are as promising as we have seen them in many years. As an active investor the summer break is a good time to review what you have been doing in the last 12 months and, importantly, make some key decisions for the year ahead.


Here’s my checklist for 2018.

Explore borrowing at low rates

Official rates remain at 1.5 per cent. In order to reach levels that central bankers regard as “normal” they would have to double to 3 per cent. In reality banks have tried everything to push the actual rates borrowers pay in the market higher. Home mortgage rates are close to 4 per cent or higher if you are an investor or interested in interest-only loans. Nonetheless, this extended era of low rates means that many investors can remain comfortable with borrowing to leverage their performance in any investment class, and that includes shares. (Remember negative gearing is not just for property).

ETFs remain market darlings

With the majority of brokers forecasting strongly positive returns on the ASX for 2018, it is a year which may very well suit index funds, or exchange traded funds. Brokers are looking at stock price increases across the market of 9 per cent with an additional 4 per cent from dividends. If the market is going to offer on average 13 per cent or anything near it, then there is a very compelling argument for ETFs, which simply reflect the performance of the index. Certainly, there are flaws in non-discerning approach of  ETFs, but for the year ahead they would seem to answer a lot of questions.

Don’t miss a mining a rebound

It’s been a while since the miners were front and centre of the investment scene — last year the mining index outpaced the wider market: The mining index returned close to 17 per cent against around 10 per cent for the wider market. What’s more, there is every reason to believe the miners can do it again in 2018 with synchronised 3 per cent-plus global growth expected to push all resources higher.

Under this scenario household names such BHP and Rio are perfectly placed. On top of that there is the dramatic requirements that EVs (electric cars) are expected to place on selected resources: nickel, lithium, cobalt and graphite. Junior miners that supply into the EV battery market such as Syrah, Orocobre, Iluka and Galaxy are expected to benefit as electric cars move towards representing one in five cars by 2020.

Stick with residential property

Is it a soft patch or the long-anticipated disaster gloom merchants would have us believe? It looks for all the world like a soft patch engineered by the macroprudential restrictions regulators imposed on the banks this year. Yes, house prices are expected to be flat in 2018, but that is not a signal to sell property, rather it is a signal to hold on.

There is undoubtedly weakness in Sydney market and risks of further weakening in Melbourne. At the same time there are convincing signs that Perth will have a better year in 2018 than it did in 2017. There will be problems in inner city apartment projects and second-grade properties across all cities, particularly Brisbane. But with low interest rates and unemployment levels at less than 5.5 per cent, it does not represent a threat to mortgage servicing patterns … that’s the heart of the housing market.

Know your retirement sweet spot

Earlier this year the government announced major changes to superannuation which included new contribution caps coupled with subtle but severe restrictions on pension access. These changes have changed the dynamics of retirement savings. The system is absurd and now so poorly structured that you can quite literally get more income by saving less. Put simply in terms of annual income don’t be in the middle zone! Wealth writer James Gerrard has estimated that the annual income of a couple who own their home with $400,000 get an income $52,395 a year thanks to Centrelink, a couple in the same position with $800,000 get $42,251.

Yes, of course it is better to have your own savings, but it is surely galling to know you can have a higher income if you save less.

Find your non-correlated assets

This is a bull market — know it when you see it. US and Australian shares are expected to return 10 per cent-plus in the year ahead. Tech stocks are selling at remarkable prices and then there is the unprecedented excitement around bitcoin. Sooner or later we will get a correction and eventually we will get a sharemarket crash. Non-correlated assets are assets that are expected to “perform well” when this happens. The last time the markets crashed in 2008 we found out the hard way that many of the newer breed non- correlated assets did not work — this would include hedge funds and a variety of products which are exposed to weakness in securities markets. There are two enduring non-correlated assets which have proved themselves in all weather: cash and gold.

  • Cash: In Australia cash deposits have the exceptional advantage that they are guaranteed by the government at up to $250,000 (per person, per bank). Moreover, cash rates though historically low are inching
  • Gold now has a rival in bitcoin but it would be a brave investor who would depend on cryptocurrency when the RBA deputy governor Guy Debelle just this week blasted the cryptocurrency craze warning it was “a speculative mania”.

Gold — the bullion not gold shares — proved to be a very effective non-correlated asset after the GFC and it will no doubt do it again in the future.

(Emphasis added by Save Our Super)