Beware of recency bias

Every the year the 2016 Russell Investments/ASX Long-term Investing Report provides an invaluable summary of before and after-tax returns on various asset classes for Australian investors, over 10 and 20 years.

Naive investors are likely to automatically pursue the asset classes that offer the highest yields. Recent performance is more likely to attract our attention than more stable longer-term performance. Josh Brown highlighted last year that mutual funds that attracted the most new investment tended to underperform funds that attracted the least new inflows. I suspect that the same applies to asset classes.

If we consider each of the asset classes highlighted, it is clear that performance over the next 10 years is likely to be substantially different from the last decade.

Australian Asset Classes 10-year Performance to 31 December 2015

Source: 2016 Russell Investments/ASX Long-term Investing Report

Australian Shares

Australian Shares endured a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis in 2008. 10-Year performance is going to look a lot different in two years time (20-years is 8.7% p.a.). Prices of Defensive stocks, on the other hand, have since been inflated by record low interest rates.

Residential Property

Residential property prices boomed on the back of low interest rates and an influx of offshore investors. But growth is now slowing.

RBA: Australian Housing Growth

Listed Property

REITS were smashed in 2008 (20-years is 7.7% p.a.). But before contrarians leap into this sector they should consider the impact of low interest rates, with many trading at substantial premiums to net asset value.

Bonds & Cash

Low interest rates again are likely to impact future returns.

Global Shares

Global Shares also weathered the 2008 financial crisis (20-year performance (unhedged) is 6.4% p.a.). Subsequent low interest rates had the greatest impact on Defensives, while Growth & Cyclicals trade at more conservative PEs.

I won’t go through the rest of the classes, but there doesn’t seem to be many attractive alternatives. It may be a case of settling for the cleanest dirty shirt, and the least smelly pair of socks, in the laundry basket.

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