No need to panic about Super Fund

Our superannuation savings are doing fine, depsite the headlines.

Before headlines like "Super Fund loses $716 million" and "NZ Super Fund drops $880.7m" drive you to the bottle, let's introduce some important facts to the equation.

For a start, there's the point of the very different numbers quoted. The $716m figure used in the Herald is post overseas tax but pre-New Zealand income tax expenses. The $880m figure used by Stuff is after income tax expenses. It's the pre-New Zealand tax figure that the Super Fund quotes every year, so poor marks to Fairfax for trying to beat up the story by adding an extra $160m to the headline.

The gloomy reporting around the fund's loss is hardly warranted. As of August 31, the Fund was worth $14.5 billion and boasted an annualised rate of return of 10.34%. That's nicely ahead of its target rate. Fund chair David May describes that quite reasonably, if in somewhat garbled English, as "significant outperformance".

The Fund, often known as the Cullen Fund, started out with $2.4b in September 2003 and is saving on our behalf so that future governments can afford to pay us all Super. The government has since inception added, on average, $2b a year. As is stated in its very first Statement of Intent, "The Fund has a very long-term investment horizon". The Fund's spokeswoman Karine Fox told me it's focus is 20 years out, adding with a sigh, "we're just five years old!".

A fall this year is entirely in line with the fact that we're in the middle of a global financial crisis. Move on, nothing to see here. Although... a quick check of the Australian Future Fund, set up to cover that government's commitments to the superannuation of public servants, shows that it posted a positive result from the past year. In the year to June, it produced a return of 1.54%.

Still, before we throw up our hands and declare that the Aussies have beaten us again, consider that the annualised rate of return on that fund, is just 7.72%. Go Kiwi.