Opinion piece by Hon. Peter Costello AC, Chair of the Future Fund Board of Guardians, submitted to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and published on 19 March 2016. 

In these pages last weekend Harold Mitchell explored the Future Fund’s investment performance.

As Australia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, investing over $133 billion in five different public asset funds on behalf of future generations of Australians, we welcome interest in what we do.

Mr Mitchell applauds the creation of the Future Fund in 2006 as a means of helping to offset the pressures of an ageing population and strengthening Australia’s long-term financial position. Given its long-term purpose, it is right for last week’s commentary to focus on the long-term performance of the portfolio.

The Future Fund’s mandate is a long-term one and asks it to achieve a return of CPI+4.5 to 5.5% per annum whilst avoiding excessive risk.

Since its creation in 2006, the Future Fund has met and outperformed this mark over one year, three year, five year and seven year periods.

This has added nearly $58 billion to the value of the Fund. The Future Fund is now amongst the ten largest Sovereign Wealth Funds of the world.

It is understandable that commentary seeks to compare the Future Fund to other investors.

Mr Mitchell chooses comparisons with the Alaska Permanent Fund and industry superannuation funds in Australia.

We know and respect the Alaska Permanent Fund and are partners with it in the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds as well as in a number of investments. 

The Alaska Permanent Fund operates quite differenty to the Future Fund.

Each year at least 25% of Alaska’s mineral lease rentals, royalties and other proceeds are paid into the Alaskan fund. Each year a portion of the Alaskan fund can be paid out to Alaskans with the rest available to be spent or saved for the future. This has been going on since 1976.

In Australia resource royalty revenue goes to the States, not to the Commonwealth, or its Future Fund. The Future Fund only ever had one source of funding – Commonwealth government surpluses – and no government has balanced a budget since 2007-08.

No money has been put into the Future Fund in the past eight years. In fact there has only ever been one government that did put money into the Future Fund.

So it doesn’t make much sense to compare the Alaskan fund, which has had annual inflows for decades, to the Future Fund which has only ever had one round of funding.

In terms of investment returns the Alaskan fund has done well. It returned 6.7% per annum over the five years to the end of December.

The Future Fund has also done well over that time. It has returned 10.5% per annum.

As last week’s article highlights, the Alaskan fund has made some good investments.

So has the Future Fund, which is why it has achieved double digit returns over the last three, five and seven years.

It’s much the same for comparisons between Australia’s industry superannuation funds and the Future Fund. They are different in what they do and how they do it.

But if comparisons are made they should be accurate. According to research house Superratings over five years to the end of December 2015, the average balanced Australian superannuation fund returned 7.9% per annum. The best balanced superannuation fund of any type returned 9.2% per annum.

The Future Fund returned 10.5% per annum over that period. 

It is therefore not correct to suggest, as Mr Mitchell did, that industry super funds often do better than the Future Fund or that the Alaskan fund is superior.

Different investors have different mandates, strategies and cash flows and perform differently.

For the Future Fund, we think it is important to adjust the investment program to reflect the investment environment. This is because we have an obligation to focus not just on generating good returns, but on not putting Australia’s hard earned savings at excessive risk.

Over the last year or so we have been highlighting the potential risks to the investment environment – growth prospects in China and globally, the withdrawal of monetary stimulus in the USA and elsewhere and instability in the Middle East. Accordingly we have reduced the overall level of risk in our portfolio.

Our approach means that at times, like now, we will be more defensive and hold more cash.

At other times we will hold less cash and invest more in good opportunities, as they present.

It is this flexible and prudent approach that has seen the Future Fund perform well since it was established. It’s why the Future Fund has grown strongly and it’s why the Future Fund was recognised as Sovereign Investor of the Year for 2016.


For more information contact:

Will Hetherton
Head of Public Affairs
+61 (0) 3 8656 6400
+61 (0) 439 016 678

Jennifer Dearn
Public Affairs Adviser
Future Fund Future Fund
+61 (0) 3 8656 6400
+61 (0) 439 181 153