SA investors in deep denial, should invest 80% offshore

By Janice Roberts

South Africans are daydreaming their way to a poorer future by keeping too great a portion of their investments in South Africa despite massive underperformance of JSE indices, falling real house prices and a future which looks equally bleak for those trying to grow or even just preserve their wealth. 

This is the view of Ian Edwards, partner and Africa regional manager of Austen Morris Associates, a 25 year-old global, independent wealth manager with representation around the world including Europe, China, across Africa, South Africa and soon the US. 

”It’s time for South Africans to invest with heads, not their hearts,” said Edwards. 

“We are advising our clients to invest as much of their money as they can elsewhere in the world. We do not see a single reason why people should keep any discretionary investable funds in the country. 

“People should keep their house and their pension as their only assets here if they live in SA. But the rest should be invested in hard currency assets that will protect their buying power which has already been deeply eroded.” 

South Africa is now in its longest downward business cycle since the end of World War 2 and the performance of its assets continue to reflect this unfortunate reality. 

The Rand has lost a third of its value against the US dollar in the past five years and remains under pressure. Investors in South African equities have lagged developed markets while house prices have increased at less than half the rate of inflation for several years. 

“The S&P 500 for example has delivered a total return of nearly 100% in the past five years, the NASDAQ 147% and even the 10 year Treasury bond a return of 12%. The total return in Rands for the SA general equity market over the same period is just nudging 30% versus a 131% total return of the MSCI World Index, also in Rands. But the SA general equity market return rebased to US dollars is down 13%. Many popular equity funds are also showing negative dollar returns over five years.” 

Edwards said they have seen a sharp uptick in the numbers of clients who are now very worried about the future of South Africa and want to protect their wealth for their families. He added that their clients are typically higher net worth individuals who have made money from their own businesses or have risen to c-suite level in the corporate world. 

Edwards added that despite already being in a recession, South Africa is marching on with plans to expropriate land without compensation while carrying on with an economic and industrial policy which will only make things worse for the country – potentially leading to further rating downgrades, a bailout and sustained high unemployment. 

“South Africans are in a ‘daydreaming denial’ instead of taking hard action. 

“Much of the advice we see out there does not reflect the reality of South Africa today. For instance, it is a long held belief that local investors should hold about 30% of their assets offshore. Some braver souls have advocated for that to be upped to 50%. But being completely independent, we believe it should be 80%, perhaps more if practical. We don’t think people should just close their eyes and keep investing in the local market as they have always done. 

“We are banging the table on this one and saying get your money out.” 

Edwards said that they are advising clients to put money in the US despite many predictions that the market there have run so hard a steep correction is imminent. 

“The US is the most dynamic, innovative economy in the world and represents about 41% of the world’s overall stock market capitalisation. And despite stock price gyrations, for the longer-term investor we think being exposed to many of the world’s best companies is a far better play that investing in the JSE. The JSE does of course have many companies with offshore earnings but it is still an investment in South Africa; the money is still in the country.” 

He added that he also favoured property investment in select cities in Europe such as Barcelona and Berlin which have the potential for capital appreciation and attractive yields of between 6 and 8% from rental income. 

Edwards said that South Africans should of course hold sufficient cash in South African to meet expenses and liabilities and also manage short term liquidity requirements.   

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