Superannuation funds, like all investors, experience investment challenges. From the threat of a global recession to high inflation, and normalising interest rates, volatility is perhaps a super fund’s only constant.

National income risks, relatively high retail spending – despite rising interest rates – and high commercial property vacancy rates, all contribute to challenging macroeconomic conditions.

Super funds deal with these challenges within a highly regulated environment which penalises underperformance, while catering for the investment needs of fund members who typically remain invested for decades at a time.

As a result, it is no surprise to see the super industry sharpen the focus of its equity portfolios on growth expectations, as earnings volatility rises amid a period of uncertainty.

The current level of macroeconomic volatility is ushering in a new era of normality. Over the last decade, value portfolios have suffered from what we consider to be an image imbalance.

Despite performing well on an earnings basis, and continuing to grow earnings throughout market cycles, value portfolios have remained attractively priced, in comparison to the extreme pricing of many growth stocks.

Underpinned by a decade of secular stagnation, low energy prices and government stimulus to help support the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, growth stock multiples ballooned throughout 2021 and 2022.

Over the last 15 years (2007 – 2022) however, actual earnings from the growth and value indices of the ASX demonstrate that value portfolios have grown earnings per share to a greater degree than growth portfolios.

As economic winds turn, and growth stock valuations tend to normalise, value is coming back into vogue. Some asset owners are now turning towards companies which can grow earnings without depending on the economic cycle. For some super funds – who collectively hold more than $500 billion in listed Australian equities[1] – we believe these turning winds are an ideal opportunity to reset their local equity portfolios and turn towards sectors where we see good value opportunities.


The first example of which is energy. Energy is a supply constrained industry, and after investment and supply cuts, we believe higher prices are poised to follow. Ultimately, these prices are expected to lead to stronger earnings. The key benefit from an investment perspective though, is that potentially all of this can happen regardless of the economic outlook.

Woodside and Santos are two companies that we believe are well placed to benefit from this dynamic. Liquified natural gas (LNG) demand has at least three decades of structural growth as Asia increases its use of gas to lessen the current dominance of coal in the energy mix. The better supply and demand dynamics are being reflected in the pricing of long-term LNG contracts which have improved compared to pre-COVID-19 levels.

This means LNG suppliers should receive better revenues at any given level of oil prices. Australia’s freight advantage compared to other exporters such as the US and Qatar into Asia is another positive for the local sector.


The second example is insurance. After a strong premium cycle, insurers look attractive to us from a value perspective. Premiums are the strongest driver of insurance earnings, and profit growth typically follows premium growth.

We believe, QBE will be a beneficiary of this dynamic. The company has seen solid positive momentum in earnings estimates as the strong premium growth begins to translate into profits. We expect this dynamic to continue in the near term. Positively, premium momentum remains strong, and the very modest valuation of the company suggests to us that a strong earnings outlook is not priced into the shares.


At a stock-specific level, there are several opportunities to consider.

Australia’s leading automotive parts provider, Bapcor, is hard-at-work running a cost-efficiency program to support earnings growth, in an industry which usually maintains demand right across the economic cycle.

Monadelphous, the ASX-listed engineering group set to build new lithium and copper mines to meet rising international demand for Australia’s critical minerals, is in our view another example. Regardless of Australia’s economic conditions, we consider demand for both minerals should remain high as the world positions for a transition to clean energy.

Businesses with resilience to global supply chain issues are also worth consideration. Collins Food, the largest operator of KFC franchises in Australia, is managing the impact of chicken and French fry cost-inflation it suffered throughout 2022 and we expect this year will return to normal margins.

Collins is also the benefactor of consumers’ familiarity with such a well-known brand in KFC – throughout previous economic downturns, demand has held up, demonstrating the business’ resilience to macro influences. It will soon also begin scaling its European business, which is expected to improve margins further.

Fundamentally, we believe long-term equity portfolio outperformance should be driven by earnings growth, rather than expanding multiples, which tend to cater to the return expectations of short-term investors.

Growth stock multiples still sit at 50 per cent over their long-term median, though we expect will continue to normalise over time, which can prove powerful in terms of relative returns for value and growth portfolios. Value portfolios, meanwhile, are expected to grow earnings owned by investors faster than indices overall and growth portfolios.

Unlike in the past decade, when this has been eclipsed by an extended bull market and elevated multiples, the earnings anomaly is likely becoming very apparent as multiples return to their historical median.

As we move into a new investment regime, it is likely that volatility and uncertainty will continue.

Not only is there considerable geopolitical tension, but companies are being challenged by higher cost of capital and price pressures from supply chains and natural resources. This could result in less stable profits, continued volatility, and muted growth in equity markets for some time to come.

In our view, market returns investors have come to expect from growth stocks are looking less certain. We believe that by adopting a fundamental approach focused on strong and stable core earnings, investors are likely to be rewarded.


12 July 2023. Lazard Asset Management Pacific Co ABN 13 064 523 619 AFSL 238432.  This article contains general information only and does not take account of an investor’s individual objectives, financial situation or needs. Investors should get professional advice as to whether such an investment is appropriate having regard to their particular investment needs, objectives and financial circumstances before investing.

The sectors and securities referred to in this article are not necessarily held by Lazard for all client portfolios, and should not be considered a recommendation or solicitation to purchase or sell the security. It should not be assumed that any investment in the sector or security was, or will be, profitable. This content represents the views of the author(s), and its conclusions may vary from those held elsewhere within Lazard Asset Management. Lazard is committed to giving our investment professionals the autonomy to develop their own investment views, which are informed by a robust exchange of ideas throughout the firm.

Certain information contained herein constitutes “forward-looking statements” which can be identified by the use of words such as “may,” “will,” “should,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “target,” or “believe,” or the negatives thereof or comparable terminology. Due to various risks and uncertainties, actual events may differ materially from those reflected or contemplated in such forward-looking statements.

[1] APRA Quarterly superannuation performance statistics highlights March 2023