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Property vs shares: which did better?

The past ten years may have been a great time to be invested in the equity market but residential property delivered better, more steady returns over the longer run, according to a new report.

Comparing the total returns - after fees and including income payments - over the past 10 years to December 2013, Australian shares unsurprisingly led at 9.2 per cent, even after the crash associated with the GFC, according to the latest Russell Investments Long-term Investing Report.

It was closely followed by hedged global shares, which delivered an 8.2 per cent return. Investment property lagged behind at 6.1 per cent, comparable to fixed interest over the same period.

But the results over the past 20 years look quite different: an investment in residential property returned a 9.9 per cent gain, beating both Australian shares at 8.7 per cent and global shares at 8.0 per cent.

In an equivalent report last year, it was shares that trumped property over the two decades. But this was driven by the staggering 45 per cent equity returns in 1993 which dropped out of the picture in the latest analysis.


In addition, over the past 20 years, residential property delivered steady returns, compared to the erratic equity market.

But the dominance of property over shares in the 20-year period is reduced after the tax benefits of the fully-franked dividends provided by Australian listed companies are factored in, Russell's analysis shows.

At the top marginal tax rate, property delivered a 7.5 per cent return over the past 20 years, only just ahead of a 6.9 per cent return for shares. In the 10-year period, shares delivered 7.1 per cent after the top marginal tax rate, compared to only 4.2 per cent for property.

Despite the great long-run returns of Aussie shares, Russell Investment's Tim Cook warned local investors can no longer rely on the "triple treat" which historically worked in their favour – robust equity market, strong currency and booming domestic property market – and look to global shares for diversification.

Last year, with the resources boom in decline and the world's biggest economies emerging from the worst of the global financial crisis, Australian equities underperformed global equities by 9 per cent - and continue to do so in 2014.

A similar case could be made for house prices, which enjoyed a generational surge over the two decades.

"You can't consider Australia the golden child of the global market any more," Mr Cook said.

"Other global markets are coming out of the recovery after the GFC...there is further indication that investors should consider diversifying."