By Scott Murdoch and Byron Kaye
HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australians asked to pull out more than A$5 billion ($3.5 billion) from their pension funds in the first week of July, the highest since the government granted early access to retirement savings to support a coronavirus-hit economy.
Some 511,000 Australians applied to pull up to A$10,000 each from their retirement savings in the first week of the new financial year, government data showed, the highest number of people to do so since the first week the scheme was in operation in April.
Australia announced the six-month emergency scheme, which allows workers to take up to A$20,000 of their superannuation savings over two financial years, in March as part of a broader stimulus package.
The figures take the total amount Australians have applied to withdraw to A$23.3 billion. The government forecast a total of A$27 billion would be pulled from the world’s third-largest pension pool when it first unveiled the scheme.
“The long-term impact of this scheme will be felt for years to come,” said Kirstin Hunter, co-founder at Future Super, which manages A$750 million in retirement savings.
“Superannuation was never intended to be a national relief fund. Australians should not have to dip into their life savings to get through a public health crisis,” she added.
The figures showed nearly a quarter of the country’s 12 million workforce have drawn down their pension savings as Australia’s economy faces its first recession in three decades.
Jane Hume, assistant minister for superannuation, said that tapping retirement early “comes at a cost” but that, for some, “clearly the benefits of having their own money back in their pocket today may outweigh locking it up.”
Fund managers said the cash withdrawal amounted to a small percentage of the country’s A$3 trillion pension pool, but that it was weighing on Australia’s stock market <.AXJO>, down one-sixth since February.
“We think it is likely a factor in why the Australian market has underperformed globally during this period,” said Matthew Ross, managing director of portfolio strategy and quantitative research at Goldman Sachs Australia.
($1 = 1.4397 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)