I'm nervous about the financial markets. Is a crash coming? Maybe this year, maybe next - who knows.

But one thing, it's too late when it's happening. Which means, if you're an investor, you've got to make the call to get out beforehand while the market's still going up.

I'll always remember my 5th form economics teacher talking in class days after the 1987 sharemarket crash. She said she'd sold all her shares a year earlier, convinced that the market was overvalued and was going to fall. I was impressed.

Thirty years later, and my family has $32,423 and 80 cents invested internationally and in New Zealand, mostly in shares. It's a very diverse portfolio, to limit risk. But I'm still nervous.


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What if a 1987-style crash wiped out a big chunk of this money? Globally, private and public debt is at astronomical levels, oil prices and interest rates are heading upwards, the Eurozone could implode if Italy defaults on its sovereign debt, and Winston Peters is the Prime Minister.

Perhaps you should be nervous too, because that $32,423 and 80 cents is our family's share of the New Zealand Super Fund, currently valued at $38.5 billion. Each person living in New Zealand has an $8105.95 stake.

It doesn't quite work like that of course, but, still, we have a common interest in this money. It's collectively ours. The Super Fund is receiving taxpayer contributions again, after being suspended by the National government.

Since being established in 2002, the fund has done very well. Its average return has been 10 per cent per year. This growth has coincided with the longest bull run experienced by world sharemarkets in the history of capitalism.

It's because the fund has done so well, particularly in recent years, that I'm so nervous. The growth is out of step with the fundamentals of the global economy, which suggests there's a lot of unjustified optimism around, as there was in 1987.

The issue of risk aside, when is this money going to be used? Not until 2032 is the current plan when it will be used to offset the cost of superannuation for the over 65s (or whatever the retirement age might be by then).

But isn't there a case for some of the money to be spent now? On schools, hospitals, prisons, roads, railway lines and houses that are literally falling apart.

NZ Superannuation Fund architect Sir Michael Cullen. Founded in 2001 , the fund is now worth $38.5 billion. Photo/File
NZ Superannuation Fund architect Sir Michael Cullen. Founded in 2001 , the fund is now worth $38.5 billion. Photo/File

If the $38.5 billion was counted in the Government's asset ledger (as some argue it should) then suddenly a $22.2 billion net debt becomes a $16.3 billion surplus, which makes it even more justifiable that we spend now to address child poverty, fix our health and education systems, and build the necessary infrastructure for a post-oil future.

In Norway, there's heated debate about what should be done with their publicly owned fund, the biggest in the world, valued at US$1 trillion. Incredibly, 1.6 per cent of the money invested in global sharemarkets is from this Norwegian fund. Many in Norway are in favour of using the money productively now.

We need to have a similar debate. And in all seriousness, we should consider selling before the Norwegians do, because they'll collapse world markets if they start disinvesting.

I wonder what my old economics teacher would advise?