Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 231

LICs: Traders versus investors for tax purposes

The introduction of the Future of Financial Advice (FOFA) reforms and the increase in SMSFs has seen listed investment companies (LICs) surge in popularity over recent years. Investors can gain exposure to a diverse portfolio of assets through around 100 LICs listed on the ASX. These LICs can be categorised in various ways, including by their asset class, market cap of investee companies, investment style, and whether they are internally or externally managed.

Not commonly discussed is the distinction between LICs that are deemed by the ATO to be ‘investors’ for tax purposes, versus LICs that are ‘traders’. The key differences between these two types of LICs relate to tax, franking, and dividends.

Investors for tax purposes

Many of Australia’s older LICs are investors for tax purposes. These include AFIC (ASX: AFI), which was established in 1928, and Argo Investments (ASX: ARG), founded in 1946. Investors for tax purposes tend to buy investments and hold them for the medium-to-long term. To maintain their status as an investor for tax purposes, these LICs generally turnover 10% or less of their investment portfolios each year. This type of LIC is typically suited to investment managers with a long-term investment horizon and low portfolio turnover.

For accounting purposes, LICs that are investors for tax purposes record movements in the value of their investment portfolios through the balance sheet, rather than the profit and loss statement.

Tax and franked dividends

The franked dividends these LICs pay shareholders are primarily derived from franked dividends received from the companies in the investment portfolio. These dividends are sometimes called ‘flow through’ dividends. When a LIC which is an investor for tax purposes realises (sells) an investment for a capital profit, the LIC can potentially pay a dividend to shareholders that includes a capital gain component. This is called a LIC capital gain dividend. This allows shareholders to claim the capital gains tax (CGT) discount as though they directly owned and sold the shares in the LIC’s underlying investee company. Over and above the benefit of franking flowing through the cash yield paid by the LIC, the capital gain component can be used to further reduce shareholders’ tax liability.

Traders for tax purposes

Many of the ASX's newer LICs are traders for tax purposes. These include the LICs we manage at Wilson Asset Management, such as WAM Capital (ASX: WAM) and WAM Leaders (ASX: WLE). LICs that are traders for tax purposes typically have higher turnover of their portfolios and are often employed by managers with a more active investment style.

LICs that are traders for tax purposes record mark-to-market movements in the value of their investment portfolios through the profit and loss statement, as opposed to the balance sheet.

Tax and franked dividends

Traders for tax purposes can pay dividends out of profits from realised gains, mark-to-market movements in the value of the investment portfolio and dividend income from investee companies. This increases their ability to pay a steadily-increasing stream of fully franked dividends which is particularly appealing to SMSF investors seeking a consistent yield.

Traders for tax purposes rely predominantly on paying corporate tax on realised gains to generate franking credits to attach to dividends paid to shareholders. These LICs derive some additional franking and dividend income from Australian investee companies in their portfolio.

Summary of key differences

 Investors for tax purposesTraders for tax purposes
TurnoverTypically low turnover of investment portfolio (below 10% p.a.)Higher turnover of investment portfolio
Portfolio movementsMovements in the value of their investment portfolios through the balance sheetMark-to-market movements in the value of their investment portfolios through the profit and loss statement
Franking credits Franking credits primarily generated from investee companiesFranking credits primarily generated by paying corporate tax on realised gains
Sources of dividend paymentsPrimarily derived from dividends received from investee companiesDerived from dividends received from investee companies, realised gains, and mark-to-market movements on the investment portfolio
LIC capital gain dividendCan pay a LIC capital gain dividendCannot pay a LIC capital gain dividend

 

Implications for investors

These different types of LICs provide advantages and disadvantages for shareholders and investment managers alike.

Investors should consider their financial objectives and circumstances, including tax implications of owning shares in each type of LIC. While investors for tax purposes and traders for tax purposes are distinct from one another in some regards, both offer the benefits of the LIC investment structure which make them popular with investors. These benefits include the ability to pay a steadily-increasing stream of fully franked dividends, transparency, accountability, and a closed-end pool of capital allowing the investment manager to make rational investment decisions.

[Register for our free weekly newsletter and receive our latest ebook, Cuffelinks Showcase]

 

Chris Stott is the Chief Investment Officer of Wilson Asset Management. This article is for general information only and does not consider the specific circumstances of any individual.

7 Comments
Richard M
December 15, 2017

How does an intending purchaser of LIC shares determine whether the LIC is a trader for tax purposes or an investor?

Graeme
December 17, 2017

Best bet Richard is to contact the manager and ask them. They may, however, only be able to answer what historically has been the case, hence my questions above.

Simon
December 15, 2017

Good point Tom. If and when we get to the point where there aren't enough profits to pay the dividends, those LICs trading at big premiums to NTA will swing to discounts, thereby inflicting a double whammy hit to shareholders - reduced or no dividend, and big capital erosion. Could end up like the way things panned out for Telstra holders who thought the dividend was bulletproof....

Graeme
December 17, 2017

Simon; Like all shares, the 'price' of a listed fund will usually trade at a premium or discount to its 'value', sometimes large. Even the non-trading ones may trade at a discount, albeit a smaller one, if dividends in general are cut, or even just not expected to grow in a recession. One of the charms of listed funds is to be able to take advantage of this. If you're worried about a "double wammy hit", then buy an unlisted fund.

Tom
December 14, 2017

Thanks Chris - good comparison. So if trading LIC's basically manufacture their yield, how sustainable is that in a market downturn?

Graeme
December 14, 2017

Para. 2 indicates that it is the ATO that determines whether a LIC is a trader or investor for tax purposes. Do they decide this every year based on portfolio turnover for the latest financial year?

WAX was an investor up to and including 2013/14 and has been a trader each year since. Does this mean they have had a higher portfolio turnover for each of the last three years than 2013/14 and prior years? Would WAX be deemed to be to an investor for any low turnover year in the future?

Doug
December 14, 2017

Can you explain how mark to market movements generate franked dividends?
Thanks,
Doug

 

Leave a Comment:

     

RELATED ARTICLES

LIC discounts widening with the market sell-off

Conflicted selling fees are back, and it’s game on

Four ways to invest in the same fund and save money

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

Is it better to rent or own a home under the age pension?

With 62% of Australians aged 65 and over relying at least partially on the age pension, are they better off owning their home or renting? There is an extra pension asset allowance for those not owning a home.

Too many retirees miss out on this valuable super fund benefit

With 700 Australians retiring every day, retirement income solutions are more important than ever. Why do millions of retirees eligible for a more tax-efficient pension account hold money in accumulation?

Is the fossil fuel narrative simply too convenient?

A fund manager argues it is immoral to deny poor countries access to relatively cheap energy from fossil fuels. Wealthy countries must recognise the transition is a multi-decade challenge and continue to invest.

Reece Birtles on selecting stocks for income in retirement

Equity investing comes with volatility that makes many retirees uncomfortable. A focus on income which is less volatile than share prices, and quality companies delivering robust earnings, offers more reassurance.

Superannuation: a 30+ year journey but now stop fiddling

Few people have been closer to superannuation policy over the years than Noel Whittaker, especially when he established his eponymous financial planning business. He takes us on a quick guided tour.

Comparing generations and the nine dimensions of our well-being

Using the nine dimensions of well-being used by the OECD, and dividing Australians into Baby Boomers, Generation Xers or Millennials, it is surprisingly easy to identify the winners and losers for most dimensions.

Latest Updates

Superannuation

Superannuation: a 30+ year journey but now stop fiddling

Few people have been closer to superannuation policy over the years than Noel Whittaker, especially when he established his eponymous financial planning business. He takes us on a quick guided tour.

Survey: share your retirement experiences

All Baby Boomers are now over 55 and many are either in retirement or thinking about a transition from work. But what is retirement like? Is it the golden years or a drag? Do you have tips for making the most of it?

Interviews

Time for value as ‘promise generators’ fail to deliver

A $28 billion global manager still sees far more potential in value than growth stocks, believes energy stocks are undervalued including an Australian company, and describes the need for resilience in investing.

Superannuation

Paul Keating's long-term plans for super and imputation

Paul Keating not only designed compulsory superannuation but in the 30 years since its introduction, he has maintained the rage. Here are highlights of three articles on SG's origins and two more recent interviews.

Fixed interest

On interest rates and credit, do you feel the need for speed?

Central bank support for credit and equity markets is reversing, which has led to wider spreads and higher rates. But what does that mean and is it time to jump at higher rates or do they have some way to go?

Investment strategies

Death notices for the 60/40 portfolio are premature

Pundits have once again declared the death of the 60% stock/40% bond portfolio amid sharp declines in both stock and bond prices. Based on history, balanced portfolios are apt to prove the naysayers wrong, again.

Exchange traded products

ETFs and the eight biggest worries in index investing

Both passive investing and ETFs have withstood criticism as their popularity has grown. They have been blamed for causing bubbles, distorting the market, and concentrating share ownership. Are any of these criticisms valid?

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.