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Self Managed Super Fund (SMSF) Article
It will all come out in the wash sales

By Tony Negline.

This article may be out of date.

21st October 2009

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A "wash sale" is a term used to describe the quick sale and purchase of the same, or very similar, asset.

Early last year the Tax Office released a Ruling (TR 2008/1) which revealed how it might treat these types of transactions under the income tax anti-avoidance penalty laws.

Some common super fund transactions might be unwittingly caught by this ATO announcement.

A wash sale is an American term which first appeared in the 1850s and in the US buy and sell arrangements that occur during a 30 day period are not allowed.

What does the Australian Tax Office mean by wash sale?  The ATO's ruling says that it is the sale and purchase of an asset where these two transactions cancel each other out so that there is no effective change in the economic exposure of the owner to the asset.  It is interested in sell and buy transactions that occur over a "short period of time" without defining a specific time-frame.

In the ATO ruling it says it will look unfavourably at transactions or arrangements that create a tax loss which deliver a tax benefit that would ordinarily not be available.

TR 2008/1 contains eleven different arrangements which may cause problems:

Many of these arrangements impact on what are common Self Managed Super Fund strategies and transactions.

For example in-specie contributions are potentially impacted because a SMSF member is by definition a beneficiary of that trust and is also a trustee.  Also disposing of assets to make benefit payments is also potentially covered because it might be seen to represent a significant overlap of individuals.

Assume a SMSF owns BHP Billiton shares and decides to sell them at a loss and purchase RIO Tinto shares.  Are these two international mining conglomerates considered to be "substantially the same"?  Similarly are two Australian share managed funds "substantially the same".  The short answer is no.

Note that the ATO are saying that only those arrangements which create a loss are potentially called wash sales and hence may be subject to the anti-avoidance rules which would strip away all tax benefits of a transaction.  However if there are "demonstrable non-tax advantages" then the dominant purpose of a transaction may not be the loss created by the tax benefit.

Let's consider the following example.  The M&D super fund owns shares in the XYZ company which it purchased for $95 per share.  Assume the company is now trading at $55 per share.  The M&D super fund trustees still like the XYZ company and think it will one day trade higher than their fund's original purchase price.  But they decide now is a good time to reduce their future capital gain and sell their shares for $55 – thereby giving their super fund a handy capital loss – and to repurchase the shares back as soon as possible at a similar price.

Or lets take a slightly different example.  Suppose I own shares in a company listed on the ASX which I purchase for $2 each several years ago and it has recently been placed into liquidation.  Subsequent to this the liquidator publishes a report which tells shareholders they are unlikely to receive anything for their shares after all secured creditors have been paid.

Assume I make an in specie contribution of those shares to my super fund.  The market value of those shares is probably worthless which means a contribution of no value has been made.  After the contribution has been made I receive a capital loss.

Unfortunately none of the examples discussed in the ATO's Ruling deal with superannuation or Self Managed Super Funds in particular.

Investors looking for certainty should consider obtaining a Private Binding Ruling on the tax aspects of any questionable transaction before proceeding.

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