Apr 14, 2014

Chop negative gearing and there’s savings for buyers and the budget

Negative gearing is costing the government billions but is doing absolutely nothing to boost supply. Let's get rid of it, writes economist and MacroBusiness commentator Leith van Onselen.

As we approach the federal budget witching hour, reports have emerged over the past week that the government is seriously considering reforming Australia’s negative gearing rules, by grandfathering arrangements for existing investors and potentially only allowing negative gearing on newly constructed dwellings. Reforms of this nature would be a wonderful development, not just for housing affordability, but also the budget. According to the Grattan Institute, quarantining negative gearing losses would save the budget around $4 billion per year initially, falling to a saving of around $2 billion per year over the longer term. It would also remove some speculative demand from the housing market, taking the pressure off prices, improving housing affordability and increasing the rate of home ownership. The Housing Industry Association's claim that the removal of negative gearing would reduce the supply of rental affordability is also complete bunkum. Reserve Bank of Australia data clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of investors -- almost 95% -- buy pre-existing dwellings, not newly built dwellings, and that the proportion of investors buying new dwellings has fallen spectacularly since negative gearing was re-introduced in September 1987 ...

Moreover, the amount of investor funds going into new housing has barely shifted in 25 years, whereas investment in pre-existing dwellings has skyrocketed ...

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17 thoughts on “Chop negative gearing and there’s savings for buyers and the budget

  1. Hazel

    Seriously, now why would anyone in their right mind without NG invest hundreds of thousands of their dollars in an asset which becomes the sole preserve of someone else for months at a time and in that time that vulnerable indeed perishable asset becomes worn and very often deliberately damaged? Let’s see what happens – investors will rightly withdraw, and tenants will be the ones suffering. Housing is a different kettle of fish to other investments and NG is simply a govt housing subsidy. Either way the govt goes, they will have to subsidize housing. So keep the status quo.

  2. zut alors

    Negative gearing is a taxpayer-funded rort which every federal treasurer including, and since, Keating has lacked the guts to kill off.

  3. Gavin R. Putland

    Hazel studiously avoids mentioning the possibility of allowing negative gearing for new homes only. So does the HIA. Defenders of the status quo cannot afford to mention this proposal, because it calls their bluff by making negative gearing do what they say it does.

  4. The Hood


    I think you missed the main point of the article NG investors dont add to supply, they just add to demand. Investors would presumably still be eligible for depreciation allowances on their investment to handle wear and tear.

  5. Student T

    Negative gearing is not a subsidy or a rort at all. If you lose money on an investment you should be able to deduct it from you taxable income. Because this represents how much money you made that year. And we tax according to our means, not according to some stereotype of the evil landlord. What IS strange is that you cannot do it with other investments, like shares.

  6. Gavin R. Putland

    Student T:

    We don’t pay tax according to our means or according to some stereotype of the evil landlord. We pay tax according to the stereotype of the evil undeserving WORKER: the cost of commuting to work reduces your means and is a cost of earning your wage, but is NOT deductible against your wage for tax purposes; but a current loss on a rental property IS deductible against your wage although it is NOT a cost of earning your wage.

    Another influential stereotype is that of the evil undeserving business operator: if you want to deduct a business loss against the wages of your day job, you will need to jump through far more hoops than if you want to deduct a loss on a rental property.

    This blatant discrimination in favour of property investors against workers and business operators looks like a rort to me.

    And by the way, you CAN claim negative gearing on shares. But we don’t hear so much about that, because shares, unlike housing, are not a necessity of life, and because the acquisition of shares is less likely to be debt-funded than the acquisition of real estate.

  7. Clinton Fillipou

    NG is not a “benefit” of investment property ownership. It is an acknowledgement that this investment class, like others, involves various costs like loan costs, repair costs, maintenance and management costs, etc. Being able to reduce the total amount of your income against the amount your income generating assets have cost you in losses is not just common sense, it is entirely reasonable. Stereotypes are fascinating to consider and dismiss, but so are generalisations about the rationality or otherwise of the market and its participants. In short, property is a very, very different asset and investment class to shares, and the comparison that is frequently made is fundamentally flawed. Emotion, anger, frustration, all come into play. So unfortunately, does stupidity and ignorance. This article by Van Onselen is typically imbalanced and again, does not provide any clarity for the readers around the reasoning for retention of NG, either historically or currently. All it does is feed into the same alarmist fear-mongering that all such articles do. You know the ones, about the “affordability crisis” and greedy property investors keeping young people from being able to buy amazing houses in phenomenal areas at 1960s prices. Gavin, your discussion of “wages” is lacking, and it is inconsistent with how a business owner’s business income is considered. Comparing the cost of maintaining a property investment with the cost of a worker catching the train to work is so frighteningly silly that it makes me laugh. The more accurate comparison is of course to a worker who spends money on a computer that they use for income generation purposes. Of course, that cost IS claimable against their income, unlike train fare. A business claiming a business cost/loss is an acceptable course of action, and it is comparably actually very easy. Why then should a loss made on a property “business” not be validly claimable by a property investor? It is very simple but people hear the words “negative gearing” and treat it as if it is some entirely unique consideration that property investors enjoy that no other income earner enjoys, which of course is rubbish. In addition, when looking at the actual figures (not the ones in this article) it is also clearly apparent that the actual quantum of NG benefits enjoyed by each investor is negligible as a function of the overall debt level of each investor. If anything, NG is a short term sweetener or a pressure release (like claimable, deductible business expenses are for business owners) and it is not, of itself, the sole reason for investors to invest. If it is, investors are certainly “doing it wrong”. If it is a long term part of an investor’s strategy, they are also “doing it wrong”. This ridiculous article from van Onselen implies that removal of NG “benefits” will stop all investors getting involved in property entirely, which is absolute rubbish. Some dumber or less experienced investors may see it as less attractive, but they will just be replaced by others with different financial situations or different risk appetites. And in any event, would it be a fairer and more equitable tax system? No, of course not. Would it appease the stupid and gullible? Probably.

  8. Scott

    The graphs aren’t really reflective of what is going on here. At the end of the day, there is always more existing housing stock than there are new housing so the investment is always going to be higher in the secondary market.

    As for the negative gearing question, well there will be changes (hence all these stories coming out). What they will be is hard to say. I would think that they might cap the amount of deduction claimed (or change some of the depreciation rules to minimise the ability to use depreciation expense for 40 years, as is currently the case now). Interest deduction is a tricky one as the same rules apply for shares as well (which I’m sure the government doesn’t want to touch)

    But for mine, the biggest rort is the one which sees people move into their investment property when they buy, and then rent it out later. By doing this, the investor gets potentially 6 years of happy negative gearing and no Capital gains action when the sale eventually occurs (it is no surprise that most investment properties are only kept for less than 5 years).
    So when the sale happens,it becomes effectively tax free (even after reducing the cost base by claiming depreciation and capital works etc).

    Get rid of that loophole, by saying that you have to reduce the cost base for any rentals at all on the property, and you might remove a lot of the angst here.

  9. AR

    NEWS FLASH!!~ Negative gearing & home vendors Bonus increase house oprices beyond reason, reduce affordable owner occupation AND rental. Lose-Lose-Loser

  10. zut alors

    How many voters negatively gear? How many voters are approaching retirement age? I’m guessing the latter will have more impact at the ballot box.

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