Negative gearing exposing Australia’s poor: KPMG

From Financial Standard.

KPMG warns any increase in Australia’s historically low interest rates would cause serious economic problems and affect households across the entire financial spectrum, from rich to poor.

The industry consultant said one of its biggest concerns is that Australian households have progressively increased debt levels at rates faster than their disposable incomes have grown.

Most notably, KPMG economists highlight some of Australia’s poorest citizens are taking on negatively geared property investments when there’s a clear inability to manage the financial risks.

Analysing the incomes and spending of Australian households over the past 20 years, KPMG said household income has primarily grown because of investment income and government transfers, not rising wages and salaries.

The firm added that more than one-third of the income of the poorest 20% of Australian households is received through government transfers.

Its report finds the bottom 20% of households recorded the highest rate of growth in investment income, at 8.5% per annum, compared to an average of 2.3% over the past decade for other households.

KPMG Australia chief economist Brendan Rynne said: “While it is perhaps understandable that the poorest members of our society want to diversify and increase their incomes, this group is the least able to take on the financial risk associated with geared investment activity.”

The second 20% of lowest-income households, or those slightly better-off, are getting relatively more than the lowest bracket in terms of (government) dollar transfers received per dollar tax paid. KPMG said this suggests policies to deliver welfare to the poorest members of society are less effective than to slightly better-off recipients.

“The proportion of households that end up paying no net tax – but via an administratively costly money-go-round of paying income tax and then getting it all or more sum back via income support payments, has now reached 60%,” Rynne said.

He says the answer is not further ratcheting up marginal tax rates for higher tax earners.

“Our analysis shows that the top 20% of households already pays 50% more income tax than the bottom 80% combined,” he said.

Federal government may cap number of investment properties

From The Real Estate Conversation.

The federal government is considering limiting the number of properties investors can buy, as it struggles with ways it can reign in property prices in booming markets only a few weeks out from the May budget.

According to an article in The Australian Financial Review, the government is looking at ways it can cap the value of tax breaks for property investment as it tackles housing affordability problems, which vary widely around the country.

Since 2012-2013, there has been a 9.2% increase in the number of property investors that own five or more properties, according to The Guardian’s analysis of recent Australia Tax Office data.

The federal government has ruled out getting rid of negative gearing according to Labor’s policy, and has indicated that it will consider more ‘surgical’ measures.

The government appears to have moved away from an earlier idea to allow first-home buyers to access their superannuation funds to accumulate enough money for a deposit.

Malcolm Gunning, president of the Real Estate Institute of Australia, told SCHWARTZWILLIAMS the percentage of investors in the market that own three or more investment properties is only very small, and therefore capping the number of properties those investors can own is only “clipping around the edges”.

Gunning said capping the number of properties investors could own would mainly be “political posturing”, and warned it could decrease the supply of new properties coming onto the market, which in turn could cause rents to rise.

“It’s a balancing act,” said Gunning.

Negative Gearing In Action

The ATO released their summary FY15 data this week, and included quite comprehensive summaries of the range of costs those with rental properties have offset income. They also divide rentals into those functioning at a loss, and those who make a profit.

Of the 2.9 million rentals, 1.1 million made a profit, the rest a loss (which can be offset against other categories of income). That means 60% of rentals are under water.

We can also see the categories of costs claimed and the average amounts. Not all households claim all categories.

Significantly, the major factor between loss and profit is the interest amount. Those reporting a loss had bigger interest payments (presumably larger loans?). But it is also worth looking at the 20 categories (yes 20!!) which can be claimed. Behold the wonders of our generous tax system, and the reason why so many do not want it to stop.

More On Negative Gearing Distribution – The Wealthy Benefit The Most

Last week we discussed data from our core market model on negative gearing, and using our segmentation demonstrated that some, and more wealthy segments, benefit the most.  There is room to trim the excesses, without necessarily removing gearing overall.

Today we look at another perspective, which supports this argument. We estimate that 61.7% of households with investment property are negatively geared – this has been rising significantly, as investment property penetration as risen.  Around 2.4 million households hold investment property, but not all is mortgaged or geared.

The first chart shows the value of investment property mortgages mapped to the value bands of investment property held. The orange area are households who negatively gear, the blue those who do not. This shows that the larger value portfolios have more gearing, and therefore get the greater tax benefits.  Note also the small, but important peak in portfolio values above $2m. We are seeing the rise in the “professional” investor class, or Portfolio Investors as we call them.

Another way to look at the value distribution is by the number of properties held in the investment portfolio. Again the orange area is property negatively geared, the blue, not geared.  We see a significant spike in gearing above 5 properties, as well an an expected strong distribution in one or two properties. Our modelling shows around 79% of households have one or two properties.

The overall costs of negative gearing and capital gains tax concessions are an estimated $7.7 billion annually, and three-quarters of the capital gains tax concessions are enjoyed by the top 10 per cent of income earners.

So, in our view, the Government should be looking to curtail the gearing available to multiple property holders, and limit the total amount which can be geared. Those two simple measures would take heat out of the market, reduce the tax burden and still allow “mum and dad” investors to benefit.

A categorical “NO” to negative gearing reform is a major mistake. Treasurer, please note! As it stands, as mortgage rates rise, and investment loans will bear the brunt of these rises, actually the poor tax payer pays for this, insulating geared investors from the extra costs. Treasury should be modelling the extra impost this will be on the budget.


Investor Property Footprints And Negative Gearing

The argument trotted out to defend negative gearing from reform is that the bulk of investors are “typical mum and dad” households.

Of course it depends on how you look at the data, but lets look at output from our core market model.

What we have here is the relative VALUE distribution of investment property held by our core household segments, based on marked to market values.  We see that whilst some households in most segments are represented, the relative value is massively skewed towards more wealthy segments. Exclusive Professionals, our most wealthy segment holds 27% of all investment property by value, Mature Stable families hold 18%, Suburban Mainstream 15% and Wealthy Seniors 9%.

Another way to look at the data is through the lens of our property segmentation. Here investor only segments (they have no owner occupied property) hold 33% of investment property. Within that Portfolio Investors who hold multiple properties hold 3% by value. Those holding property but with no plans to move – Holders – have 20% by value, whilst those trading down hold 19%.

When we look at households by employment type, we see that employed workers hold 62% by value, whilst 17% are help by those not working, 10% managers, 9% expert professionals, and 2% by executives.

But if we look at the use of negative gearing, we see that three segments, by value have the largest footprint. Exclusive Professionals have 42% of negatively geared property, Mature Stable Families 27%, and Wealth Seniors 14%. Other segments are much less likely to negatively gear.

Looking again by Property Segments, Investors and Portfolio Investors have 32% of all negative gearing by value, but other segments also use this technique.

From this we conclude that it is important to separate the holding of an investment property from the use of negative gearing against that property. In fact we think negative gearing is predominately used by more affluent households, and they get the biggest tax breaks as a result, which of course other tax-payers have to subsidise.

There is, in our view, overwhelming evidence that curtailing the excesses in negative gearing (for example, a $ limit) would assist in cooling the market and inject needed cash into the budget.

But as we pointed out the other day, if the political agenda wins out, this just will not happen.

First Scramble the NBN, Now Housing

The AFR reports today that Scott Morrison is advocating increasing supply as the recipe to solve the current housing issues, and is standing firm against a crescendo of calls to curb negative gearing tax breaks (though may be more amenable to capital gains changes).

I was reflecting on the current state of play, given RBA, APRA, ASIC (three members of the Council of Financial Regulators – the Treasury being the fourth) are all underscoring the risks in the housing sector. Investors are in the firing line.  Logically, negative gearing should be curbed.

But then I started to consider the political agenda, and wondered if there are parallels with the second class service the current NBN solution is delivering; at least to me. Essentially, Turnbull wound back Labor’s fibre to the end-point solution by arguing that there was a better, cheaper, quicker way. It became do anything BUT what Labor proposed. The result, in my case at least is a slow, unreliable NBN solution, unable to deliver acceptable bandwidth at peak times, and no upgrade path. The political battle may have been won, but the end outcome is frankly horrid. As a digital business we suffer the result every day! The cabinets on the local street corners (now daubed with tags and grafiti) will be a lasting tangible monument to a politically catalysed outcome.

But, now, are we seeing the same with Negative Gearing changes, which Labor proposed, and which have been opposed by the Government ever since?  Has it become caught in the same trap as the NBN? Had Labor kept it’s power dry, would we have seen changes to negative gearing already?

Could it be that on principle, the Government won’t concede this to Labor, and so will literally go round the houses to avoid changes to negative gearing?

This despite the many calls, from responsible and well informed sources who say that it is the tax breaks which are driving the investment property sector. This is also confirmed in our surveys.

Will the legacy of the unwillingness to tackle such a core element in the landscape cost us a housing crash? As we argued recently, it is looking more likely that we will need a correction to defuse the current heady trends.

But if the needs for a political wins outweighs good policy, it is highly likely we will get the housing equivalent of the NBN. We think Australia deserves better.


Do Investment Property Investors Also Use SMSF’s?

We recently featured our analysis of Portfolio Property Investors, using data from our household surveys. We were subsequently asked whether we could cross correlate property investors and SMSF using our survey data. So today we discuss the relationship between property investors and SMSF.  We were particularly interest in those who hold investment property OUTSIDE a SMSF.

To do this we ran a primary filter across our data to identity households who where property investors, and then looked at what proportion of these property investors also ran a SMSF. We thought this would be interesting, because both investment mechanisms are tax efficient investment options.  Do households use both? If so, which ones?

We found on average, around 13% of property investors also have a self managed super fund (SMSF). Households in the ACT were most likely to be running both systems (17%), followed by NSW (14%) and VIC (12.8%).

Older households working full time were more likely to have both an SMSF and Investment Property, but we also noted a small number of younger households were also using both tax shelters.

We found a significant correlation between income bands and use of SMSF among investment property holders (this does not tell you about the relative number of households across the income bands, just their relative mix). Up to 30% of higher income banded households have both a SMSF and Investment Property.

Finally, we look across our master household segments. These segments are the most powerful way to understand how different household groups are behaving.  The most affluent groups tend to hold both investment property and SMSF – for example, 30% of the Exclusive Professional segment has both.  Less affluent households were much less likely to run a a SMSF.

This shows that more affluent households are more able and willing to use both investment tax shelter structures. It also shows that any review of the use of negative gearing, investment properties and the like, needs to be looked at in the context of overall tax planning. Given the new limits on superannuation withdrawals, we expect to see a further rotation towards investment property, which as we already explained has a remarkable array of tax breaks and incentives. We expect the number of Portfolio Property Investors to continue to rise whilst the current generous settings exist.

The Rise and Rise of Portfolio Investment Property Households

The number of Property Investing households in Australia in rising. Today we look specifically at the fastest growing segment – Portfolio Property Investors.

This sector, though highly leveraged, is enjoying strong returns from property investing, are benefiting from generous tax breaks and many are expecting to purchase more property this year. However, we think there are some potential clouds on the horizon, and that the risks linked to this segment are higher than many believe to be true. Our latest Video Blog post discusses the findings from our research.

The investment property sector is hot at the moment, with around 1.5 million borrowing households now holding investment property and the number of investment loans is the rise. In December according to the RBA, investment loans grew at 0.8%, twice as fast as owner occupied loans, and around 36% of all loans are for investment purposes.

But not all property investors are created equal. Using data from our large scale household surveys, we have looked in detail at those who hold multiple investment properties.

These Portfolio Investors have become a significant force in the market. For example, in November about twenty per cent of transactions were from portfolio investors – or about six thousand transactions. Whilst overall investment loans grew at 0.8%, there was an estimated 4% increase in transactions from Portfolio Investors.

If we plot the overall loan growth trends against the proportion who are Portfolio Investors, we see a that since late 2015, it is these Portfolio Investors who have been driving the market. In addition, more than half of these transactions are in New South Wales, which is the property investor honeypot.

Many Portfolio Investors will have three or four properties, though some have more than twenty and the average is about eight. Some of these households have taken to property investment as a full-time occupation, others see it as their main wealth building strategy.

Property portfolios vary considerably, although we note that there is a tendency to hold a portfolio of lower value property – such as would be suitable for first time buyers, rather than million dollar homes. This is because the rental income is better aligned to the value of the property, and there is more demand from renters, and greater supply.

About half of portfolio investors prefer to buy newly build high-rise apartments, whilst others prefer to purchase a property requiring renovation, because they believe renovation is the key to greater capital appreciation in the long run, even if rental income is foregone near term.

Property Investors are able to get a number of tax breaks, especially if negatively geared. They are able to offset both capital costs by way of adjustments to the capital value on resale and recurring costs, which are offset against income.

Together negative gearing and capital gains makes investment property highly tax effective. There is good information on the ATO site which walks through all the benefits, but in summary you can claim:

In terms of financing, you can also claim:

  • stamp duty charged on the mortgage
  • loan establishment fees
  • title search fees charged by your lender
  • costs (including solicitors’ fees) for preparing and filing mortgage documents
  • mortgage broker fees
  • fees for a valuation required for loan approval
  • lender’s mortgage insurance, which is insurance taken out by the lender and billed to you.

Stamp duty and legal expenses can be claimed as capital expenses.

Given the strong capital appreciation we have seen in property values, especially down the east coast, portfolio investors are less concerned about rental incomes than capital values. Indeed, in recently published research we showed that about half of investment property holders were losing money in cash flow terms – but significantly, portfolio investors were on average doing better.

But these capital gains are now being crystallised by sassy portfolio investors.

If we chart the proportion of portfolio investors who have sold an investment property, to buy another property, it has moved up from 5% in 2012, to 11% in 2016. These transaction means they are able to release net equity for future transactions, and offset capital costs in the process. Once again, portfolio investors in NSW are most likely to churn a property.

Our surveys also show portfolio investors are most likely to transact again in 2017, are most bullish on future home price growth, and will have multiple investment mortgages.

Significantly, many portfolio investors are using equity from one investment property to fund the next, and are reliant on rental income to service the mortgage. They often have multiple mortgages with different lenders. In addition, we found that many portfolio investors are using interest only loans, to keep loan servicing to a minimum and interest charges as high as possible for tax offset purposes.

So long as property prices continue to rise, this highly-leveraged edifice will continue to generate high returns, which are, after tax, better than cash deposits or the share market. Of course the world would change if interest rates started to rise, capital values fell, or the banks clamped down on interest only loans. Overall, we think there are more risks in this sector of the market than are generally recognised.

In addition, we think there is a case to look harder at the tax breaks available to portfolio investors, and suggest that a cap on the number of properties, or value which can be so leverage should be considered. This is because as property values rise, tax-payers end up subsidising portfolio investors more than ever.

So, in summary, our analysis shows the market is being severely distorted, making homes less affordable, and shutting out many owner occupied purchasers who cannot compete. Risks are building, but meantime Property Portfolio Investors are having a field day!




Negative gearing: the debate that won’t go away

From The Real Estate Conversation.

Should the government be incentivising investors to buy unlimited numbers of properties, while first-home buyers can’t get a foothold in the market?

This is the debate that won’t go away, as house prices on the east coast ratchet higher, and the percentage of first-home buyers in the market languishes at historic lows. Investor demand, on the other hand, is strong.

From the electorate’s point of view, Labor’s election pitch to slash negative gearing is the only serious government policy designed to combat housing affordability.

Malcolm Turnbull reiterated his election stance this morning on radio 3AW, saying the only way to improve housing affordability is to increase supply.

But new supply has been coming onstream in record numbers, and affordability has continued to deteriorate.

Sydney Liberal MP John Alexander, who chaired a government inquiry­ into home ownership, told The Australian there needs to be a debate on negative gearing to make sure the government is employing the best policies.

Alexander proposes that tax concessions could be adjusted, rather than eliminated altogether.

“It is not saying negative gearing is in or out, it is saying that it’s a very dynamic tool that could be very finely calibrated,” Alexander told The Australian.

The member for Canning, Andrew Hastie, said housing ­affordability is a “moral issue” that is threatening the fabric of society. He said the government needs to examine the situation carefully, to understand exactly what the problems are. He told The Australian, “if that (the problem) includes negative gearing then we should make changes.”