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Court case highlights uncertainty of tax on selling shares

Court case highlights uncertainty of tax on selling shares
By Adrian Flores
10 March 2020 — 1 minute read

A law firm has highlighted a recent court case that has put into focus the uncertainty of whether amounts received from an isolated transaction are taxable on revenue or capital account.

According to a blog from Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers (CGW), partner Fletch Heinemann said the Full Federal Court’s recent decision in Greig v Commissioner of Taxation addressed the question of whether significant share trading losses were deductible because they were either incurred in carrying out a profit-making undertaking or were necessarily incurred in carrying on a business of dealing in the particular shares.

In its decision, the Federal Court found that the losses were on capital account, noting that although the taxpayer had a profit-making intention when acquiring the shares, they were not acquired in a “business operation or commercial transaction”.


Further, the majority of the Full Federal Court, “after much hesitation”, allowed the taxpayer’s appeal, finding that the losses were on revenue account.

Mr Heinemann said the gains from the mere realisation or change of an investment are not ordinary income; however, a profit derived (or loss incurred) by a taxpayer in carrying out a business or profit-making undertaking will be on revenue account, with a gain or loss arising from a profit-making undertaking if:

  1. the taxpayer’s intention or purpose in entering into the transaction was to make a profit or gain; and
  2. the transaction was entered into in carrying out a “business operation or commercial transaction”.

Even though the court acknowledged that an ordinary private investor may not have the same knowledge and experience as the taxpayer in this case, Mr Heinemann said less sophisticated taxpayers who acquire investments such as shares or property in a systematic and business-like manner are at greater risk of having any gains from the investment taxed on revenue account.

“The risk is heightened where the shares are expected to be sold for a profit, without any intention of dividend yields or long-term capital growth,” Mr Heinemann said.

“Taxpayers and advisers should remember that the mere realisation of an asset to the best advantage does not constitute a profit-making undertaking. In each case, the question is whether the taxpayer had a profit-making intention and whether the taxpayer’s activities were the kinds of things a ‘business person’ would do in acquiring assets to obtain a profit on their sale.”

Adrian Flores

Adrian Flores

Adrian Flores is the deputy editor of SMSF Adviser. Before that, he was the features editor for ifa (Independent Financial Adviser), InvestorDaily, Risk Adviser, Fintech Business and Adviser Innovation.

You can email Adrian at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Court case highlights uncertainty of tax on selling shares
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