Squeezing the top could hurt the middle

High-income earners and possibly those with large superannuation balances - frequently referred to as the 1 per cent - may well have to rethink their personal finances if the federal government tinkers sufficiently with super in the upcoming budget.

High-income earners and possibly those with large superannuation balances - frequently referred to as the 1 per cent - may well have to rethink their personal finances if the federal government tinkers sufficiently with super in the upcoming budget.

There is no doubt that the government plans to claw back some revenue via a change in superannuation tax treatment.

And there seems to be uniformity among the pre-budget leaks that one area up for grabs is the 15 per cent concessional rate at which contributions, over the 9 per cent paid in from employers, are taxed.

This will affect many more than the top 1 per cent as plenty of Australians make top-up contributions. But it could provide some juicy revenue for the government without, critically, annoying its heartland voters.

While limiting or eliminating concessions on super contributions would be politically unpopular the real sleeper would be an attempt to change the 15 per cent tax on earnings inside super funds.

Budget leaks on this possibility are not so firm - the idea is no certainty. But the impact of such a move is sufficiently great that high-income earners would have to think twice about topping up their super until there was budget clarity.

If the government decides to increase the tax on income inside superannuation it could be done only on larger balances - and may not be applied to lower income or even middle income earners with lower balances.

One effect of an increase on the tax rate of income in super funds would be that funds would be diverted into investments that still attract some tax benefits.

The most obvious is the franked dividend. Whether inside or outside the umbrella of superannuation, listed shares that provide fully franked earnings have the potential to be far more attractive.

This is because those investments which do not deliver tax free income in super funds, like bank interest, would benefit from the franking credits on shares by offsetting more of the higher tax rate.

This could have the impact of further pushing up the prices of high yielding fully franked shares.

The downside to investing on yield, which is a function of dividend over share price, is the share price could be low because of the high risk associated with future earnings.

Among the high yielding stocks are some of the more risky plays such as Myer, David Jones, Pacific Brands, Specialty Fashion Group and Tabcorp. But there are also a group of stocks with less volatile earnings that sit among the high yielders. The top 30 with fully franked earnings include Telstra and the big four banks.

Those at the very top of the wealth pile can put up to an additional $450,000 over three years into superannuation - but this doesn't attract any concessional tax rate.

The government could ratchet down this amount. There is no real political downside in damaging the top 1 per cent of earners who could ultimately abandon superannuation. The mere and constant threat of unfavourable changes to the tax treatment has already seen a reluctance by some high income earners to put fresh funds into superannuation.

An adviser with an investment bank that specialises in the affairs of wealthy individuals told me his firm had been telling clients for years to avoid saving via super and structure their affairs around trusts.

The problem with attempting to target the highest income earners is that they will find more tax-effective ways to invest. Middle income earners who do not have million dollar super balances may end up being collateral damage.

It is early days in the Peter Slipper affair, sufficiently so that it is hard to get a sense of whether Andrew Wilkie's attempt this week to re-invigorate his plan around pre-commitments to gambling will find any support with either the government or the opposition.

But it will be worth keeping a bit of a watching brief on those companies that would be affected by a Wilkie win. James Packer's Crown was very active in lobbying against Wilkie. Crown's Melbourne and Perth casinos would be negatively affected.

It is one issue on which Packer would be in agreement with the board of Echo Entertainment, whose earnings could also take a hit. It has casinos containing pokies at the Star in Sydney and Jupiters in Queensland.

Woolworths has a huge number of machines in its Victorian pub business - thanks to winning the gaming licence in that state from Tatts and Tabcorp.

Aristocrat could be a short term beneficiary if Wilkie was successful as many poker machines would need to be replaced.

There are plenty of moves left in the game of political chess being played thanks to the allegations against Slipper. Wilkie is back in the game but it remains to be seen whether he can extract a win.

Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?

Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.

Sign up for free

Join the Conversation...

There are comments posted so far.

If you'd like to join this conversation, please login or sign up here

Related Articles