Making the most of tax loss selling

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We are coming into the end of the financial year. This is a good time to assess your capital gains tax situation for the year so far and work out if you have a net capital gain from stocks sold. If so, you should also be looking through the portfolio for any stocks with losses attached that you could sell and crystallise a loss to offset paying any tax on the gains.

You know the stocks, those crappy little holdings you didn’t sell when it was obvious you should sell. Those stocks that you shut your eyes to and hoped against hope they would rebound miraculously … but they kept falling. Those stocks. Those small illiquid cock-ups that shout “Idiot, idiot!” every time you see them in your ‘portfolio’. All those short term trades that became long term ‘investments’. Yes them … the crap.

Now is the time to think about selling them, especially the illiquid ones because by the time everyone else wakes up to their capital gains tax situation in the last two weeks of June these stocks will have been pumped already making your emotional turmoil even harder to squeeze a trade out of. So better you assess and sell now before the bloodbath starts, which it does every year, in every small trading stock that has gone down this year.

Selection is personal

I have had an email asking which stocks are likely to be most affected by tax loss selling, From your point of view, it is simply which stocks are in your portfolio, have not performed well this year and are small and illiquid and likely to get sold off by tax loss sellers. There are no ‘good’ stocks to take a loss on generally … just your own stocks. The stocks to sell are staring you in the face.

I could print you a list of the worst performers this year but it wouldn’t help. It’s personal. What do you hold that you could sell and what do you hold that other people will sell?

The only ‘game’ to play here is as a trader buying stocks that are small illiquid bad performers if they have been pummelled running into the last week of June. Stocks that are trading favourites always have a lot of stale holders. They are killed in June and often resurrect in July. There’s a trade in there for the brave.

Hints for taking a loss

It is one of the hardest things for a broker to convince himself, let alone a novice trader, to take a loss. So to help with the process we have developed arguments to persuade you (they don’t seem to work on ourselves). If you are having trouble taking a loss, not enjoying your trading, are getting emotional and the stock is still in your possession … read this list. You will put the sell order on before you get to the end:

  • If a stock is going down it is far more likely to continue going down than it is to turn on a sixpence to suit you..
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  • The further a stock falls the more intense the selling becomes as higher losses cause more selling decisions, so sell early – an early loss is the smallest loss.
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  • If you sell 10 falling stocks, it will be the right thing to do in nine cases, but you will only remember the other one.
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  • If you sell now, you are no longer exposed, and all you have to do is come to terms with the loss.
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  • If you sell now you can always buy it back – you might even buy it back lower than you sold it.
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  • If you sell now, you enter the eye of the storm and all becomes calm. You have a moment to think and you can watch from a distance. You can always choose to enter the storm again and you will be thinking more clearly and be armed with a plan.
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  • If you are making a loss on a stock, think to yourself … if I had cash would I buy this stock now at this price. If the answer is ‘No’, then why are you holding it? Sell it. Most people begin to ‘hate’ the stocks they lose money in … so this argument always works.
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  • Your state of mind has a value. What would your spouse pay (or you pay) to have you carefree at the weekend instead of ripping the heads off the kids. Look after yourself. There are not that many weekends in the year or your life. Don’t ruin too many of them by keeping risky loss making positions until Monday because you didn’t have the guts to sell them on Friday.
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  • Averaging down is a mug’s game. If you have money to invest you should be putting it in the best investment in the whole world. Do you really think that will be the very same stock you have already bought at a higher price and that is falling at the moment. Very unlikely. You already have an exposure … why do you need more of something that has already proved itself to be a dog. Averaging down is what broker’s advise you to do to distract you from the fact that they have put you in something that has lost you money. The quickest way to become a long term investor is to make a short term trade and get it wrong.
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  • There is no logic in being emotional about losses. Do what most brokers do with their own shareholdings. They have an Excel spreadsheet linked to live prices monitoring all their holdings and what they are worth. At the bottom of the page is a total of what all the holdings are worth now. That clicks over every second all day. Up $500 down $500. This figure is the only truth. This is what the shares are worth. If it’s gone it’s gone. It is no more likely to come back because you paid a higher price. (There are still clients who will tell you they have $50,000 in Telstra when the holding is worth $25,000. They do not have $50,000 in Telstra, they have $25,000).
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  • If in doubt, sell it. It crystallises a capital loss for this tax year. Why wait until the end of the year to take your losses. Taking losses today could set you up for making and taking gains this year. You can always buy it back once you’ve made the sale.

Hopefully you hold good long term stocks and won’t have to take a loss, but when you do, read this again and see if you can get to the bottom of the list before you have put on the order to sell.

 

Marcus Padley is a stockbroker and founder of the Marcus Today share market newsletter. He has been advising institutional clients and a private client base for over 32 years. This article is for general education purposes only and does not address the personal circumstances of any individual, nor does it cover all possible events. Professional advice should be sought before taking any action, including taxation and financial advice.

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3 Responses to Making the most of tax loss selling

  1. Barry June 7, 2015 at 12:25 PM #

    Where’s the copy of his excel spreadsheet :o)

  2. Sue June 5, 2015 at 12:28 PM #

    Thanks for that information about the ATO Damien Erbacher it’s important. I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy it back if it should be sold though as you could find yourself with the same decision on the same stock in 12 months time. I think Marcus is having a joke, not sure though. I like his sense of humour. Selling a losing stock is surely the hardest but it shouldn’t be as this great article shows.

  3. Damien Erbacher June 5, 2015 at 8:02 AM #

    Great article.

    Just a note on the last bullet point “you can always buy it back later”.

    For the cautious amongst us, be aware that the ATO may argue a ‘wash sale’ when you sell an asset to realise a loss, and then buy it back a day or two later. They will deny the capital loss. Have a look at http://law.ato.gov.au/atolaw/view.htm?DocID=TPA/TA20087/NAT/ATO/00001 and the examples they have.

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