Monday, 15 June 2015

Negatively Gearing the Stock Market

This is a guest contribution from Jeremy Kwong-Law

We have a national obsession with property investment in Australia. A key reason is because of the tax benefits of negative gearing. The idea of paying less tax is simply too appealing to most people (who can afford it).

Negative gearing only makes sense if the capital gains on the asset is more than the interest cost. Otherwise paying less tax is really because you are making less money, and losing wealth along the way.

Most people only think of investment property when they think about negative gearing. But there are actually other asset classes where negative gearing can be effective. The stock market is one of those.

Individual stocks are too risky to apply a long term negative gearing strategy. However, index based Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) could be a suitable option. I previously wrote about why ETFs are a better way to achieve a diversified portfolio compared to direct stock holding (here).

With this concept in mind, I tested a $500K investment in the SPDR ASX 200 ETF (STW) using a negative gearing strategy. A $500K negatively geared investment property in Sydney was the comparison case. I selected the SPDR ETF because it is the oldest index ETF listed on the ASX, providing the most data points.

Over an investment time-frame from 1 Jan 2005 to 31 Dec 2014, the investment property offered better outcomes through negative gearing:
  • Return on Equity on the property was 206% compared 104% from the ETF
  • Total tax offset for the property was $214K compared to $116K from the ETF

 Despite this, the analysis shows that negatively gearing the Aussie stock market is a viable option. In fact, ETF offered a few benefits compared to property investment:
  • Lower entry cost - A deposit for an investment property is likely to cost more than $100K, whilst you can start an ETF portfolio with a few $1,000s
  • ETFs are much more liquid than property
  • there is a lot less hassle compared to property investment. ie. no need to manage tenants / real estate agents
  • lower transaction costs - buying an ETF is as cheap and simple as buying a stock with your online broker. Buying an investment property is difficult and expensive. You need to consider legal fees, stamp duty, and other costs


To fund the two investments, I assumed a loan at 65% LVR or $325K. This leaves a $175K equity / cash investment at the start. The mortgage's variable rate is based on the RBA’s published rate across the 10 year period. The Margin Loan for the ETF is assumed to be 2.85% p.a. more expensive than the mortgage. This difference is the spread between a CommSec Margin Loan and a CBA mortgage as at May 2015.

Both loans are repaid on a monthly basis, to the same dollar value. At the end of the 10 years, principal outstanding is $256K (79% of the initial loan amount).

Running costs & other tax offsets

The cost of the ETF is completely absorbed within the unit price so there are no other fees to pay - ever. For the investment property, there are a few costs:
  • Real estate agent management fee of 6% of rental income;
  • Depreciation on the property - I assumed 40% of initial investment is depreciated (some consultants suggest you can depreciate up to 60%!).


The ETF pays a semi-annual dividend. Over the 10 years, it provided an average annual yield of 4.7%. I did not factor in franking credits.

The property starts off at 3.5% gross rental yield. Rent rise every year in December, at the rate of Sydney rental growth (ABS data). Over the period, average annual yield is 3.8%.

Asset Value

Property value in Sydney achieved big growth in the past decade, gaining 58%. The $500K property in Jan 2004 was worth $792K in Dec 2014. The Aussie stock market didn’t do as well over this period. The ETF share price increased from $40.79 to $50.25, a rise of 23%.

The higher asset value growth of property also translates to much higher equity value growth. Equity in the property grew from $175K to $536K, an impressive 206%. The ETF equity value grew from $175K to $357K, a 104% increase.

Tax offset vs cash flow

Obviously this whole strategy is about tax offsets - both investments achieved this. The property had tax offsets of $213K over the 10 years, whilst the ETF offered $117K of tax offsets.

Interestingly, the property offsets were achieved with lower impact on cash flow. Negative cash flow for the property investment was only $82K over the 10 years. The ETF had $117K of negative cash flow. This is mainly because property is able to claim non-cash tax deduction in the form of depreciation.

What does it all mean?

This is another example how why Aussies love investment property and negative gearing. You can achieve strong net wealth growth and tax offsets - a double whammy. This also shows that a negative gearing strategy can be applied to other asset classes.

Investing in ETFs is a way of achieving negatively geared investment in the share market. A core benefit of ETFs over individual stocks in this content is diversification - reducing risks. The risk of investing in a Sydney property and the SPDR ETF was similar in the 10 years. Sydney property prices had a standard deviation of $83K, whilst the SPDR ETF measured in at $84K.

On the face of it, investment property seems to be a more compelling investment class. They offer higher returns, more tax offsets and lower negative cash flow. However, I didn't account for a few things that are negative for property investments:
  • stamp duty and other taxes;
  • vacancy risk - if you can't rent out your property you get no income;
  • significantly higher legal fees;
  • higher transaction costs when you sell the asset, real estate fees of at least 1%.

The high cost of entry is also a critical issue for investment property. Currently, 1-in-3 Sydney suburbs have median home price of more than $1M. The initial cash deposit required is well north of $100K. For younger investors, this is a tough ask – an idea of reaching that deposit sooner is HERE.

Younger investors can explore the benefits of negative gearing through other asset classes. The asset must be able to achieve higher capital growth than the interest cost. One obvious option is the stock market, which usually delivers higher long term returns than all other asset classes. If negatively gearing the stock market is an interesting strategy, an investment in index based ETFs are a good option to start.

Do you negatively gear the stock market?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Jeremy Kwong-Law (@jeremykwonglaw) is Cofounder of He is a former investment banker turned technology entrepreneur, a muru-D alumni (Telstra startup accelerator). Passionated about leveraging technology to provide better financial products & services to consumers. Coffee snob, business book reader, and fitness fan.

1 comment:

  1. Damn posted a good or at least long comment haha then managed to somehow delete it.. Cool post here and thanks for having Jeremy, 90M!

    Never actually thought about the concept of negative gearing in shares although as you say this is a viable option for sure..
    The major benefit of the ETF is the liquidity of it & lower entry costs..

    Especially if you're game to margin loan/leverage, this sees a good opportunity!

    It's probably a case of horses for courses as most financial questions are..

    Btw great site Jeremy, checked out your site and signed up for the Beta.. Will connect with you and keep me in the loop, I'm from Sydney as well and always interested in learning more about personal finance/investment

    Cheers guys!