Minister Donohoe’s maiden budget was widely predicted as being an exercise in spreading jam very thinly. And for most people that’s how it came to be. But for others the Budget met the first rule of gambling: when you lose, lose small but when you win, make sure to win big.
Looking first at the losers, the decision to increase the rate of stamp duty on the purchase of commercial property from 2% to 6% may be capable of being absorbed fairly easily when it comes to institutional deals in the major cities. But in the towns and smaller cities across the country its effect will be painful.
High streets in these locations are already under pressure from the effects of internet retailing, restricted parking and falling rents. For property owners looking to exit this market a 200% increase in stamp duty will add to their burden. Owners of commercial land that is capable of being sold and developed for housing will welcome the Minister’s stamp duty refund scheme, however this is not likely to benefit the high street.
As far as the winners are concerned, top of the list come fast-rowing small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) and their key employees. The tax treatment of employee share options has swung from the benign to the ridiculous over the years. Until now it sat firmly in the ridiculous corner.
A key employee lucky enough to be awarded an option to acquire shares in his or her employer company up to now is obliged to pay income tax, USC and PRSI on the difference between the value of the shares at the date the option was granted and their value when he or she exercised that option. The problem is that, absent the presence of a well-financed purchaser, very often there is no money to pay the tax.
But that was then. Henceforward there will be no charge to income tax, etc. on exercise while a charge to Capital Gains Tax (CGT) will only arise when the employee comes to sell the shares. This is such an improvement that it really is a case of lighting the blue touch paper and standing clear.
SMEs should be able to use the new rules as a substitute for high cash bonuses in their efforts to attract the brightest and the best. Indeed, it’s difficult to overestimate the effect that this measure will have on SMEs and their employees. Employee share ownership is about to become an essential feature of the lexicon.
Property investors who, back in 2011-2014, took advantage of Michael Noonan’s promise of exemption from CGT in return for holding the asset for a minimum of 7 years will be cheering from the rooftops about the reduction in the quarantine period to just 4 years. Most of them will be holding unrealised gains on their slump-time purchases. Now many of these gains can be realised tax-free.
The improvements in electricity generation from solar energy in recent years have been impressive. Just as impressive, for the farming sector at least, is the Minister’s decision to treat up to 50% of a holding of agricultural land that is used for solar infrastructure as qualifying for Agricultural Relief from Capital Acquisitions Tax and Retirement Relief from CGT.
And the list of winners did not stop with those who were given relief in the Budget Speech. The tourism and services sector that continues to enjoy the special, low VAT rate of 9% will have breathed a sigh of relief at having escaped an increase in rate.
Gambling is rarely as much fun as this.
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