The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Investor group claims success in tax battle

Shareholders Association chairman John Hawkins says a demerger tax on investor capital is unfair.
Shareholders Association chairman John Hawkins says a demerger tax on investor capital is unfair.

The Shareholders Association is claiming success in its campaign against a tax that hit investors in demerged firms, with the Government is now assessing it for possible legislative changes.

Addressing the association's annual meeting on Saturday, chairman John Hawkins said the tax was unfair and often hurt retail investors, while also impacting KiwiSaver and other managed funds.

"Essentially, if you have owned shares in a company for 10 years and it demerges into two, you will probably be liable for tax at your marginal rate on the total value of your shares in the demerged entity, even though it is your own capital," he said.

"Hard working people investing into real productive activities - rather than largely untaxed speculation in housing - should not be unfairly taxed."

Around 13,000 New Zealand investors in BHP Billiton got caught out by the tax last year when the Anglo-Australian mining giant spun off its smaller operations into a new company, South 32.

The tax had also affected local investors in National Australia Bank (NAB) and Herald publisher NZME, which recently split from its former parent, APN News & Media, Hawkins said.

Following "persistent" work by the association, he said the demerger issue had been added to the Government's draft tax policy work programme, with a high priority status, at the recommendation of Revenue Minister Michael Woodhouse.

The Government had previously told the association that the Inland Revenue Department didn't have the resources to fix the problem.

"It is intended that the draft work programme will be reviewed by the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Cabinet Committee on 7 September," Hawkins said.

"Inland Revenue is proposing to undertake limited consultation on its proposed legislation before the end of this year, with a view to introducing the legislation in the next omnibus tax bill, which should be introduced early in 2017."

He said time required for the legislative process meant a solution would not be found before the end of the current financial year.

The association believed any legislation should be back-dated to apply from April 1 this year.

"We provided government with a potential legislative amendment for consideration over a year ago," he said. "This would have avoided the issue for those of you with [shares in] NAB, NZME and potentially even the Diligent sale which was structured in such a way that it was also caught."

Meanwhile, Hawkins also used his AGM address to re-cap the association's push for major board and management changes at technology manufacturer Rakon.

The association says the Robinson family has too much influence over the company, whose financial performance it has labelled "dismal", and has called for investors to vote against the re-election of executive director Darren Robinson at the firm's annual meeting on September 16.

It has also called for his father, Warren, who founded the firm in 1967, to voluntarily stand down from the board and said CEO and managing director Brent Robinson, Darren's brother, is not the right man for the job.

"The Rakon vote will be an important test to determine whether the majority non-family owners of the company are prepared to send a message for change," Hawkins told Saturday's meeting. "What is certain is that experience shows that the people who get a company into trouble are very rarely the right ones to get it out of trouble."

Hawkins also criticised the recent poor performance of crime fighting software developer Wynyard Group and Mad Butcher franchisor Veritas Investments.

- NZ Herald

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