Capital Asset vs Trading Asset: The Differences and Tax Obligations of Each

Boon Tan   |   28 Feb 2023   |   5 min read

In most jurisdictions, the sale of a capital asset is subject to capital gains tax law, while the sale of trading assets are subject to revenue laws. This distinction is a very important one as the way that revenue and capital items are taxed is very different in Singapore.

Capital Gains Tax in Singapore

There is no capital gains tax regime in Singapore.

This means that if you sell assets that are capital in nature there is no tax consequence from this sale, regardless of whether you make a profit or a loss on the sale.

Therefore, typically the sale of passive investments, such as real estate and share portfolios, are sold without any tax implications in Singapore. 

However, it is important to understand when assets may actually be considered trading assets as these assets would be covered by revenue laws instead. Where such assets are covered by revenue laws, their disposal will attract income tax consequences.

Assets Used as a Trading Asset

In Singapore there are rules that indicate an asset is a trading asset rather than a capital asset. These rules help ensure that a business doesn’t take advantage of the lack of capital gains tax by purchasing an asset with the express intent to turn this asset over for a profit instead of holding it as a long term, capital appreciating asset.

There are five specific factors, colloquially known as “badges of trade”,  that are considered in determining whether an asset might be a trade item. These are the holding period, frequency of sale, purpose of transaction, extent of enhancement work, and reason for the sale.

Holding Period

A short term holding period indicates that the asset was more likely purchased for profit-seeking activities. In general, capital assets must be held and used for their purpose for a minimum of two years in order to be considered capital in nature. Assets sold within two years of purchase are typically treated as revenue assets, unless there was a specific reason for the sale that caused the asset to be sold within two years.

Frequency

If you frequently purchase and sell the assets in question, this indicates you are trading these assets, rather than purchasing them for use in a going concern. This can include significant assets such as property, shares, and other investments. Where your business frequently purchases and then sells real estate, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore will presume that you are in the business of trading real estate, rather than owning these assets for long term capital growth.

Purpose of Transaction

When an asset is not used for its intended purpose, this indicates that the asset was not actually purchased to be used as an asset.

A simple example would be purchasing a warehouse. If you leave the warehouse unused and vacant, then it has not actually been used for the purpose of a warehouse. Consequently, the sale of the warehouse is more likely to be a profit-generating motive. Conversely if the warehouse was purchased and used as a warehouse it is more likely to be an asset use motive.

Extent of Enhancement Work

When an asset is purchased, then significant resources are spent enhancing or renovating it prior to selling it, this would indicate the reason for the purchase was a profit motive. If an asset is purchased and renovated to be fit for specific use as a business asset, rather than for resale value, then this would more likely indicate an asset use motive.

Reason for Sale

The reason for selling the asset is also considered. If an asset is sold with a profit-making motive, it is more likely to be considered a trading asset. However if it is sold after being used for its intended purchase as an asset then it would be exempt from tax as a capital asset.

This factor is an important one. Even if a property is sold within two years, there could be a specific reason that indicates the property was still a capital asset. For instance, the sale may have been required due to liquidating the business, government acquisition, or other closure or reduction of business operations. In such situations, the sale would still likely be a capital gain because the underlying reason for the sale was not profit-generation.

Summary of Capital vs Trading Assets

The facts of the way an asset is used and the motivations for purchasing the asset determine if the asset is capital or revenue in nature. When an asset is purchased and used for a profit-motivation rather than an asset use motive, it is treated as a trading asset, or revenue in nature, rather than as a capital asset under capital gains rules.

The table below outlines the likely scenarios of how an asset could be classified.

 

Likely Capital

Likely Trading

Holding Period

Over two years

Less than two years

Frequency

Low frequency

High frequency

Purpose of Transaction

To use as an investment or business asset

Profit-generation

Extent of Enhancement Work

Little renovations or work focused on adjusting asset for business use

High investment in enhancement or renovation to increase profit on sale

Reason for Sale

End of use, divest investment or liquidating business

To generate profits

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