YEAR AHEAD: What's in store for 2019 for SMSFs?
YEAR AHEAD: What's in store for 2019 for SMSFs? MartinPrescott

What's ahead this year for SMSFs?

WITHOUT what seems an unlikely bounce in asset prices, there's probably not a lot of joy for DIY super trustees looking into their crystal balls for 2019.

And let's face it, few are predicting a rebound in any growth assets this year, with property prices likely to continue to slide and shares showing no promise.

But look ahead we should. So, what's in store for 2019 for SMSFs?

There are three partially related dark clouds on the horizon.

The first is the Banking Royal Commission and the final report from Kenneth Hayne. The second is the political (and business) reaction to those findings. The third is the upcoming federal election tipped for May, and what appears now to be a certain victory for Bill Shorten and the Australian Labor Party.

Banking Royal Commission

Results from the Royal commission are due this month. This will have the main players - that being banks, insurers and superannuation participants - terrified.

There are likely to be significant structural changes to parts of the industry that will impact on everyone's super and, in some cases, specifically for SMSFs. Those areas are superannuation, insurance and lending products.

While this is most likely going to impact the major institutions and their intermediaries (financial advisers and mortgage brokers) the most, there will be inevitable flow-on for all.

You can't increase regulation, or increase penalties, without increasing the costs for businesses providing services. While changes will inevitably be designed to increase consumer protection, it will come with an expense that will be passed on to consumers.

While Hayne's interim report was out in November, it will be political reaction to the final report that will most likely

But it will be the reaction and promises from the political parties to the final report that will be where the real impacts come for consumers, including SMSFs.

While both parties are likely to accept most of the Royal Commission's findings, their reaction on proposed legislation is likely to vary significantly.

Federal Election

Labor has several policies specifically designed to hurt both SMSFs and those who traditionally use SMSFs (wealthier Australians).

There's the banning of franking credit refunds and a possible increase in capital gains tax (CGT) for super funds.

But Labor has recently reiterated their intentions to reduce the threshold at which Australians must pay an extra 15 per cent tax on super contributions, known as Division 293, to $200,000. When originally introduced in 2012, it was $300,000, which was reduced to $250,000 in 2017.

It also opposes the five-year catch-up provisions. These allow members to put extra into super if they didn't fully use their $25,000 concessional contributions limits in previous years.

And it proposes to reduce the non-concessional contribution limit further, from $100,000 to $75,000.

The reduction in the CGT discount from 50 per cent to 25 per cent will hit traditional SMSF trustees in their personal names, but Labor is not intending to adjust the current 1/3 reduction for SMSFs themselves.

Similarly, the removal of negative gearing provisions (except for new property) is also likely to hit SMSF trustees in their personal names hardest. This is also likely to impact SMSFs, but less so. With SMSFs usually limited to borrowing 70-80 per cent of the value of a property by lenders who will do an LRBA, this is usually less of an issue, but will have an impact on tax deductions inside a SMSF for highly geared investors.

These two changes to property taxes, in particular, are specifically designed by Labor to improve housing affordability. But plenty are now asking, with property prices falling considerably in the major markets, and these policies specifically designed to reduce property prices, would it be sensible to introduce these to further deflate the market?

LRBA loans

With the departure of the major lenders from the LRBA market through 2018, interest rates from the remaining providers have been trending slightly upwards.

Contrary to some commentary, however, LRBAs are not dead. The second and third-tier lenders that remain are likely to now be able to get some scale from a less fragmented market. This might actually have a medium-term positive impact on competition in the market.

However, there remains a possibility that LRBAs could be banned. Labor certainly doesn't like them and have threatened to ban them if they win government.

Three-year audits for SMSFs off the table?

In last year's budget, the Government announced that it would allow SMSFs with a good audit history to move to having audits every three years, instead of every year.

This was designed to reduce costs for compliant SMSFs, but it has been met with heavy resistance from many parts of the accounting industry.

It is now widely speculated that the government doesn't have time to get this legislation through the parliament, considering the very limited number of sitting days before the election.

This idea, whether a positive or negative, is beginning to look dead in the water.

Asset returns looking shaky

Figures out in recent days confirm returns for most super funds with diversified investments were likely to be sitting very close to 0 per cent for the 2018 calendar year.

Australian shares were the worst performing, with international shares and property also negative. Cash was anaemic, but positive, as were fixed interest investments. The latter neutralised the losses from the former.

What's on the radar for 2019? Few are predicting any return to strong gains in the growth markets of shares and property, domestically or internationally. Certainly, direct residential property looks almost certain to record further falls in Sydney and Melbourne.

But often, market corrections are simply buying opportunities for the patient.

Welcome to 2019 to you all. It's looking likely to be a year of upheaval. While overall, things are looking a little negative, those who keep their wits about them and their eyes on the prize, as always, are likely to fare better.

Bruce Bammel is a columnist for InvestSMART.

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