When it comes to taking a punt on the direction of shares, both spread bets and contracts for difference (CFDs) are possible choices. Both allow you to place up (‘long’) and down (‘short’) bets, both are liquid (so opening and closing a position is straightforward), both are margined (so you get lots of bang for your buck) and both are offered by a number of firms so costs are generally low. However, when it comes to hedging, CFDs have one big edge – tax.
At first glance, this might seem odd. Surely spread bets are better since they don’t attract capital gains tax? Well, for a gambler that’s a big plus for sure. Why hand over 18% or 28% of your profits (depending on what rate of tax you pay for income tax purposes) if you don’t need to? However, for a hedger – someone seeking to protect, say, shares against a price fall – the tax treatment of CFDs can be a winner.
The reason is that while, yes, you will be taxed on any gain on a CFD much as though you had bought shares, you also get the benefit of tax losses. What that means is, say you sell a CFD as a hedge against some shares you own and don’t want to sell just yet. The shares then rise, rather than fall as you expected. The CFD will lose money – you will buy it back to close out the position for more than you sold the contract for. But you’ll be able to offset the loss against any gain realised on the sale of shares. So, say you sell shares for a gain of £1,000 but lose £800 on a hedging CFD contract. Your overall gain for CGT purposes is £200, not £1,000 as it would be had you hedged using a spread bet with no tax relief for losses.
Better still, since CFD prices tend to track the underlying share closer than spread bets, your hedge using CFDs will probably be more precise. So, much as though we like spread bets, CFDs undoubtedly have their uses. Hedging is one of them.