Spread Betting and Financial Markets
Financial spread betting
By far the largest part of the official market in the UK concerns financial instruments; the leading spread-betting companies make most of their revenues from financial markets, their sports operations being much less significant. Financial spread betting in the United Kingdom closely resembles the futures and options markets, the major differences being the “charge” occurs through a wider bid-offer spread;
spread betting has a different tax regime compared with securities and futures exchanges (see below);
spread betting is more flexible since it is not limited to exchange hours or definitions, can create new instruments relatively easily (e.g. Individual stock futures), and may have guaranteed stop losses (see below); and
the trading is off-exchange, with the contract existing directly between the market-making company and the client, rather than exchange-cleared, and is thus subject to a lower level of regulation although the spread betting companies themselves are some of the most regulated entities in the City of London. Financial spread betting is a way to speculate on financial markets in the same way as trading a number of derivatives. In particular the financial derivative Contract for difference (CFD) which in many ways mirrors the spread bet. In fact a number of financial derivative trading companies offer both financial spread bets and CFDs in parallel using the same trading platform.
Unlike fixed-odds betting, the amount won or lost can be unlimited as there is no single stake to limit any loss. However, it is usually possible to negotiate limits with the bookmaker:
A “stop loss” or “stop” will automatically close the bet if the spread moves against the gambler by a specified amount.
A “stop win”, “limit” or “take profit” will close the bet when the spread moves in a gambler's favor by a specified amount.
Spread betting has moved outside the ambit of sport and financial markets (that is, those dealing solely with share, bonds and derivatives), to cover a wide range of markets, such as house prices. In a falling stockmarket, financial spread betting can also be used by investors as a means of hedging against predicted losses in a portfolio of shares.
In the UK and some other European countries the profit from spread betting is free from tax. The UK and some other European countries tax authorities designate financial spread betting as gambling and not investing, meaning it is free from capital gains tax and stamp tax, despite the fact that its regulated as a financial product by the Financial Services Authority in the UK. Most traders are also not liable for Income Tax unless they rely solely on their profits from financial spread betting to support themselves. The popularity of financial spread betting in the UK and some other European countries, compared to trading other speculative financial instruments such as CFDs and futures is partly due to this tax advantage. However, this also means any losses cannot be offset against future earnings for tax calculations.
Conversely, in most other countries financial spread betting income is considered taxable. For example the Australian Tax Office issued a decision in March 2010 saying “Yes, the gains from financial spread betting are assessable income under section 6-5 or section 15-15 of the ITAA 1997”. Similarly, any losses on the spread betting contracts are deductible. This has resulted in a much lower interest in financial spread betting in those countries.
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