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1. What is Bonus issue?

Sometimes companies issue fresh units to the existing shareholders without any consideration in exchange for the same. This practice is called as Bonus Issue. This is done by way of profit appropriation (allocation). A company will distribute profits by way of issuing additional units instead of distributing the company’s profits by way of dividend.

As such, a bonus issue does not have any tax implications on either the company issuing it or on the recipient of bonus units. However, there are investors who smartly utilize a bonus issue as a tax planning tool. Let us see how this works.

2. The concept of Bonus Stripping

Investors mainly indulge in bonus stripping as a mechanism to evade income taxes. Dividend stripping is another means to achieve the same. However, bonus stripping is a situation when purchase or sale of units of a listed company is transacted in a manner, which would result in short term capital loss that can be adjusted against any other capital gains.

In bonus stripping, shareholders acquire units before the company makes any bonus issue. Once they issue the bonus units, the investors sell the original units, which they had held earlier. This can lead to short term capital loss. Later, after one year, they dispose of the bonus units. Hence, shareholders enjoy two-fold benefits.

One benefit is the short term capital loss for the sale of original units, which is available for set off against any capital gains. The other is the benefit of a concessional rate of tax of 10% of the long term gains made on the same of the bonus units.

3. Illustration

Let us understand the concept of Bonus stripping by way of an example

  • Mr.A identified that Company X is going to issue bonus units in the ratio of 1:1.
  • Before the record date, he acquires 500 units of the Company. The price of the units on the said date was Rs.1000.Hence, he acquired the units for Rs.5,00,000.
  • On the day of bonus issue, he will receive, 1 bonus unit for every unit held. Hence, Mr A would receive 500 bonus units.
  • Post the bonus issue, the market value of the units declined. Each share is worth Rs 500. He sells the 500 units he purchased for Rs. 500. Thus he makes a loss of Rs.2,50,000.
  • Later, after a year, he sells the bonus units. Since the cost of acquisition of bonus units is Nil, the entire proceeds received from the sale of bonus units would be his long term capital gains.

In this case, Mr A can first set off the short term losses made from original units held, against the long term capital gains made from the sale of bonus units. Subsequently, if the capital gains remaining after set off is greater than Rs 1 lakh, he would be taxed on it at the rate of 10% only.

4. Income tax implications on Bonus Stripping

As a check on the activity of bonus stripping, provisions under Section 94(8) of the Income-tax Act, 1961 were introduced into the statute books. According to this section, if a person:

  • acquires units within 3 months prior to the record date
  • on which bonus units are subsequently announced,
  • and the original units are sold within 9 months from the record date

the shareholder will not be allowed to book the loss on such sale transaction. Moreover, such losses would be considered as the Purchase Price of the bonus units acquired.

To conclude, investors purchasing units with a very narrow idea of saving taxes and indulging in bonus stripping would get caught under the provisions of Section 94(8) of the Income-tax Act, 1961. Accordingly, investment made with a long term objective in mind would definitely be a safer bet.  

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