Hong Kong Profits Tax – Capital versus revenue gains

Section 14 of Inland Revenue Ordinance exempts profits arising from the sale of capital assets. Even without this exemption, it is a generally accepted accounting practice that capital income should not be included in trading profits.

There are a few court cases on the captioned question: drawing distinction between income from “fixed capital” and income from “circulating capital” — referring the former to “capital receipts” and the latter to “revenue receipts”.

It has been established from case law that “fixed capital” is what the owner turns to profit by keeping it in his own possession; whereas “circulating capital” is what he makes a profit of by parting with it and letting it change masters. It follows that land and buildings, plant and machinery, long-term leases and goodwill are fixed capital retained and used in the business — they form part of the permanent structure of the business — any receipt from their sale, or compensation for their loss or damage, are capital receipts and non-taxable.

On the other hand, an asset forms part of the circulating capital if it is acquired in the ordinary course of business — it is to be sold, or to be manufactured for goods to be sold — for example: trading stock and raw materials — any receipt related to such items are revenue receipts and taxable.

A summary of capital versus revenue receipts is given by Black’s Law Dictionary (5th edition) as follows:

  • Profit: Most commonly, the gross proceeds of a business transaction less the costs of the transactions; i.e. net proceeds. Excess of revenues over expenses for a transaction; sometimes used synonymously with net income for the period. Gain realized from business or investment over and above expenditures.
  • Revenue: Return or yield; profit, as that which returns or comes back from an investment; the annual or periodical rents, profits, interest or issues of any species of property.
  • Capital: Accumulated goods, possessions, and assets, used to produce profits in accounting, the amount invested in a business.