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Capital appreciation: Definition, considerations & examples

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A secure financial future hinges on growing your assets. While steadily adding to your savings and investments is crucial, strategically diversifying and increasing the value of what you own over time can help unlock financial stability.

This is where asset appreciation comes in—a powerful concept that can accelerate the profit potential of your savings and investments. Here's what you need to know about asset growth, how capital appreciation works and why it's a cornerstone of long-term financial planning.

What is capital appreciation & how does it work?

Capital appreciation is the increase in an asset's value over time, which can put you in a better financial position and potentially provide opportunities for profit when the assets are sold or liquidated.

Factors contributing to capital appreciation

  • Market demand. Increased asset demand, driven by factors such as strong performance, favorable economic conditions or investor sentiment, can lead to higher prices and asset appreciation.
  • Company performance. For stocks and mutual funds, company performance plays a significant role in asset appreciation. If a company experiences growth in revenue, earnings or profitability, investors may be willing to pay more for its shares, leading to appreciation in the stock price.
  • Interest rates. In the case of bonds, declining interest rates can increase the market value of existing bonds with higher coupon rates as investors are willing to pay a premium for higher-yielding securities.
  • Asset improvements. For real estate and other tangible assets, improvements or upgrades that enhance the asset's value can lead to capital appreciation. This may include renovations, infrastructure development or changes in zoning regulations that increase the property's desirability.
  • Market dynamics. Overall market conditions, supply-and-demand pressures, geopolitical events and other external factors also can influence appreciation across various asset classes.

Examples of appreciating assets

  • Stocks. Company shares can rise in value as the company performs well or overall market conditions improve. Some stocks pay dividends, which can be used to buy more shares of the stock, adding to appreciated value over time.
  • Bonds. While bonds typically provide steady interest income, their value also can appreciate in a falling interest rate environment. New bonds will have lower yields, making older bonds with higher yields more attractive. Conversely, rising interest rates can lead to lower prices of existing bonds or depreciation.
  • Mutual funds. Since mutual funds can be a combination of stocks and bonds, their value can appreciate over time as well.
  • Real estate. Property values can appreciate over time due to increased demand, inflation or development in the area. A limited supply of land and property in desirable areas further amplifies appreciation as scarcity drives buyer competition.
  • Collectibles. Rare items like artwork, coins or stamps can gain value over time due to their limited availability and collector interest.

Example of a depreciating asset

  • Cars. You may have heard that a new car is worth less the minute you drive it off of the dealer's lot. Some assets such as cars and equipment generally decline in value over time, also known as depreciation.

An example of how capital appreciation works

Imagine you buy a stock for $100 per share. A year later, the same stock trades for $110 per share. In this scenario, you've experienced capital appreciation of $10 per share (or a 10% increase). Your initial investment of $100 has grown to $110 simply because the value of the asset (the stock) has increased.

How appreciating assets and taxes are related

Capital appreciation and taxes are intertwined. When you sell an asset for more than you paid for it, you've generated a capital gain. If the asset is held in a non-qualified account, this gain is taxable, but how much you owe depends on your tax bracket and how long you held the asset.

Here's a breakdown:

  • Cost basis. The cost basis is the original purchase price of your asset, plus any additional costs associated with acquiring it, such as commissions or fees. It serves as the benchmark against which your capital gain (or loss) is measured.
  • Capital gains calculation. The capital gain is simply the difference between the selling price and the cost basis.
  • Capital losses. You only pay capital gains tax when you sell the asset for a profit. If you sell it at a loss (where the selling price is lower than the cost basis), you potentially can offset capital gains taxes on other assets.
  • Tax rates. Capital gains are taxed differently from ordinary income, such as your salary. There are typically two categories: short-term capital gains (held for one year or less) and long-term capital gains (held for more than one year). Long-term capital gains generally benefit from lower tax rates compared to short-term gains.

How capital appreciation differs from capital gains

Capital appreciation refers to the increase in the market value of an asset over time, resulting in a higher price than the original purchase price. This appreciation occurs because of factors such as increased demand, improved asset performance and favorable market conditions. In contrast, capital gains specifically refer to the profit realized from selling an asset at a higher price than its purchase price.

While capital appreciation represents the overall increase in an asset's value, capital gains quantify the actual profit made when the asset is sold, taking into account the initial investment and any costs such as transaction fees or taxes.

How capital appreciation differs from total returns

Capital appreciation focuses solely on the increase in an asset's price, like a stock price rising from $10 to $12. Total return, however, takes the bigger picture into account. It considers not only the price change but also any income generated by the asset during that period. This income could be dividends from stocks, interest payments from bonds or rental income from real estate.

While capital appreciation looks at the price growth, total return reflects the overall profitability of your investment.

Important considerations for understanding appreciating assets

Over time, capital appreciation significantly can increase the value of your assets, leading to greater financial security. It also can help you achieve long-term financial goals like retirement or funding a child's education. However, it's important to note that it is not guaranteed and depends on numerous factors, including market conditions and asset performance.

Because of this, investors carefully should assess the potential risks and rewards associated with each investment to make informed decisions. Diversification, patience and a well-defined investment strategy are crucial to maximize the benefits and mitigate potential losses.

It's also important to understand taxation of capital gains as tax laws can vary depending on your location and specific situation. Consult a Thrivent financial advisor to help clarify your financial goals and provide personalized guidance.

While diversification can help reduce market risk, it does not eliminate it. Diversification does not assure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.
Investing involves risks, including the possible loss of principal. A product’s prospectus will contain more information on the investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses, which investors should read carefully and consider before investing. Available at