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Sovereign Equity Instead of Sovereign Debt: A Paradigm Shift

A core premise of investment migration is to enhance a country’s economy in exchange for residence or citizenship rights for individual investors. This is a good description of a classic ‘win– win’ formula. However, the benefits of residence- and citizenship-by-investment (RCBI) programs for host nations go far beyond extra funding for the national treasury or increased foreign direct investment (FDI). One of the industry’s unique and most positive attributes is its ability to endow nations with a considerable source of sustainable revenue without them having to increase debt and thereby burden future generations. This capacity to expand a state’s ‘sovereign equity’ by increasing the number of citizens who actively contribute to its future wellbeing also has the invaluable capacity to reduce a key aspect of inequality within states, as well as between them — a phenomenon that is uniquely facilitated by investment migration.

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Sovereign equity in practice

Sovereign equity is a means for governments to improve public finances and support economic growth and employment creation without increasing their debt — meaningfully addressing the growing imbalances and inequalities inherent in traditional sovereign debt financing by engaging with the global community of high-net-worth investors.

There are many sovereign states around the world that lack the traditional capacity to raise sufficient revenue and that may even at times be locked out of financing through capital markets or international lenders. Countries can thus find themselves trapped in a pattern of negative debt: short of discovering natural resources such as hydrocarbons or minerals, their ability to reduce debt, increase revenue, and attract investment is extremely limited.

Debt financing is helpful and often critical in times of crises. But as Dominica showed in the aftermath of two consecutive hurricanes in 2017 and 2018 that destroyed large parts of the country’s infrastructure and devastated entire villages, CBI program inflows were a lifeline that enabled the government to rebuild infrastructure and provide support to those affected.

Outside a crisis, when countries find themselves lacking fiscal autonomy, they lose the ability to operate as truly sovereign states, forfeiting the gains from their economies to pay off creditors.

Countries also lose the ability to invest sufficiently in core infrastructure, education, and health services that enhance the lives of their citizens. This can lead to a scenario in which a society’s best and brightest leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere, depriving their birth countries of their skills, and in turn diminishing the prospects and quality of life of the general population.

Investment migration is arguably the single most effective means of addressing this dilemma. As a direct injection of liquidity into a country’s economy, it relieves stress on the national treasury without tying the country into debt-based obligations. Moreover, it is not only a source of income, but also a proven driver of FDI streams. This twin dynamic is extremely effective in mitigating the problems brought about by sovereign debt and limited inbound investment, ultimately providing greater national autonomy and prosperity for all citizens.

Investment migration, fiscal autonomy, and freedom

Prudently managed RCBI programs that conduct stringent due diligence on applicants and that have transparent structures can drive investment that countries need without adding to the burden of debt. The funding generated in this way can be used either to pay off existing debt or to create societal value through strategically targeted government spending. This provides governments with significantly increased fiscal autonomy, a key factor in the degree to which a country can be sovereign.

Investment migration programs also act as remarkably successful FDI platforms to attract capital and skills to economies far beyond the specific investment requirements of each residence or citizenship program. The numerous material benefits of FDI are clear, but it is in the beneficial social impact created by this type of investment that real human value is found. Increased investment drives employment opportunities for citizens at all levels, from architects and construction workers to manufacturing and technology companies, in addition to the tourism sector and other service industries. The result is more business activity and new employment, leading to a more dynamic and positive socio-economic environment overall. The natural consequence of this is to alleviate pressure on government spending, further increasing fiscal autonomy and ultimately establishing greater prosperity.

Proven socio-economic benefits

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Malta’s economy, for example, like those of all of Europe, was weak. Just years after the launch of the citizenship program in 2014, the country had one of the highest growth rates and one of the lowest unemployment levels of any EU member state. Before the coronavirus struck, it was the best performing economy in the EU by almost any measure. Furthermore, between 2017 and 2019 (before the downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic), Malta was able to report annual budget surpluses for the first time in decades.

By the end of June 2019, Malta had raised direct revenue of almost EUR 835 million, seen property sales exceed EUR 141 million, earned rentals of EUR 90 million, and received investments in government bonds of over EUR 160 million. Results like these are virtually impossible to achieve using traditional ways and means of public finance.

In the Caribbean, a similar success story has been unfolding over the past 13 years. Since the reform and relaunch of the St. Kitts and Nevis Citizenship-by-Investment Program in 2007, the subsequent investment boom in the dual island nation and in several other Caribbean countries that launched or enhanced programs is remarkable, and unprecedented in the region’s history.

Following independence from Britain, the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis witnessed a decline in its sugar industry. It simply became unsustainable to produce sugar on the twin islands and to compete in world markets. This resulted in a massive annual deficit, which threatened to undermine the entire economy. It is thanks to its CBI program that St. Kitts and Nevis was able to restructure its economy away from loss-making sugar production and raise hundreds of millions of dollars in FDI geared towards providing a sustainable transition and laying the foundations for future growth and development. Over the past five years, the St. Kitts and Nevis Citizenship-by-Investment Program has brought great value — at times estimated at 35% of the dual-island nation’s revenue. Investment migration is, according to the Hon. Dr. Timothy Harris, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, “a pillar in the foundation of the country’s unique future and prosperity”.

In Antigua and Barbuda, revenue from the dual island nation’s CBI program, created in 2013, brought in USD 98.9 million in 2019 compared with USD 59.7 million in 2018 — a remarkable 66% increase year on year that constituted approximately 12% of the government’s total revenue. The Hon. Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, stated: “Our non-tax revenues, principally the earnings from the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP), performed much better than our tax revenues. This underscores the vital importance of the CIP to our economy.” CBI program inflows are responsible for substantial investments in the construction sector that have helped to create a sustainable tourism and leisure industry.

In addition, investment migration has been a major driver in the country’s transition to renewable energy. Thousands of solar panels have been successfully installed on government buildings and land throughout Antigua to produce electricity, in significant part paid for by the CBI program. The program was also essential in providing the necessary capital to support efforts to rebuild Barbuda after Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017, forcing the evacuation of the entire population.

On the macro level, before Covid-19 struck, the liquidity injected onto the sovereign balance sheet, combined with the long-term income streams created by new businesses and their associated tax revenues, had helped the island nation to pay off its entire external debt to the IMF — over USD 320 million — built up after the economy shrank by one quarter during the 2008 global financial crisis. Overall debt was down from a challenging 102% of GDP in 2014 to a more sustainable 69%. The IMF’s 2017 review of the Antigua and Barbuda economy found that the inflows of capital provided by investment migration had significantly helped to boost public and private sector construction, improving economic growth and pulling the country out of a deep recession.

The Caribbean’s newest program — the St. Lucia Citizenship-by-Investment Program — was launched in December 2015. The program is performing extremely well, raising some XCD 62 million (USD 23 million) in the 2018–2019 reporting year, more than doubling the previous year’s revenues of XCD 28 million (USD 10.4 million). Following these results, the IMF stated that “prudent fiscal policies in recent years, supported by revenues from the citizenship-by-investment program (CIP), have helped to stabilize public debt as a share of GDP”.

At the launch of the St. Lucia Citizenship-by-Investment Program’s new brand visual identity and website, the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, the Hon. Allen Chastanet, said, “Everything that the country was focused on pre-Covid has become even more relevant now: investment in education, building an e-government platform, simplification of the tax regime, investment in infrastructure, modernization of the security force and of the judicial system, and broadening the tourism offering. The citizenship-by-investment program can be a key source of funding in helping us to facilitate these developments”.

In Montenegro, which launched its CBI program in October 2019, the positive impact can be expected to be similar. In addition to boosting fiscal health and economic growth, the enhanced inflow of investment will enable the country to become more competitive and its economy to become more sustainable, which will result in greater autonomy. This sovereign equity will result in Montenegro being less dependent on foreign lending and better able to drive national resources to where they are needed most. For ordinary citizens, the benefits will be felt in economic growth, employment opportunities, better social services, and improved infrastructure and education.

Sovereign equity in the Covid-19 era

The concept of sovereign equity is both self- evident and revolutionary. It has the potential to fundamentally shift how sovereign states approach sovereign funding, attracting investment from abroad, and public finance. Sovereign equity also addresses persistent global inequality. FDI has been shown to be essential for developing, transitional, or recovering economies, but it can also be critical for regional development in large, advanced economies. Sovereign equity, possible through investment migration, will support ongoing economic growth and prosperity.

The benefits of sovereign equity enable countries to turn away from debt and dependency towards fiscal autonomy, stability, and independence.

Investment migration is one of the most important opportunities for growth and economic development for countries able to offer it, creating considerable societal value and persuading productive members of the community to stay and contribute rather than emigrate.

All of this was true before the horror of Covid-19 became apparent. The pandemic has changed our way of life and it is fundamentally damaging the global economy: sovereign equity could be a partial solution to the economic challenges that will face government decision-makers in the months and years to come. Many sovereign states that run investment migration programs need additional capital as tourism, leisure, and hospitality are substantial portions of their economies — sectors that are in dire straits. A significant percentage of jobs has been lost. Corporate and income-tax-derived income is down. Infrastructure is under pressure.

All sovereign states need capital, ideally from a debt-free source of liquidity. Even with cheap debt, there is insufficient liquidity. Countries are constantly competing for vital FDI and talent to diversify their economies and introduce new opportunities to their societies. What sovereign states require is a competitive edge — this is what sovereign equity can provide. Investors gain a long-term yield in the form of enhanced global mobility. Alternative residence or citizenship is a unique investment that permits them to be as globally diversified as their wealth portfolios.

Furthermore, the liquidity pool will continue to grow. Even before Covid-19, a rising number of millionaires with global wealth portfolios could not travel efficiently because of their birth citizenship. This market creates a rising demand for sovereign equity products. To meet this surge in demand, an increase in sovereign equity offerings in the coming months and years is highly likely. These may be positioned as specially branded offerings from existing sovereign equity providers. However, the more dramatic moves could come from sovereign states that choose to enter the market, whether by offering residence rights or citizenship rights, to rebalance their socio-economic mixes in the wake of Covid-19.

In short, investment migration is a long-term positive solution, injecting liquidity into an economy, generating sustainable income streams that can support public financial needs, and attracting much-needed FDI, creating significant sovereign and societal value.

References

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