Text: Nikos Kontopoulos
Five years after the financial “hibernation” of 2013, hardly anything lingers as a reminder! The country’s swift exit from the adjustment program and investment grade rating of state bonds, a steady decrease of unemployment and a favorable investment environment have rekindled the flame of financial growth, reinstating the island to its former strong position as a center of high quality services, offering great opportunities for business, as well as private portfolios. Besides, Cyprus is widely known as a state with minimal bureaucracy, as well as for its accommodating business environment, while the size of its economy allows weaknesses and gaps to become challenges, and turn those challenges into opportunities. Last but not least, the island’s business and banking system are two inextricably linked sectors, operating in parallel and complementary ways.
Thus, as it pertains to the question of why someone should choose to invest in Cyprus, there is no single answer. There are multiple answers, and not all of them are obvious. For the sun? Or the sea? These are undoubtedly good assets, but they can’t guarantee success on their own. As Christophoros Koutouroushis, managing director of Bizserve Consultants says, “it may sound like a cliche, but Cyprus is indeed a gateway to EU markets, as well as to Southeastern Europe and Middle East regional markets, and offers access to markets in Eastern Europe, with whom we have established business links”.
Let’s take things from the beginning. Invest Cyprus-CIPA (Cyprus Investment Promotion Agency) is the first point of contact in Cyprus for foreign investors, a valuable and trustworthy partner that assists them throughout the research and implementation of an investment. The director general of Invest Cyprus, George Campanellas, points out that a typical example of queries regarding investments are “investment funds, whose number increases annually at an astounding rate of approximately 18%. The recent passing of five relative laws enhancing the existing legal framework that regulates investment funds makes Cyprus one of the most competitive destinations for the registration of investment funds in Europe”.
RCB (Russian Commercial Bank) has become an important pillar of support for businesses and Christophoros Stylianides, head of Corporate Loans at the bank, utilizing his investment experience within the banking sector, reveals that the bank evaluates loan requests related to sectors with improved opportunities: hotel and restaurant businesses in the tourism sector, exports, retail, as well as the energy sector through the creation of photovoltaic parks.
Tourism shows great investment potential, as arrivals on the island keep reaching record levels every year. In 2018 (until October) more than 2,800,000 tourists visited Cyprus, a number increased by 8% compared to last year. It is estimated that within the next decade, the number of annual arrivals in Cyprus will exceed 5 million people. These are well-off individuals who choose Cyprus as a destination because of its luxurious hotel infrastructure, climate, geographical position and political stability, which is enhanced by its membership in the EU. At the same time, according to a research commissioned by the World Travel & Tourism Council-WTTC, tourism related revenues are expected to reach 29% of Cypriot GDP by 2028.
Focusing on another sector, Isabella Evripidou from Ifsa Experts, insists that “a profitable sector are investment companies, investment funds and real estate,” which in combination with tourism, show tremendous growth and create a momentum in Cypriot economy, which is expected to “run” with an annual growth rate averaging over 3% in real terms. During the last three years, the government has offered considerable incentives for investments in real estate. Multi-storey buildings in large cities,
a theme park-casino, shopping malls, luxury residential complexes, marinas and hotels attract the interest of investors. Indicatively, in the first four months of 2018 according to the Statistical Services, the building licenses issued were 6,6% more in comparison to the same period in 2017, while the total value of those licenses increased by 27,5% and the total area 24,5%. At the same time, the number of residential units grew by 22,3%. With the decrease of bank deposit interest rates, compared with the past, the return of rental real estate becomes more attractive and less risky, since demand far exceeds offer.
However, the spectrum of investment alternatives is constantly expanding. As Dimitris Nisiotis, the general manager of NetU says, “shipping was and still is a very competitive sector and the Cypriot fleet ranks 11th in the world and 3rd largest within the EU, while the island is considered the largest ship management center in Europe and third-largest globally”.
Apart from the traditional sectors, great investment interest is expressed in the sector of education. The recognition of private universities, offering very high undergraduate and postgraduate education, has created a new and very promising investment sector. Cyprus attracts students from a multitude of countries, making education a “heavy industry”, opening up opportunities for investment in research and technology as well. Courses offered in English give to the Cypriot private universities an advantage and access to a 5bn market, where they compete with the UK, Ireland, Australia and Singapore.
The same goes for the health sector, with dozens of private hospitals and clinics operating in the country. It is estimated that upon adoption of GHS (General Health System) the purchase of services in the private sector will skyrocket, thus creating opportunities for the expansion and upgrade of the sector and the establishment of new units.
Investment in renewable energy sources, which Christoforos Stylianidis from RCB considers a unique investment opportunity, proves to be of great interest, since the 2020 usage goals set are far from being accomplished, which in turn means that there is a need for new investments with immediate profit. Αs far as electricity production from renewables is concerned, Cyprus stands at 8,5%, whereas its goal and commitment to the EU is 16%. It is estimated that within the next two years, investments of 150m in renewable energy sources (wind farms and photovoltaic parks) will be required with an additional 180m euros in investments for the transportation of natural gas used in electricity production. Under the circumstances there is significant potential in energy investment, and the considerable incentives clearly minimize the risks.