The Nordic Outlook
Estonia Market Review 2014:
The Case of Investing in Commercial Property
Tallinn from Toompea Hill (EE)
1. Executive Summary - 3
note - 4
flow commercial property – the preferred investment alternative in 2014 - 5
- Bonds - 5
- Stocks - 5
real estate - 6
- Bonds - 5
has excellent rule of law combined with low inflation and loan interest
rates - 7
yields on European core markets are increasingly depressed due to surging demand - 8
on the Nordic-Baltic markets still showing solid yields - 9
beyond the standard figures – the case of Estonia - 11
economic and commercial property figures
volume, liquidity and convergence with the Nordic property market - 11
yield or real net yield? Lets get the
story straight with transaction costs -
corporate income tax in Estonia – what does it mean? - 15
Foundation rated Estonia having the most competitive tax system among the OECD
countries - 16
the first hassle free government to opt in?
control - 17
the past seven years more than 8% growth in the population of the capital city
Tallinn - 18
League and Protestant Spirit - 19
- What is
Talsinki and RailBaltic? - 20
ranks # 17 in the world in the ease of doing business and has the lowest
government debt in the EU - 22
Economist Intelligence Unit predicts higher GDP growth for 2015 in the Baltics
than in CEE countries, Western Europe and the OECD average - 23
- What is
behind the GDP numbers? - 23
ranks in the top 30% of European countries with
the best payment discipline – 26
largest gap between yield and interest rates in eurozone – a window of
opportunity for a leveraged investment?
- Key economic and commercial property figures - 11
- How to spot the right property? - 30
and sources for further reading - 32
While eurozone core countries` government bonds are at historic lows, the US stock market by some estimates already trading at a very high level, commercial property has a number of factors that speak in its favour as an investment alternative. In Europe real estate is outperforming stocks and since the US property market has already recovered, active fund managers are looking at opportunities in Europe, where the eurozone inflation of 0.3% and low commercial loan interest rates provide additional incentives. Yet due to the surging demand the yields on European core property markets are already relativily depressed to 4-5%, at the same time there is a „high yield belt“ of EU countries where commercial property at 8-9% yields can still be found. Among these countries are the Northern European Baltic countries, which according to the Economist Intelligence Unit will face higher GDP growth in the coming years compared to CEE countries and Western European countries.
In this study the case of Estonia is examined,
- where office and retail properties currently still trade at 8% yields and industrial and logistics 9% yields.
- The transaction volume of commercial property, peaked at 1 billion euros for the Baltic countries in 2007-2007 has recovered to roughly 500 million euros a year. Estonia, being in Northern Europe and neighbour to Sweden and Finland, with their commercial property markets being the most liquid in Europe, is expected to be the fastest to converge with the Nordic markets, followed by Latvia and Lithuania.
- The average transaction costs in Estonia do not exceed 3% of the property value, thus being twice lower than the European 6% average, which favours the rise in transaction volumes and increases the actual returns in cash flow significantly (+0,6(%)pp „hidden extra yield“ p.a. in a 5 year investment).
- The unique system Estonia`s 0% of corporate income tax on undistributed corporate profits has serious accumulative benefits for the investors and has strengthened the capitalization of local commercial banks.
- In addition, the Tax Foundation International Tax Competitiveness Index rated Estonian tax system in general as the most competitive among the OECD countries.
- The possibility to apply to become an e-resident of Estonia, the first country in the world to offer such thing, from December 2014 brings additional benefits of being able to establish a company and transfer funds online regardless of location, which helps to run down management costs significantly.
- Tallinn, the capital city and commercial center of Estonia, has witnessed a 8% growth in its population during the past seven years
- and hosts the European #7 busiest passenger port with 8,4 million passengers annually.
- Talsinki stands for the 1+ million metropolitan area of Tallinn and Helsinki combined (with suburbs and greater area almost 2 million). According to Financial Times fDiIntelligence European Cities of the Future 2014/15: Tallinn ranks #5 in the top 10 European business friendly cities in its category, while Helsinki holds the #2 place in the top 25 European cities overall.
- The integration is expected to deepen by 2022 when the high speed passenger and cargo train link RailBaltic is expected to be ready connecting Tallinn through Riga and Kaunas with Western Europe.
- Meanwhile Estonia continues to be an attractive place for business ranking #17 in the world in the ease of doing business index, #26 among the least corrupt countries in the world (top 15%) according to Transparency International and has the lowest government debt in EU of just 10% and sound fiscal policy, which mean that there is no pressure on the government to impose surprise tax hikes for investors to squeeze out money in order to pay back loans and interest.
- The Economist Intelligence Unit predicts GDP growth in the Baltics to be higher than in the CEE and Western Europe and OECD November 2014 report confirms this, projecting for Estonia an accelerating GDP growth reaching +3,4% in 2016.
- Behind the GDP of Estonia is a diverse and competitive export oriented economy consisting of large players like Ericsson, ABB, BLRT and Tallink. But IT and tech startups – notably Skype, Transferwise etc are playing a growing role. Estonia has also become the biggest exporter of wooden houses in the EU. A new wave of Estonian final end and often luxury products has emerged, featuring for example the Estelon hifi speakers, Bolefloor, Baltic Workboats, Saare Paat sailing yachts and Delta Powerboats or high tech snowplows of Meiren.
- Estonia also ranks in the top 30% of European countries with the best payment discipline, which gives assurance that the purchase yield will turn into the actual cash flow expected by the property owner.
- Leveraging option in the form of a loan from local commercial banks is frequently used and under current situation the leveraged yield in Estonia can be more than double the standard yield. With leverage option a 9% yield logistics property can easily have a leveraged yield of 18%. This is so because the average commercial bank corporate small loan interest rates as of 09.2014 according to ECB vary significantly even within the eurozone and were 3,1% in Estonia (Finland 3%, Germany 3,6, Latvia 4,2, eurozone average 4%). NordicProperty though has seen loan offers as low as total of 1,53% interest rate for larger properties in Estonia. It looks like Estonia currently has the highest difference between property yields and interest rates on commercial banks loans in the eurozone. The combination of high yields and low interest rates might be a rare window of opportunity for an investor looking at leveraging the property investment.
- All this combined makes Estonian commercial property worth looking at.
- Whether it is office, retail, logistics or industrial, spotting the right property with proper due diligence is essential. A good broker can help. Small and medium size investors might have an advantage, which does not exclude the possibility of a large fund entrance, if done with care and more than one country in the Nordic region is taken into consideration.
- Introductory note
This market review was written after I discussed with an foreign investor about a commercial property in Estonia and he asked me to send some sort of overview of the Estonian commercial property market. I was planning to get it done quickly and forward a link to one of those numerous market reviews available online, but I discovered that while they are very good at what they focus on, none of them opened a wider picture of aspects that I thought actually matter a lot when deciding on the geography of property investment. In addition a number of developments have taken place in Estonia this autumn which probably are not yet reported anywhere from the viewpoint of commercial property. So I decided to put together a 2-3 page report myself. But I ended up with a lot more work and with this more than 30 page report with pictures, diagrams and references that make it more like an academic study. Though – there is a less than two page executive summary as well. Those familiar with commercial property can skip chapter 3. However updates of bond and stock returns in comparison with property are quite standard in some real estate reviews as well. Within the text, sources are hyperlinked for the comfort of immediate access to original source, but as websites get archived and some links may not work therefore, the raw links are repeated in the references section at the very end where the domain name or internet search by headline should get you to the original source and additional reading, which is recommended as this study does not focus on repeating all the details that are much better shown in the traditional market reviews. Some research sources are accessible to registered users. You are encouraged to explore the references and sources for further reading and if you discover any errors or omissions I will be grateful if you let me know. Hopefully this paper contributes to increasing the awareness about the Nordic-Baltic commercial property markets and specifically that of Estonia and does so from somewhat a new angle.
flow commercial property – the preferred investment alternative in 2014
In achieving the three typical goals of wealth management - protecting capital against inflation, increasing its value and generating cash flow from it, commercial real estate currently seems to have a number factors that substantially increase its attractiveness compared to the other two classical assets: bonds and stocks.
Professor Richard Werner: „Yields fell this low in Genoa in the 15th century but there has been nothing like this in Europe in modern times.“
Eurozone core countries`s government bond yields are at historic lows, for example when Germany`s 10 year bond yield was above 4% back in 2008, it is currently just 0,82%, Portugal 3,21%, for the US the same figure is 2,36%, (Bloomberg government bond yields 13.11.2014). Professor Richard Werner, from Southampton University commented that „yields fell this low in Genoa in the 15th century but there has been nothing like this in Europe in modern times. This reflects the weakness in nominal GDP and a slow economic implosion caused by credit contraction. The European Central Bank is at last starting to act but it is only scratching the surface.“ (The Telegraph: Europe`s bond yields lowest since 15th century Genoa on deflation 29.07.2014). Although the US bond yield seems much higher, once you adjust it with inlation rates (US 1,7%, eurozone overall 0,3%) you would be looking at inflation adjusted yields which are relatively low in the US as well (European Central Bank inflation rates 13.11.2014).
UBS: Compared to other asset Classes, European real estate has delivered a total return that has exceeded bonds and equities over 5 year and 10 year periods.
One could argue that stocks have offered higher returns historically, bearing in mind of course the substantially higher risks as well compared to real estate and especially government bonds. For example Francis, Jack Clark from Baruch College and Ibbotson, Roger G. from Yale School of Management have found out that between 1978-2004 S&P 500 index outperformed commercial real estate by 3,91 percentage points (IbbotsonFrancis 2007 Yale, Baruch: Contrasting real estate investments with comparable investments 1978-2004). However timing is crucial. If there is a bubble, the long term better return hardly consoles one for the short term potentially grave losses. On the other hand, in case of Europe UBS has found out that real estate has actually outperformed stocks: „Compared to other asset Classes, European real estate has delivered a total return that has exceeded bonds and equities over 5 year and 10 year periods. This differs from our long-term expectations where we believe that the returns from the sector should fall between those of bonds and equities owing to the combination of bond and equity-like characteristics of real estate (UBS Global Asset Management Real Estate Research&Strategy - All you need to know August 2012). Recently, Euromoney observed the same trend in Europe from August 2013-August 2014 – the FTSE Epra/Nareit Europe has outperformed the EuroStoxx (Euromoney September 2014 pg 135). This study is not about stock market and does not carry any prognoses, but refers to a few sources for further due diligence: Currently there are alerts that the US stock market might be overpriced and may drop significantly. Moneynews reported in November 2014 that Warren Buffet, John Paulson and George Soros have recently drastically reduced their stock porfolios. (Moneynews: Billionaires dumping stocks, economists know why 13.11.2014). Some opinions are very gloomy (Moneynews: Stock Will Collapse by 50% 13.11.2014. Business Insider very recently reported that John Hussmann, the stock market analyst and mutual fund owner who predicted the 2008-2009 US recession, claims that the stock market is overvalued by 100% (Businessinsider: Hussmann - The Stock market is overvalued by 100% 09.11.2014). Jesse Colombo reported similar in Forbes in August 2014 (Forbes, Jesse Colombo 27.08.2014: Are Stock Heading For A Crash This Fall?)
These recent signals from numerous opinion leaders and heavyweight investors call for at least extended caution and elevated due diligence when considering investing to the publicly traded stock market at the current moment. As to the sources, I was almost going to leave out Moneynews as perhaps too alarming, but since similar message was repeated also in Forbes and BusinessInsider I decided not to exercise censorship on my side and leave a variety of sources in for the reader to judge. It is worth noting that these are mostly warnings based on US stock market and even if they prove to be accurate, it may not affect other stock markets. On the other hand, from the recent financial crisis of 2008 we remember that events triggered in a large economy bring about consequences globally. Whether or not these predictions by a number of professionals turn out to be true is not possible to answer within this paper.
- Commercial real estate
While direct ownership of commercial property (or real estate) requires larger amount of initial capital to participate, compared to stocks and bonds, its main attraction is the possibility to generate stable cash flow from the rents and more control over the investment, as there is a physical object (a piece of land with a building). As Lazard asset management has stated, one of the primary characteristics of commercial real estate is that a property provides strong and stable income flows (Lazard Asset Management: Understanding Real Estate`s Value Proposition).
The current yield level makes it very attractive compared to the alternatives, plus there is the potential that the compressed prices on the aftermath of the Great Recession will give in addition extra return upon exit. Commercial property also has much less volatility compared to stocks and is much more stable. Participating in direct commercial property investment requires substantially larger amount of capital compared to the stock market, where almost anybody could purchase a stock or two. Perhaps this is one reason why it has witnessed bubbles and crashes less frequently than the stock market (the exception being of course the recent „subprime mortgage“ bubble in residential real estate – but that actually proves the point that when loan policy made house mortgages available to almost everyone even if they were not able to service the loan, it caused a speculative bubble as a result). If stock prices can go up and down rather fast, then even during a recession rents tend to be surprisingly stable. This viewpoint is supported by Newsec which states that property yields are much more inert than bond yields (Newsec Property Outlook Autumn 2014, The Northern European Region).
Euromoney September 2014 states that the recovery of the global real estate market from the devastating toll inflicted by the financial crisis is continuing to gather pace, with investment almost back to 2008 levels and growing confidence fuelling increased risk appetite. It argues that liquidity is up and leverage is down and real estate finance is starting to look in rude health again. (Wigan, David: New era of financing emerges from the ashes, Euromoney September 2014 pg 133).
Yet competition for prime assets in core markets is rising, forcing investors to look to secondary markets in search of keener pricing and to diversify into unconventional assets. While loan ratios remain conservative, competition and the search for yield is tempting lenders further up the risk curve, the ability to leverage to produce a higher return, particularly in tame interest rate environment, continues (Euromoney pg 133).
Credit Suisse: The US has already recovered and people believe there`s very little upside there so we`ve seen a lot of the very active fund managers look at opportunities in Europe.
Bloomberg reports that US millionaires see the real estate as the top alternative asset class to own this year, according to Morgan Stanley: About 77 percent of investors with at least $1 million in assets own real estate, according to a survey released by the New York-based investment bank’s wealth-management unit. Direct ownership of residential and commercial properties was the No. 1 alternative-investment pick for 2014, with a third of millionaires surveyed saying they plan to buy this year. Twenty-three percent said they expect to invest in real estate investment trusts, the second-most popular choice (Bloomberg: Collins, Levitt: Millionaires see Real Estate as Top Investment for 2014 06.02.2014).
Euromoney: real estate prices have been rising in Germany for five years, climbing by an annual average of 5,7% nationwide, but in cities like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich prices are up by around a third over the same period.
Yet it is interesting to note that according Credit Suisse`s Bunge there is a lot of liquidity in the US and there`s a feeling among the investors that there`s more growth in the coming years in Europe than in the US: „The US has already recovered and people believe there`s very little upside there so we`ve seen a lot of the very active fund managers look at opportunities in Europe. They started in the UK, which recovered very, very fast and the next frontier was Spain, and to a lesser degree Portugal. Assets such as prime shopping centres that traded north of 7% a year ago today trade below 6% (Euromoney, September 2014, pg 135) Euromoney observed that real estate prices have been rising in Germany for five years, climbing by an annual average of 5,7% nationwide, but in cities like Berlin, Hamburg and Munich prices are up by around a third over the same period, according to the real estate consultacny Bulwiengesa (Euromoney pg 136).
has excellent rule of law combined with low inflation and loan interest rates
As commercial property is a long term investment (typically no less than 5 years) and is physically connected to the land, yield and return on eguity (ROE) are important, but not sufficient alone. When looking at region where to invest in commercial property, transparency, rule of law and inflation are of high importance. Some emerging economies might offer for example 9%+ yields, but if the inflation is also 9% and the rent agreements are not renegotiated each year or properly indexed, the effective yield becomes much lower. If leveraging is considered, then high interest rates on bank loans remove much of the extra profitability from that as well. In eurozone we are looking at inflation of 0,3% and commercial bank interest rates can easily be a total of 2,5% or even below. If you add to that probably the world`s #1 rule of law, ease of travelling within the Schengen area - that makes EU an attractive place for commercial property investment.
yields on European core markets are increasingly depressed due to surging
European economy is on the track of recovering from the global financial crisis and according to KPMG, real GDP is expected to exceed the 2008 level for the first time in the EU by the end of 2014 (KPMG Property Lendind Barometer 2014, hereinafter referred to as the „KPMG Barometer 2014“). The KPMG Barometer 2014 now includes CEE (the so called Central and Eastern Europe) and the Baltic countries as well. One important conclusion of that report is that investor activity in Europe has grown significantly, as Europe experienced a growth of 22% since 2012 and it reached the highest transaction volume since 2007. Due to increased demand, the prime yields are decreasing on the core markets and have reached significantly low level, i.e. close to pre crisis level and it is expected that during 2014 there will be substantial demand for prime investment opportunities (pg 9 KPMG Barometer 2014). For example prime office yield in Munich, Germany is now as low as 4,4% (KPMG European Real SnapShot Autumn 2014, hereinafter referred to as the „KPMG Snapshot“ pg. 6), 4,2% for retail and 6,3 % for logistics. In the UK prime investment yields in London continued to decrease throughout 2013 with 4-4,75% for office, prime retail 3-5,25% and prime logistics at 6,25%. Similarly, prime yields have declined in Vienna (4,7% office, 3,95% retail and 7,25% for logistics) The same goes for Sweden where prime yields are at historic lows - offices 4,5%, retail 4,5 and logistics 6,5% (KPMG Barometer 2014 pgs 28, 33, 41, 42). This has caused investors to turn to so called second round European countries like Poland where there was a noticable decrease in premiums and currently the yields are 6% for offices, 5,9% for retail and 7,25% for logistics in Poland (KPMG Barometer 2014 pg 35). Financial times reported on November 24th 2014 that Polish stability draws real estate investors and its commercial property market is set to reach 3bn€ volume, as international investors flock the country. Investors indicate that Asian markets are overheating and now they are looking to invest in the European recovery. But the demand has lowered the benchmark yield in office market below 6% (in Poland) and is expected to fall further. (Financial Times: Polish stability draws real estate 24.11.2013).
Examples of prime office yield levels in selected European cities
While European core markets and now also Poland show good transaction volume and remain attractive as a safe place for commercial property transactions, the compression on property prices after the Great Recession is over and generally it is not possible to find the deals that were around in 2009-2010 any more, where due to the lack of financing capacities core properties could sometimes be purchased even at around 8-9% yield level. It is worth noting though that in 2009 equity and debt transactions were at a virtual standstill.
on the Nordic-Baltic markets still showing solid yields
The wave of economic recovery is spreading across Europe and makes it worthwhile for investors to go beyond Germany, UK and even Poland to spot countries where good deals could still be found. Trends in the overall economic performance also affect the state of commercial property. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the EU’s compound GDP growth rate should average 1.7% over the next three years. GDP growth in the CEE region is expected to outperform the EU’s forecasts and average 3.3% from 2015 to 2017. (KPMG Snapshot pg 47). The prime yield levels in the Baltics were in the range of 7,5-8% for offices, 7,5-7,75 for retail and 8,9-9% for logistics (KPMG Barometer 2014 pg 29). In Finland the yields are not as high but still relatively strong between 5,2-7,25% according to DTZ. If the prime yields in a number of European core markets are around 4% but in the Baltics properties with yields still around 8% and more could be found, then the 100% higher yield level is a good reason to take a closer look at the region. To visualize below is a look on a the map of Europe on the example of prime logistics yields in Europe (Q2, 2014) according to DTZ and the expected yield shifts in 2014-1028:
Source: DTZ research (DTZ: research ESRI Investment Market Update Europe Logistics H12014. Momentum to continue despite record volume Hereinafter referred to as the „DTZ Europe Logistics 2014“)
This map visualizes that while in a number of core EU countries the yields are being compressed, there is a belt of EU capital cities still showing strong yields: Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Budapest and Bucharest. As DTZ itself phrases it „Strong competition between investors has started to drive prime yield down in some markets on the continent, including in the Netherlands and Poland [...] However, there are still some markets with yields standing above 9%, such as in Budapest and the Baltic markets (DTZ Europe Logistics 2014 pg 1).
DTZ states that economic recovery is still in early stages in much of Europe. In Europe, the CEE countries continue to lead the recovery with an outperforming GDP growth. CEE and Nordic countries will lead the recovery with industrial production to grow by 4,4% and 2,3% per annum from 2014-2018 respectively (DTZ pg 3). Likewise, in consumer spending the CEE, UK and the Nordic will outperform the regional average with growth above 2% over the same period (DTZ pg3). DTZ concludes that interestingly the industrial sector has not yet seen the huge capital flows recorded in the peripheral countries. I would add that if it had already witnessed this, there probably would have been shifts on the yield levels as well. These key figures in front of us lead to the logical questions – perhaps this is the right moment to enter into the commercial property of the „high yield belt“ of the European Union? If yes, which countries from the list of „where the money can still be made“ would be the best to start with?
DTZ: Strong competition between investors has started to drive prime yield down in some markets on the continent, including in the Netherlands and Poland [...] However, there are still some markets with yields standing above 9%, such as in Budapest and the Baltic markets.
Useful insights were made by Dovre Forvaltning (an asset management company founded by Stig R. Myrseth from Norway and registered in Lithuania, the founder has been selected by the Norwegian Financial Daily in 2010 as the Norway`s best stock picker) about the Baltic real estate market on November 3rd, 2014. Dovre Forvaltning reports that „Baltic commercial property offers generous risk premiums and is an attractive investment. At first glance the Baltic commercial real estate doesn’t appear obviously cheap. Prime yields in the Baltic capitals are at 7.5-8.0 percent, while the corresponding level in Oslo is at 5.0 percent. It is easy to argue that the yield premium of 250-300 basis points is a reasonable compensation for risks related to politics and lower liquidity. The picture changes, however, if one looks deeper into the matter. First, borrowing costs in the Baltics are lower since the region is part of the euro zone. This increases the profitability of real estate investments. Secondly, the prospects for growth in property values are clearly stronger than in Norway. Typically 2/3 of the return on commercial real estate comes from regular rental income while a third is due to appreciation. Because of convergence in wages and prices to the rest of Europe, the Baltic States have systematically higher growth in rents and thus property values over time. With 50 percent higher yield (Dovre operates in this calculation apparently with Oslo 5% vs Baltic 7,5% yields), lower funding costs and higher capital appreciation potential the Baltic commercial property is an attractive investment option (Dovre Forvaltning: Equities and commercial property in the Baltics 03.11.2014).
beyond the standard figures – the case of Estonia
economic and commercial property figures
Estimated prime yields in Tallinn (incl its near vicinity for industrial and logistic)
Industrial and logistics
The GDP per capita (nominal) in Estonia is 14 737€ (Latvia-LV and Lithuania- LV 11 900€) and foreign direct investment stock per capita is 11 971€ ( LV 5000€, LT 4119€). Total new office space in Tallinn is around 615 000 m2, total mall space 680 000 m2, shopping center vacancy rate around 0%, total new warehouse space 850 000 m2, vacancy 3% prime office yields are around 8%, retail 8%, industrial and logistics around 9%, residential investment yield 5,2% according to Ober Haus 2014 forecast (Ober Haus Real Estate Market Report 2014 Baltic States Capitals Vilnius Riga Tallinn). It must be noted though that in some categories there might have been a slight trend for compression of these yields recently. Others, on the contrary predict that yields will remain the same or even rise, perhaps inspired by certain geopolitical trends viewed from far away with little zoom in. That topic perhaps might justify an additional chapter, which is left out of this study in order not to prolong the already very lengthy volume, but the brief conclusion is that this study rather projects that in the coming years the yields will come down to a degree, giving an advantage to those who manage to acquire the property before the yield compression. For example, residential property in Estonia has already witnessed +20% price increase during 2013, according to the Bank of Estonia. As to the commercial property, our market intelligence at NordicProperty shows that investor confidence has increased and this is exemplified in the somewhat increased number of property investors within the category who are focused exclusively on buying new properties to their portfolio and not interested to sell any when we approach them in search of properties. Or they are only ready to sell at 5% yield, which is basically saying the same with different words. These signs probably do not show in most market reviews yet. In some rare cases there might still be available commercial property with a long term government tenant, where the yield rate may be also slightly lower, which corresponds to the lower risk level in analogy to government bond yields being typically lower than private loan yields.
volume, liquidity and convergence with
the Nordic property markets
- One factor that affects transaction volume is the price level of the property. If an analogy with residential markets could be used, then average purchase price per square meter varies significantly – for example in Monaco it is 44,5 thousand (t) €, in Switzerland 11,3 t/€, Sweden and Finland 6,2 t/€, Luxenbourg 5,7t/€ and Estonia 2,37 t/€, according to the The Global Property Guide. That makes a 2,7 times price difference between Estonia and Finland and if this could be used as a general theoretical benchmark for real estate then if the price per square meter was the same, the transaction volume in the Baltics were automatically not 0,48 billion but 1,3 billion euros, even if the exact same amount of property in terms of square meters would have been traded between owners.
- Second factor is the amount of property that changes ownership. For example the sale and leaseback option is perhaps not yet as widespread and this could be an additional potential growth area for the commercial property trading market, as more companies might want to free their capital from real estate to focus on expansion in their core competence area.
- A third factor is the total stock of commercial property in its various categories like office, retail, logistics and industrial. The more square meters there are per capita the larger is the total stock of potentially tradable commercial property. The total amount of property in turn is being developed in correlation with the overall growth of economy.
- Fourth, the overall market activity has been strongly affected by the Great Recession of 2009, which virtually halted the market activity in whole Europe and which has already been overcome in European core markets, but the wave is now moving across the Europe. According to Newsec, Finnish and Danish property markets are somewhat behind in recovery compared to Sweden and Norway, which in turn makes the former a good potential for investor to position themselves for the future pick up in the activity.
- However if the 2013 transaction volume of the Baltic countries + Finland combined (with the total population of 11,65 million people) of 3 billion euros is taken into account, then comparing it to the volume of Poland in 2013 of 3,4 billion euros and its population of 38,5 million people, the transaction volume per capita even on the current market was roughly 3 times less in Poland.
There are a number property funds present on the Estonian commercial property market in addition to direct private equity. It is estimated that roughly 50% of the commercial property is held by local capital, some 40% by Western European (mostly Scandinavians, but notably also from Italy) and roughly 10% by capital from CIS countries (mostly Russia, this category has seen increase recently). The liquidity on a smaller market is not as high as for example on London property market. On the other hand, this is rewarded with higher yields and yield in the form of cash flow is very liquid again. Yet if maximum liquidity was the primary concern, one would do better keeping away from London commercial property as well and stick to stocks or bonds, or even better – hold on to the cash. Estonia is not (or perhaps not yet) in the very center of focus of the largest funds. This may actually provide an opportunity for small and medium size investors, who would not be making the comparable returns if the large players would start to compete for the properties and drive the prices up and consequently yields down, as has happened in Poland for example. Actually, the liquidity can be in correlation with yields and does not interest an investor who wants to hold on to the property for a longer time and earn high yield in the form of cash flow from the rents. But if the investor is looking for a fast or sudden sale in large quantities then one should look mostly at the transaction activity, but probably substantial concessions on the yield level then have to be made.
If viewed as a region – Estonia combined with Finland, Latvia and Lithuania one would already today look at a roughly 3 billion euro annual commercial property transaction volume (which roughly corresponds to the total of Polish transaction volume in 2013) , which means even a larger fund could put together a portfolio of properties in more than one country. All those countries being in EU and soon also in eurozone make the national borders less important. If one adds the fact that Finnish government has recently taken over the Estonian central architecture of e-government – the X-road – from Estonia (The Arctic Startup: Finland to Implement the Estonian X-Road Infrastructure 13.09.2013) it may soon be that the benefits of what is described in the e-residency part of this study will one day enable to do business similar way in the whole Nordic-Baltic region. If however a large fund would enter the market in a loud manner, the consequence will probably be a substantial compression of yields. On the other hand a discrete entrance with a diversified portfolio in more than one country in the region might not rock the market. The size of the market activity are not necessarily in direct correlation with the population size as is exemplified by Luxenbourg, Singapore, Switzerland or Monaco, but more related to the dynamics of the overall economic outlook. For example Luxembourg ranks as # 6 top liquid commercial property market in Europe according to DTZ (DTZ: Sweden is Europe’s most liquid commercial property market 11.03.2013), while Sweden is the most liquid market in Europe even ahead of the UK, Finland ranks as top # 8.
Newsec: the Nordic property market is highly liquid in European perspective and in recent years is has accounted for about 15-20% of the total European property turnover.
In conclusion according to Newsec the Nordic property market is highly liquid in European perspective and in recent years it has accounted for about 15-20% of the total European property turnover (the EU total being around 120-150 billion euros, depending from the year), a high level relative to the region1s population which is just over 5% of the total EU population. At the same time Newsec concludes that „in Sweden and Norway however the window of opportunity for property investors „to ride the market“ is now quickly closing, while for example the logistics in Tallinn are currently showing the highest yields in the Northern European region at around 9%“. Newsec sees in the Baltic region opportunities for new investors and points out that the currency risk has been removed after the adoption of the euro in Estonia (2011), Latvia (2014) and Lithuania joining the euro in 2015. The three trends in the Baltics to observe according to Newsec are: 1. Increasing transaction volumes, 2. Rising retail and office rents, 3. Opportunity for high returns with low risk on investment. However it is important to note that rental levels are still in the recovery stage and property values are very reasonable, often at around their development cost. Together with the imminent rise in retail and office rents as well as yield compression, capital values are expected to demonstrate impressive growth thus offering a chance to get high returns on investment within a short timescale, concludes Newsec.
Continuing convergence with the Nordic countries` economy and price levels leave room for market growth. For example according to BHP Paribas (BNP Paribas European Office Market 2014) in Q4 2104 the prime rents in €/ m2/year were 508€ in Stockholm, 345€ in Helsinki, 204€ in Tallinn and 152€ in Riga. Within growth potential in terms of appreciation the purchase price of property per m2 is central , while the total volume of total commercial space in m2 is more connected to the
Newsec: Over time the Baltic property market is expected to converge with the Nordic.
overall economic growth. In essence it comes down to who can best predict and act where the economy will grow. An additional benefit is that thanks to the lower price level of property, one is able to enter into having a separate individual piece of functional commercial property with a smaller amount of equity compared to Sweden for example, which effectively lowers the barriers of acquiring a direct ownership of a commercial property. One important point of this analysis is that especially Estonia, but also Latvia and Lithuania, unless the latter would like to position itself more into the CEE group along with its larger neighbour Poland, will converge more and more with the neighbouring Nordic countries to a degree where even the term „Baltic“ would start to loose much of its economic content, as geographically they already are as Nordic as one could be. This approach is strongly supported by the latest Newsec report where it states that: „Over time the Baltic property market is expected to converge with the Nordic“ (Newsec pg 30).
yield or real net yield? Lets get the
story straight with transaction costs
Due to the 0% of property transfer tax the effective yield in a 5 year investment in an object with the same standard yield rate in Estonia is 2,5 pp(%) higher than in Belgium and 1,2 pp(%) higher than in Germany.
Transaction costs vary widely across Europe, but average out at around 6% to buy and 1,5% to sell (UBS Global Asset Management, Global Real Estate Research & Strategy -All you need to know 2012 pg 9). In some countries there are stamp duties on commercial property acquisitions which can reach relatavely high number in euros in some countries, many countries have taxed the transfer of commercial property. There is no real estate transfer tax in Estonia. Or to rephrase - the real estate transfer tax in Estonia is 0%. In some countries this tax alone can form a large chunk of the transaction value, for example in Germany the real estate transfer tax is depending on the Bundesland between 3,5-6%, in Netherlands 6%, in Poland 1%, in England and Wales 0,5% (CMS Guide to Real Estate Transaction Costs in Europe 30.09.2014). In Belgium the real estate transfer tax is a whopping 12,5% (Ed Nozeman: Transaction costs in commercial real estate - a European comparison). An object with the same standard yield rate about which one can read in various market reviews with an investment period of 5 years until exit has actually effective yield 2,5 percentage points (pp) (%) lower in Belgium and 1,2 pp (%) lower in Germany compared to Estonia due to the property transfer tax alone! To rephrase, due to the 0% of property transfer tax the effective yield in Estonia is 2,5 pp (%) higher than in Belgium and 1,2 pp (%) higher than in Germany in a 5 year investment in the same investment object.
Transaction costs in a standard purchase deal in Estonia do not exceed a total of 3% which is two times less than the European average of 6%. That alone gives a commercial property in Estonia a „hidden“ extra +0,6 pp (%) yield per 5 year investment period.
For example if a property was to have the same theoretical standard 4% yield rate in Germany and Estonia, the real estate transfer tax would make the effective yield per annum different by 1,2 pp (%) for a 5 year investment. That means the real net yield taking into account the higher transaction costs in Germany would not be 4, but 2,8%, or the comparable yield in Estonia would not be 4%, but 5,2%. If the actual standard yields were to be taken into account, then with this aspect taken into account, the yield of Munich Germany vs Tallinn Estonia would not be 4,4% and 8% respectively, but rather 4,4% and 9,2%. This is something that does not usually come out of the standard commercial property market reviews.
These numbers show that the European average of 6% on transaction costs is not the limit and in a number of cases the property tax alone can be higher than the average total cost. In addition notary costs and/or business registry costs if acquisition is done through the shares of a company (typically called the SPV – special purpose vehicle or a company set up just for owning and managing the property). Sometimes extra due diligence and tax planning is used. Brokerage fees come on top of that.
Without going into further details, the transaction costs in a standard purchase deal in Estonia including all various types of one time transaction costs (including property registration, notary fee, brokerage fee, setting up an SPV if needed) will not exceed a total of 3% of the value of the property, which is two times less than the European avergage of 6%. If a country would exist where transaction costs are exactly the European average of 6%, then that alone gives a commercial property in Estonia a „hidden“ extra +0,6 pp (%) yield per 5 year investment period. This means that a property with a yield of 8% in a 6% transaction cost country would mean an effective yield of 8,6% in Estonia in this comparison.
- 0% corporate income tax in Estonia – what does
There is no annual corporate income tax in Estonia. As PWC has described it, Estonia has a unique corporate tax system since 2000: all undistributed corporate profits are tax exempt (PWC Doing Business and Investing in Estonia 2014 pg 43). 0% corporate income tax is imposed on all reinvested earnings (PWC pg 15). A flat tax of 21% (starting from 2015 20%) is only paid if final dividends are taken out of the company. In practice that means that as long as the profit stays in the company or is used for further investment, no tax applies. This could also be called extra +20% liquidity for the company. OECD corporate income tax weighted avergage in 2013 was 32,5%. To bring a very simple example – if a company makes a net operating income(NOI) from the rents of a commercial property of 1 MEUR in a year, then on average in OECD countries roughly 300 thousand euros from that earned money is to supposed to be given away as a corporate income tax at the end of each year. In case of Estonia, the company gets to keep the whole million for indefinite time (which can naturally accumulate each year as it is not diluted by annual corporate income tax)or have up to 30% more reinvestment power into new projects. Reinvestment includes everything that is not the final distribution of dividends for personal use, including loan or equity financing , also into other companies, also including foreign entities. If one really has no specific idea what to do with the 300 000 € left, that amount can buy a nice apartment in central Tallinn for the company that can be rented out for additional corporate income. Then at the end of the day of course when taking out dividends for personal use the 20% tax has to be payed. But even that is a very competitive rate compared to the OECD 32,5% average. One more effect is that accounting is also much easier as there is no incentive at all to do unnecessary, hasty or even inflated business costs at the end of each business year with the aim of reducing the annual corporate income tax to be paid. Additional effect was exemplified by Priit Perens, CEO of Swedbank Estonia: “The capitalization of our banks is high – this is being supported largely by the Estonian tax system, which does not tax undistributed profits. This means the money made here has been accumulating here for years, contributing to the rise of capitalization.“ (Postimees, the Estonian daily 24.11.2014).
Priit Perens, CEO of Swedbank Estonia: “The capitalization of our banks is high – this is being supported largely by the Estonian tax system, which does not tax undistributed profits. This means the money made here has been accumulating here for years, contributing to the rise of capitalization.“
The benefits of Estonia`s 0% corporate income tax on undistributed profits do not usually show their full potential when just looking at standard international tax rate comparisons, as they apparently do not have the „formula“ to take into account the cumulative financial effect stemming from the potentially indefinite postponement of the tax. For international investors looking to repatriate the cash in addition all classical crossborder tax planning measures that are legal and widespread within EU are of course also at disposition.
Foundation rated Estonia having the most competitive tax system among the OECD
In addition to the unique regime of corporate income tax, Estonia was rated in September 2014 by the The Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index (ITCI) to have overall the most competitive tax system among the OECD countries, followed by New Zealand on 2nd and Switzerland on 3rd place. The ITCI measures the degree to which the 34 OECD countries’ tax systems promote competitiveness through low tax burdens on business investment and neutrality through a well-structured tax code. The ITCI considers more than forty variables across five categories: Corporate Taxes, Consumption Taxes, Property Taxes, Individual Taxes, and International Tax Rules (The Tax Foundation: Estonia has the Most Competitive Tax System in the OECD 05.09.2014).
- E-residency: the first hassle free government
to opt in?
An e-resident will be able to do business regardless of one`s physical location, be it another country or the comfort of home office. From laptop computer with internet a company can officially be established online in around 20 minutes. Contracts can be signed with digital signature, access to bank accounts and e-Tax board, making it not just convenient but can significantly save costs as well.
What does the opportunity of becoming an e-resident mean for an international commercial property investor? To put it very briefly, it will enable one to do almost any business formality the way it is being done already by Estonian residents. That means business can be done regardless of where one is located physically, be it another country or the comfort of home office. From laptop computer with internet a company or its subsidiary can officially be established online in around 20 minutes. Contracts can be signed with digital signature (especially convenient if it is a multi-party agreement with people across different geographical locations). There is a whole number of reasons why digital signature is much more secure than pencil one, in addition of getting rid of the time and money costs of shuffling the papers around in a mediaeval way or buying plane tickets. Tax formalities (most Estonians spend on income tax declarations no more than 15 minutes a year) are part of e-government. Identify yourself through e-residency to check the bank account and do bank transfers, including through Transferwise (it used to be an Estonian startup, now it is offering international money transfers at a fraction of costs compared to the banks). If you add to that skype audio and videoconferences (another Estonian invention), you will really need a plane ticket only for the right reasons – to communicate with people face to face, look at the property, feel the air, visit the restaurants and so on. Starting from December 1st 2014 the program will be opened for official e-residency applications. So far about 60% of respondents have stated that the reason for them to get e-residency is running a business. The ambition is set by the government to have up to 10 million new e-residents of Estonia in the years to come. E-residency is another step for Estonia in becoming the Switzerland of the digital era. Australia ABC news pointed out that e-residency makes a good platform also for businesspeople from outside EU to enter the EU market through Estonia using the e-residency, making redundant $ 4000 directors for sitting in the board for you in an overseas entity (ABC News Australia: Is this the beginning of the end of nation state 25.11.2014).
After publishing the opportunity during 24 hours more than 6000 people around the world signed up to become Estonian e-residents – here is the link to learn more about it, register for updates and apply for e-resicency (Register to become an e-resident of Estonia).
- 100% control
There are no restrictions nor special requirements on commercial property ownership for foreign residents. The only exception is some types of agricultural land where citizens or legal persons outside OECD countries face restrictions. There are also no requrements for the SPV (a special company through which the commercial property is typically owned. This is the most common and convenient option, though direct transfer of property to a physical or legal person is also possible) to have any local management board members. Unlike in some countries, there is also no minimum pay requirements for the board members. If desired, a local trustee can of course be appointed
- During the
past seven years more than 8% growth in the population of the capital city
In addition to the fast growth of the population in Tallinn the Estonian government has recently taken an active position in attracting foreing skilled people and entrepreneurs to relocate to Estonia (The portal initiated in January 2014 by Enterprise Estonia www.workinestonia.com, see also the article in the EstonianWorld (Estonianworld: Martin Hirvoja - Estonia to attract foreign talents 05.08.2014). This opportunity is already popular with mostly Finnish, Swedish but also Russian businesspeople who have moved their residence and business to Tallinn. As Estonia is heavily developing IT and product development, there is a growing understanding among politicians and the people that in order for the economy to grow, especially specific area experts need to be attracted to relocate.
- Hanseatic League and Protestant spirit
Tallinn and a number of other cities and towns in Estonia were in 14-17th century members of the Hanseatic League, which is often considered to be the forefather of the European Union (The Economist: Charlemagne - The new Hanseatic League). Hanseatic League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe and included for example the trading cities which we today know as London, Hamburg, Antwerp, Tallinn and Stockholm. It was during the Hanseatic times of a flourishing trade city when the UNESCO world heritage Tallinn mediaeval old town was built.
Tallinn old town (EE)
Estonia is not only geographically a Nordic country, but its history is also very intertwined with the Nordic countries. For example the Danes got their flag „Dannebrog“ from Tallinn in 1219 and the Swedish King Gustav Adolphus founded in Estonia in 1632 the University of Tartu, one of the oldest universities in Northern Europe. Today the Baltic countries are also the observer members of the Nordic Council.
Tallinn old town (EE)
Estonia is one of the 14 countries in the world which have predominantly Protestant cultural influences together with for example Finland, Sweden, UK, the Netherlands, USA and Australia. As an anomaly, Estonia is virtually the only one of them not yet in the very top league of economically most advanced countries. Having been roughly on par level with Finland prior to 1940 and having reached roughly 70% of GDP per capita compared to the EU average during the past 20 years, the most obvious explanation is that it still has more work to do to make up for the 50 years under the Soviet rule. Most famously Max Weber has studied the contribution of Protestant thought on the modern economic system in his book „The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism“. These centuries long cultural and historic influences have according to Weber fostered some general societal mindset and behaviour which translates into a rather straightforward business culture which values honouring the contracts and hard work (on the picture people in Tallinn old town taking a break). As a disclaimer, this paper is only referring to historic and academic research and does not make an independent claim on the specific interconnections of history, any religion, business and society, especially it is not saying that these values are not present elsewhere, but recognizes the general idea of probable interconnectedness and cultural cross-fertilization, just like it would be unfound to deny for example the historic connection between Yoga and Hinduism.
Martin Kolbe, Kühne+ Nagel group CIO: „the decisive factor in moving the IT centre to Estonia was not the volume of costs, but rather cultural compatibility and the capabilities of people residing here.“
As a recent example, in 2013 the global logistics giant Kühne+Nagel headquartered in Hamburg established its IT center for the whole group in Estonia. Enteprise Estonia worked closely with facilitating this major investment as for the company a number of countries were on the list as potential investment target countries. In the end, as the Kühne+ Nagel group CIO Martin Kolbe explained, the decisive factor in moving the IT centre to Estonia was not the volume of costs, but rather cultural compatibility and the capabilities of people residing here (Kuehne+Nagel CIO Martin Kolbe comment on establishing the Group IT center in Estonia). See also in Kuehne+Nagel case study in Investinestonia. In 2013 Kühne+Nagel also received the Estonian National Entrepreneurship award (Transportweekly on Kuehne+Nagel). Foreign investors like Kühne+Nagel are a welcome addition to the already vibrant community of tech companies already present in Estonia. These types of businesses have one thing in common – they all need office space.
- What is
Talsinki and RailBaltic?
Tallinn passenger port (EE)
Tallinn is located between Stockholm to the west (379km), Saint Petersburg (317 km) to the East and Helsinki to the North (82 km). Though being close to the metropols of Stockholm and St. Petersburg, it has a special relationship with Finland and Helsinki in particular – not just because of the very similar language, but due to being very close geographically as well. The word „Talsinki“ stands for the concept of almost twin cities across the gulf combining the 400 thousand plus strong Tallinn and the over 600 thousand Helsinki (The Baltic Times: "Talsinki" - a 21st Century Metropolis). Even without the suburbs of Tallinn and Helsinki, which are not officially calculated in the population, we are talking about a joint metropolitan area of approximately 1 million inhabitants, which is already approaching the size of for example Munich with its 1,3 million population. Though if the Greater Helsinki Metropolitan area of 1,39 million plus Greater Tallinn area of 600 thousand is taken into account we are talking of a combined population of the Talsinki metropol of almost 2 million. According to Eurostat, the official statistics of the EU, the port of Tallinn with 8,4 million passengers a year is the #7th busiest port in Europe among the EU top 20 busiest passenger ports. Number one is Dover in the UK with appriximately 12 million passengers a year. What deserves highlighting is that the port of Tallinn has the fastest growth rate among the EU top 20 ports with a rate of +4,6% in 2012 and 4,8% for 2013 (Eurostat top 20 passenger ports in EU). According to the statistics of the port of Tallinn, of that traffic the majority or 6 million passengers travel annually between Tallinn and Helsinki.
According to Eurostat, the port of Tallinn with 8,4 million passengers a year is the #7th busiest passenger port in Europe.
Financial Times fDiIntelligence European Cities of the Future 2014/15: Tallinn ranks #5 in the top 10 European business friendly cities in its category, while Helsinki holds the #2 place in the top 25 European cities overall
This very intense traffic between Tallinn and Helsinki explains the best why the area is now often referred to as the Talsinki Metropolis. What it means for economy is that with the lower price level compared to Finland, which is among the worlds most expensive countries, millions of Finns use the opportunity to purchase almost anything from Estonia. Secondly, as Tallinn is much older city compared to Helsinki (Tallinn 1155, Helsinki was founded 1550 to rival Tallinn but was tiny town plagued by poverty, wars, and diseases and really started to develop into a major city from 1809) and many Finns consider Tallinn the closest place to feel the atmosphere of historic „continental Europe“. Third – increasing number of Finns are also living in Tallinn and have brought over their businesses over as the cost and tax level is not as high and business climate is excellent. Estonia being geographically and culturally so close with Finland, but also with Sweden, is becoming more and more a Nordic country, with Latvia and Lithuania following as their capitals are somewhat further away from Helsinki and Stockholm. While the economic convergence with the income and price level (which will probably not leave the commercial property intact as well) of the Nordic countries is predictably faster in Estonia, Riga maintains its strength as a stand alone largest city in the three countries and Lithuania benefits from its larger internal market and closeness to Poland.
According to the fDiIntelligence of Financial Times European Cities of the Future 2014/15 (fDiIntelligence European Cities of the Future 2014/15), ranking the most promising investment locations in Europe, Tallinn ranks 5th among the top 10 European business friendly cities while Zurich was # 1 in this category of mid-size cities. In cost effectiveness Tallinn ranks #3 in the same category. This is no match to the full potential of Tallinn and cannot compete yet with Helsinki which won the # 2 place in the top 25 European cities overall, #1 was London and Eindhoven in the Netherlands came third after Helsinki. Though the business climate of Estonia is well known in Finland and many businesses have moved across the gulf. At the same time, while Helsinki and Tallinn might compete somewhat, more importantly both have acknowledged that forces need to be joined to increase the combined weight of greater Talsinki business area as both can win from that. This is exemplified for example by the joint trade missions of Estonia and Finland which have been co-led by both countries`s cabinet ministers.
Finland is interested together with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania of the construction of a high speed train link called RailBaltic stretching from Tallinn through Riga to the center of Western Europe (RailBaltic), where the preparations finally got going on operational level on October 29th 2014 when the ministers of the three countries signed documents to establish a joint company which will build for 3,6 billion euros the 700 km long railway with passenger speed of 240 km/h with a substantial co-financing from the EU, to be ready at earliest by 2022. RailBaltic is mostly meant for cargo transport to take off the very heavy truck traffic load from Via Baltica and offer also the Finland and Estonia an alternative route to the seaways for their exports to Western Europe. This could mean additional demand for logistics property in Tallinn and near Tallinn, as there is still no direct raillink between Helsinki and Tallinn and wares may need to be offloaded.
There are in addition ideas inspired by the Copenhagen-Malmö twin city bridge and the UK-France Eurotunnel to also build an underground train tunnel between Helsinki and Tallinn. The municipality of Viimsi (neighbour residential or suburban parish to Tallinn) has already reserved a corridor for it in municipal land planning, but there are no concrete operational plans yet as the cost and benefit ratio of such major development is still under discussion (Helsinki-Tallinn tunnel). Perhaps in the short term more immediate benefit could rise from modernizing the train link between Tallinn and St. Peterburg which with its roughly 5 million inhabitants is just a little over 300 km away over land, but the current political atmosphere might not favour achieving this in the short term.
In summary, the already very intense passenger, but also cargo traffic through the port of Tallinn, mostly between Helsinki, but also the half an hour flight time (or 18 minutes by helicopter), concrete plans to go ahead with high speed RailBaltic and in addition the longer term vision of a prospective tunnel connection between Helsinki and Tallinn clearly give today`s substance and further growth perspective to the „Talsinki“ metropolitan area and potentially catalyzes new business growth which in turn will increase the demand for various types of commercial property.
ranks # 17 in the world in the ease of doing business and has the lowest
government debt in EU
In the Doing Business, which is probably the most comprehensive index measuring the various aspects that make a good business environment of a country, Estonia ranks # 17 of the 189 countries in the world in the ease of doing business (The Global Doing Business country rankings). Within the general ranking it got especially good ranks in the subsections of the ease of trading across borders (#6 in the world) and registering property (#13 in the world).
Estonia is the most integrated country with Western institutions in the Nordic-Baltic region, being a member of EU, Schengen, NATO, OECD and eurozone.
Transparency and low corruption is also important for making a good business regardless of the sector, Estonia ranks # 28 in the word according to Transparency International (TI), thus being among the 16% of least corrupt countries in the world. In transparency Estonia is ahead of all the so called CEE and Baltic countries and ranks also better than for example Spain or Israel (Transparency International country rankings 2013). In 2014 TI ranking Estonia went up two places to a position # 26 worldwide, sharing the same ranking with France and being now among the world top 15% in this regard.
Estonia is the most integrated country with Western institutions in the Nordic-Baltic region, being a member of EU, Schengen, NATO, OECD and also in eurozone (having € as currency) since 2011. To explain, Finland is not in NATO, Norway is in NATO, but not in the EU, Sweden is not in eurozone nor NATO. Latvia joined euro in 2014 to be followed by Lithuania in 2015, but both are not yet the members of the OECD, the organization known as the club of 34 democratic and industrialized countries with advanced market economy around the world.
Estonia has the lowest government debt among the EU countries according to Eurostat of just 10% of the GDP, while the EU average is 88%.
In public finances Estonia has the lowest government debt among the EU countries according to Eurostat (Eurostat government debt to GDP diagram) of just 10% of the GDP, while the EU average is 88%. In fact, Estonia used to have virtually no government debt at all before it participated in the bailout of Greece. It is one of the few countries which does not even have such thing as government bonds, since it is not borrowing money from the public. In international credit ratings Estonia stands as follows: Moody's: A1, outlook stable; Standard & Poor's: AA-/A-1+, outlook stable;Fitch: A+, outlook stable (Estonia`s international credit ratings). Why are sound government finances important? They give extra assurance that the government is not in a situation where it is compelled to surprise the entrepreneur or property owner with sharp increases in taxes to finance the debt.
The direct connection between the institutional buildup and standards of governance and economic advancement is perhaps the best described by Acemoglu and Robinson in their book Why Nations Fail (Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty is book by Turkish-American economist, Daron Acemoglu from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and political scientist James A. Robinson from Harvard University 2012 http://whynationsfail.com/).
Economist Intelligence Unit predicts higher GDP growth for 2015 in the Baltics
than in Western Europe, other CEE countries
and the OECD average
Real GDP growth prediction 2015 according to the Economist Intelligence Unit
When looking at investing in commercial property, in addition to the yield rates, transaction costs, tax regime, demographic trends, cultural compatibility, trends in transport connections, ease of doing business and rule of law and government debt level, a snapshot of what is the economy and where it might be going is also essential.
As said before, the CEE region`s average predicted economic growth is higher than the EU average. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) the average annual GDP growth for the period of 2014-2018 in the EU will be 1,8%, but in the case of Eastern Europe growth will accelerate in 2014 and 2015, but overall an average of 2,9% for the upcoming 5 years is predicted. Looking specifically at year 2015 The The Economist Intelligence Unit Global Forecasting Service report from 19.11.2014 predicts the real GDP growth as follows: World 3,70%, Western Europe 1,40%, OECD 2,40%, East Central Europe 2,70% and the Baltics 3,20%. This trend was confirmed by the OECD Economic outlook released on November 25th 2014, where the OECD projects accelerating GDP growth for Estonia reaching 3,4% in 2016 (OECD GDP growth outlook 25.11.2014).
- What is
behind the GDP numbers?
ABB production in Estonia (EE)
Estonia as a relavively small open economy tightly integrated with the EU markets relies heavily on exports and its wide economic base has been subcontracting for Scandinavian and Western European companies. The biggest export categories in 2013 were electrical equipment (2,5 billion €), mineral products (1,3 billion €), agriculture (1,2 billion €), wood products (1 billion €), mechanical appliances (0,96 billion), metal and metal products (0,88 billion €). As can be seen from these numbers the top 4 categories form less than 50% of the total exports of 12,3 billion euros, which could be considered a strength, as the economy is very diverse and not dependant on a single or few sources of income.
Tallinn Muuga cargo port (EE)
Oil shale plant (EE)
There is no dominant flagship in Estonia like Nokia used to be for Finland, it is more dispersed between equally strong companies. As to the major multinational manufacturers Ericsson for example which has a global market share of 35% (in 2012) in the 2G/3G/4G mobile network infrastructure market produces most of that equipment in Estonia and has counted at times for almost 10% of the total exports of the country. With more and more audiovisual material being used through smartphones through mobile networks one can predict that demand for updating mobile networks will grow. ABB has a major brand new production unit called „One Campus“ near Tallinn in the Rae industrial district. VKG is the biggest producer of oil and chemicals from the local raw material oil shale (the same source is also used to produce electricity which combined with wind energy makes Estonia self sufficient and it does not need to import electricity). In general the subcontracting has been moving towards more value added as product development and engineering functions have been gradually added. Tailor made solutions for smaller quantities where closeness to the markets is an advantage is another trend.
In metal products BLRT is one of the biggest shipyards in the region, while Tallink is one of the largest shipping companies in the Baltic Sea while tourism forms directly around 3% of the GDP and indirectly 9,5% according to a European Commission survey(EC tourism survey Estonia country report).
Logistics sector has been historically important due to the location. The largest deepwater port is Muuga port on the eastern border of Tallinn with annual cargo was 2013 28 million tons, including container volume of 251,738 TEU's. The other major ports are in Paldiski, Sillamäe and Pärnu. Also vehicles, notably Mercedes Benz cars reach the Russian market through a port in Estonia.
The wooden houses sector is rather strong with growing esports to quality conscious Scandinavia and especially Norway and is based on the large reserves of timber in the country and high tech craftmanship and innovative product development. For example, an Estonian company is building currently the world`s tallest 14 storey wooden apartment house in Norway. With over 90% of the wooden houses going to export, in 2013 Estonia became the biggest exporter of wooden houses in the EU with the total volume of over 200 million euros. This is based on a relatively numerous and strong cluster local companies, but in September 2014 also a Swiss luxury house manufacturer set up its production in Estonia (http://swiss-property-news.ch/en).
Steve Forbes: „Estonia has been a particular success story. It has more startups per capita than any European state and has become something of a high-tech hothouse.“
IT is of growing importance, for example the product development headquarters of Skype (now part of Microsoft www.skype.com) is located in Tallinn ever since it began as a startup in Estonia. This example has been followed by a number of tech startups like Transferwise (wire money at a fraction of cost, this year they reached a volume over billion £ and got Richard Branson on board as investor www.transferwise.com), GuardTime (digital data integrity service, customers mostly banks and governments www.guardtime.com), Fits.me (biometric robots www.fits.me), Fortumo (mobile payments www.fortumo.com), GrabCad (engineers facebook, which recently made a 100M$ exit www.grabcad.com), Signwise (digital signatures www.signwise.me), Skeletontech (supercondensators for cars and trains www.skeletontech.com), TopConnect (travel sim, www.topconnect.com). One area of growth is logically data centers for which the climate in Estonia is very suitable, one developer being for example the Data Valley Enterprises which is developing a 200 000 m2 data center near Tallinn (http://www.datavalleyenterprises.com/). Tallinn is often called a growing tech hub in Europe (BBC Next Silicon Valleys: Small Estonia has Big Ideas). This high concentration of tech startups aligns well with the e-government of Estonia and with the fact that Tallinn is the seat of the headquarters of the European Union IT Agency (EU Agency for large scale IT systems in Tallinn) and the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (https://www.ccdcoe.org/). Steve Forbes, having opened Forbes business in Estonia has said that „Estonia has been a particular success story. It has more startups per capita than any European state and has become something of a high-tech hothouse“. Steve Forbes highlights the example of Estonia`s sound fiscal policy as well (Steve Forbes: Little Estonia Uber Alles 24.07.2012).
Delta powerboat (EE)
Then some final user and often luxury products and trade marks have finally emerged, like the super hifi Estelon Extreme speakers which the Consumer Electronics Association on 11.11.2014 gave the best hifi product 2015 award (www.estelon.com), Estonia pianos, popular in the US concert halls but now also entering China (www.estoniapiano.com), Joik ecocosmetics (www.joik.ee), having entered the Japanese market, Bolefloor (curved wooden floor an Apple executive bought for home in Silicon Valley www.bolefloor.com), luxury sailing yachts of Saare Paat (www.saarepaat.ee), Baltic Workboats aluminum ships used by Swedish coast guard for example (www.balticworkboats.ee) and Delta Powerboats (www.luksusjaht.ee), its Delta 54 IPS won the Motor Boat of the Year Award having competed against Azimut 55S, Fairline Targa 62GT, Sealine C48 and Mangusta 72.
Another very good example is Meiren Engineering, which has worked its way up in the niche of high tech award winning snowplows, which have advanced mechanical engineering combined with IT solutions which „read the road“ and adjust the plows accordingly, used by also by airports (www.meiren.ee).
These examples of reaching to the level of own final end products with higher value added and their own branding might not yet form a large share in the total business volume of the country, but show the trend, desire and capability to gradually grow that part of the economy which is beyond the cost effective and high quality subcontracting. It is not realistic and actually not desirable to compete with Germans or Japanese in mass production of cars or with the Korea in mass consumer electronics, but rather to focus on smaller niche areas of high value added products which correspond to the size of the workforce and will not make the economy of a small country overly dependant on just one or two major products.
Sonny Aswani, CEO of Tolaram: „I suggest my friends to wear sunglasses when coming here, as the future of Estonia is bright.“
Estonia has been very welcoming to entrepreneurs from other countries. One of the first to come already back in 1993 was Sonny Aswani, a businessman from Singapore and the director of Tolaram group that has a major pulp and paper production in Estonia and he likes to say that: „I suggest my friends to wear sunglasses when coming here, as the future of Estonia is bright“. (Sonny Aswani Tolaram on 07.02.2014). Originally from Finland but living in Estonia for years now Bo Henriksson, the chief of the ABB Baltics, a long time investor which has continually increased its operations in Estonia has pointed in his „8 reasons why ABB loves Estonia: „the working climate here is similar to the Nordic countries, in addition Henriksson also thinks that global economic trends favour production in those countries where demand is close by (Henriksson: 8 reasons why ABB loves Estonia). Giuseppe Carnevali from Italy, the founder and president of Navionics, the world leading sea navigation company which by the way came to market with the first ever electronic plotter in 1984, in 2013 established the company`s technology development center in Estonia has said that „in Estonia you can feel the technology in the air, its like Silicon Valley“ (Carnevali - the case of Navionics establishing the IT center in Estonia).
ranks in the top 30% of European countries with the best payment discipline
Having two countries with the same average yield level does not mean the net cash flow from tenants reaches the property owner with the same security and speed. Having a higher yield where the tenants tend to be regularly late or even in default with their payments can seriously affect the actual NOI (net operating income) of the property owner, regardless of the initial projected yield at which the property was purchased.
Intrum Justitia has issued since 1998 the European Payment Index, a survey of 31 countries ranking their overall payment discilpine and risks (Intrum Justitia European Payment Index 2014). I rise the hypothesis in this market review that even if the proposed average yield would be slightly higher for example in Romania compared to Lithuania, then one should also look at the country`s ranking in the payment index and find out that Lithuania with the value of 163 ranks # 15 compared to Romania which ranks # 25 with a substantially higher risk of payment value of 189, categorized as „high urgency“ in Intrum Justitia Index. Perhaps according to this example Lithuania makes a better place to purchase the property compared to Romania, even if the latter would have slightly higher average yield level.
According to Intrum Justitia European payment index Estonia ranks #9 among the 31 European countries measured, with the value of 152. In terms of payment risks Estonia is in the same category with Germany(144) and Austria (149) and is actually doing better in payments compared for example to France and the Netherlands. This puts Estonia among the top 30% of European countries with the best payment discipline. Finland and Norway with an egual value of 126 rank the best of European countries in this comparison.
In terms of public sector payment duration and delay, Estonia (with its 15 days of contract terms and 10 days of delay, which makes a combined rate of 25 days) with its combined rate ranks second highest of the 31 European countries surveyed, after Finland which is on the top 1st place in Europe. In Finland the contract payment term is 20 days and delay 5 days, which makes a combined duration 24 days). Denmark, for example, having also an extremely high payment discipline compared to most other countries (with its 25 days of contract terms and 10 days of delay, which makes a combined rate of 35 days), is behind Finland and Estonia in this category. This means a vey high security in payment discipline and very fast payment time, in case one has managed to acquire a commercial property with government as a tenant.
- The largest gap
between yield and interest rates in eurozone – a window of opportunity for a
Leveraging the purchase of a commercial property through a loan finance provided by a local commercial bank is an option frequently preferred by the investors from our practice. The reason for doing so is mostly not the shortage of own capital, but rather the outlook of making higher returns through the leverage effect. For example, a 3MEUR logistics property we handled recently had the yield of 9%, but with 60% loan financing the leveraged yield was 18,48%, which is more than 2 times higher return. The effect gets even higher with larger properties where banks might be ready to offer a lower interest rate and higher loan ratio – one example was a 30MEUR object where the difference between yield and leveraged yield was 2,6 times. In short, with the leverage effect the return (profit) in correlation to the own capital invested can easily be two times higher than without leverage. However, leveraged yield bears higher risks as well, most importantly the leverage effect depends on how high are the interest rates of commercial loans compared to the yield. Interest rates in turn are influenced by the 6 month euribor rate de facto controlled by the European Central Bank (ECB), as loan total interest is usually euribor + an agreed fixed margin of the bank. In case the euribor would rise sharply, the profitability of the leveraged property would go down. It is possible to fix the total interest rate and remove the potential of fluctuation of the loan interest rate caused by the possibility that euribor can change, although that change can also be downwards. However, fixing the interest rate makes the total loan interest somewhat higher, as the bank will charge for taking on itself the risk of euribor change. 6 month euribor rate is currently at historic lows around 0,181%. Whether to fix the loan rate or not depends largely how investor predicts the future dynamics of the euribor and how much he is willing to pay to remove that risk, as fixed interest being higher it drives down the leveraged yield
Corporate small loans(up to 3MEUR) interest rates in eurozone 09.2014 ECB
somewhat as well. Following the statements and intentions of the ECB led by Mario Draghi can be the starting point to project the trends. The second component is the loan premium a bank charges in addition to the euribor and this depends both on the general level of money offering and the individual risk profile of the investor. The actual commercial loan rates vary significantly even within the eurozone. For example according to the latest available ECB official statistics from September 2014 the average commercial corporate small loans (up to 3MEUR) interest rates were 2% in Luxenbourg, 3% in Finland, 3,1% in Estonia, 3,6% in Germany, 4,2% in Latvia, 4,5% in Spain, 4,5% in Slovenia, 4,7% in Slovakia, 5,8% in Portugal and 6,1% in Greece, while the Euro area average was 4%. An investor who is looking at leveraging consequently should not take just the yield level into account. Rather the ratio between yield and commercial bank loan interest rate determines the profitability of the leveraged investment. This is an example based on generalized corporate small loan statistics that was available just to give the proportions of actual loan interest rate differences in eurozone countries. It looks like Estonia at this very moment has the highest difference between property yields and interest rates on commercial banks loans among the 18 eurozone countries according to the ECB interest rate data (Ireland and Netherland were the only two not included in this comparison because their interest rate data was missing from ECB statistics in this category, that`s why the expression „it looks like“ was used). The concrete loan interest rate depends on the size of the transaction, the quality of the property and the risk profile of the customer. From our practice we have recently seen as low as 1,35%+6 month euribor(1,53% total) interest rate loan offer from a commercial bank for the purchase of a
NordicProperty: We have recently seen as low as 1,35%+6 month euribor(1,53% total) interest rate loan offer from a commercial bank for the purchase of a 30MEUR property.
30MEUR property. The current historically low euribor and the total commercial bank interest rates being lower in Estonia compared to even Germany combined with the high yield level might be a window of opportunity for investors looking at leveraged investment. It is not within the scope of this study to go into predictions about how much longer such rare combination of high yields and low loan interest rates will continue in Estonia.
In conclusion, the real actual loan interest rate level of the „home country“ where the perspective property is located should always be taken into account in addition to the yield rates whenever the investor is looking for the option of leveraging the investment.
Combining the Estonian transparent and at least twice lower transaction costs, 0% of corporate income tax, the possibility to save on plane tickets and hotel costs in the future thanks to the e-residency, excellent payment discipline, the term of real net yield perhaps has to be redefined. For example if a commercial property with the value of 10 million euros is acquired at a yield of 8%, then that more than anywhere else assures an actual net cash flow of profits in the amount of 800 000 € per annum, with no hidden strings attached that drive down the returns. If the leverage option is being utilized, then in this example thanks to being in the eurozone low interest rate area the leveraged net yield on cash flow can reach up to 18% and return on equity (ROE) up to 23%. The potential of the appreciation of the property price upon exit due to the convergence with the Nordic markets could be an additional benefit, but this paper maintains a conservative approach of not going on its own into a predictions of a numerical estimate here.
With the low transaction costs, no requirement to have a separate local board of directors and e-residency also for larger funds entering a new market in the case of Estonia does not mean any more that it has to be the big decision it used to be - with high overhead costs and setting up expensive office overseas and countless plane tickets. With the advantages of Estonia, even a single probe property or a smaller portfolio to diversify could be purchased, without getting into bureacratic hassles or significant permanent costs that are typically associated with expanding to a new country.
- How to
spot the right property?
Once the geography is figured out - a country or city with vibrant economy, good governance and demographic trends etc. is found - then finding a concrete property, a land with a building attached to it with long term and stable cash flow and perhaps even a perspective for appreciation upon exit requires careful work and good grasp of the market. A broker who knows the local market and properties which might be on offer can help, as commercial property especially is often not listed in public sources. Even if the market in general is good, then the trouble free cash flow and desired yield rate still depends on the quality of an individual property.
An office building on Tallinn Inner Circle Road (EE)
Regarding the office properties in addition to the existing high rising office area in the center of Tallinn a heavy development activity is projected to take place in the harbour area. However, even better yields could be found in some of the office areas of new business districts that have concentrated around the main road junctions, most notably the new high rising office area at the Pärnu Road junction with the Tallinn Inner Circle Road to the South, the Paldiski Road area to the West and St Peterburg Road to the East. The demand for modern office spaces is based not just on the expansion of companies`s operations, but also on tenants who are currently in outdated buildings are looking to relocate to modern premises. Office development outside the very center of the city but still close enough for convenient access relies also on the more ample parking spaces both for employees and customers. Ülemiste City near the Tallinn Airport for example is popular with tech companies.
Via Baltica near Tallinn (Kaupo Kalda)
For logistics and industry the Tallinn Outer Circle Road has seen large investments in its infrastructure and is the fastest developing and most popular in this regard, mainly concentrated near the Tartu road Rae municipality to the South, next to Via Baltica in the direction of Pärnu and Riga to the West and St. Petersburg road to the East. The largest concentration of logistics and industrial parks is apparently near the cross section of Tartu Road and Tallinn Outer Circle Road in Rae parish, where for example also the ABB has its production campus.
In hotels the recent development is that in addition to the major international hotel chains of Swissotel and Radisson, who are already present in Tallinn, also Hilton is entering the market with a brand new property being built. The majority of hotels in Tallinn operate independently of the three major international chains however, there are also boutique hotels in the historic buildings in the old town.
Rotermanni Quarter in Tallinn(EE)
Between the old town and harbour there is an interesting and relatively new development - the historic Rotermann Quarter, a mix of residential, retail and office spaces with underground parking to leave the street space only for pedestrians.
In retail the latest major development was the extension of the Ülemiste Center near the airport in 2014, which with its 60 000 m2 became the largest shopping centre in Tallinn, a position previously held by the Rocca al Mare center of 58 000 m2.
Tallinn center (picture EE)
Metrol Nordic-Baltic Commercial Real Estate Company
NordicProperty Metrol Nordic-Baltic Commercial Real Estate is a brokerage company for commercial real estate in Northern Europe. We deal with properties in Estonia mostly in Tallinn area and also Latvia and Finland and cover office, retail, hotels, logistics and industrial property. Our commercial brokerage team combined has years of experience in spotting the good value commercial property on the market. We take into our property portfolio ready cash flow properties with stable tenants with long term agreements which after due diligence from our side we believe are a good commercial property. We act independently of the property owners in the interest of the investor. The range of property we deal per one object ranges typically between 3-30 million euros, which means that taken into account the standard up to 60% loan leveraging option, the amount of equity that one would like to allocate to acquire a direct ownership in separate commercial property starts from 1,2 million €. However, parts of buildings (for example a floor in an office building) that form deparately tradable registered piece of property occasionally also come to the market and their prices start at a significantly lower level. In addition to single properties we are also able to suggest a portfolio of properties. Let us know if you are ready to learn more and get introduced, as we need to know about your investment parameters and some background before we can share specific information about the commercial properties we often acquire against a NDA.
We offer a full one stop shop service package including:
1. Property for purchase from our portfolio of properties which meet our selection parameters according to our standard due diligence we have carried out or finding a property according to investor`s parameters.
2. We are also able to put together a portolio of properties for a larger project or for a fund that can include properties in more than one country in the Nordic region.
3. Negotiating the sales contract and advice on the loan opportunities from local commercial banks.
4. Setting up the SPV, arranging the share transfer formalities and/or notary services and after care arrangement if needed.
Property broker and CEO, NordicProperty, Metrol Nordic-Baltic Commercial Real Estate Company
Tallinn, Estonia www.nordicproperty.eu firstname.lastname@example.org
Telephone: +3725219273, skype: martin.hirvoja Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/martinhirvoja
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This is a copyright protected document. You are free to print or share it digitally in its complete unaltered form or refer to parts of it indicating the original source and web adress. This research is not for retail customers but for those who are professionally sufficient to understand the information contained herein. Although utmost care has been taken, you are always encouraged to check the validity of any fact from additional sources and search for extra information from those sources. Nothing in this paper can be construed as taking a liability for an individual investment decision, which should be done only after proper due diligence regarding a specific property.