Everyone has a story about, “if I had just.” If I had just bought a certain stock is one of them. If I just bought property before the real estate market caught fire in Southern California is another. In the USA the “if I had just” should also include selling before real estate markets collapsed. In the little country of Panama the “if I had just” will occur with a lot of people in three to five years after the real estate market corrects back to its pre-recession levels. What opportunity knocks it is time to act. Now is probably the right time in the little Central American Republic that connects the oceans by way of the Panama Canal and connects North and South America by way of the Isthmus of Panama.
A Little Perspective and a Little History
Numbers and Geography
Panama is the country of just over 3 million people living on the land bridge that connects North and South America. It is covers 75,990 square kilometers and is bordered by Costa Rica to the West and Colombia to the East. To the North lies the Caribbean Sea and to the South lies the Pacific Ocean. The peculiar geographic “twist” of Panama is such that folks walking along the Bay of Panama in Panama City at dawn watch the sun come up over the Pacific Ocean!
Today’s Panama Government is democratically elected but that was not always the case. Just twenty years ago the military dictator, Manuel Noriega, was deposed by a US military invasion. Since Mr. Noriega has languished in a federal prison in Florida, Panama has flourished into a prosperous little nation without a standing army and more colonels waiting to take over. Panama’s Balboa is tied one to one to the US dollar and United States paper currency is used in all transactions as Panama does not print paper money. It just calls the greenback a Balboa.
Since the fall of the dictator Panama has written a number of laws onto the books to give incentives for investment in Panama and to entice retired North Americans to live in this tropical paradise. Both have been successful. The building boom in Panama slowed but did not cease while the rest of the world suffered through the worst recession in three quarters of a century. The country is full of “pensionados” too. North Americans and Europeans have taken advantage of discounts to retirees and the fact that property rights for foreigners are no different than for Panamanians. They have moved and bought in Panama in droves.
Since “Norte Americanos” tend to buy or build more expensive homes than Panamanians the deluge of North Americans not only stimulated the housing market but set it on fire! Condos went up by the Bay of Panama and gorgeous homes were built in El Valle, Cero Azul, Boquete, and in the Bocas del Toro Archipelago. Then came the recession.
The recession slowed business in Panama but the GDP only dropped to just over 3% in 2009 and is expected to end 2010 above 5%. What got hit in Panama when the recession hit Canada, the USA, England, Spain, and the rest? The high end of the real estate market got hit! Prices dropped. Folks who had put 10% down on a condo on the 30th floor walked away. That was a year or so ago.
Today and Going Forward
The weather is always great in Panama. Rainy season or dry it is warm. There is no record of a hurricane every striking Panama. The Panama Canal was built where it is because of the fact that the narrowest part of the Isthmus of Panama has never had a serious earthquake. The Panama Pacific is known as the Tuna Coast because of the exceptional fishing. World records are still being set off the Hannibal Bank near Isla Coiba the ferries to Isla Taboga and to the Pearl Islands still pause for photos when they spot whales.
Panama City is a Latin American business and banking center. The night life on Calle Uruguay goes on until dawn as does the actions in casinos all over town. While building projects shut down all over Latin America a 46 story high rise continued ascending in the barrio of Obario on the edge of the banking district, the bancaria.
Panama is one of the most biologically diverse nations on earth. Birders come from all over the world just to walk the Pipeline Road or look for Quetzals at the foot of the 11,000 foot extinct volcano, Volcan Baru.
The combination of a tranquil life style in a tropical paradise with preserved nature all around continues to attract visitors and retirees. The vibrant life in the capital city brings tourists and business from all over Latin America. Panama’s growing business community brings investment and personnel from the Americas, Europe, and Asia.
Panama’s easy residency requirements continue to attract retirees looking for a warm and inexpensive location for their later years. Many of the same folks are attracted by the discrete banking and offshore corporation laws in Panama.
Panama has gotten head start on much of the rest of the world in its economic recovery. Business is growing, a new Metro is in the works and property values are heading up.
A unique opportunity presents itself in Panama. Inside of a stable economy that did quite well despite a world wide recession there was a major correction in the high end of the real estate market. The North Americans stayed home for a couple of years as did many Europeans and Asians. The folks that were driving prices for the 30th floor condos on the Bay of Panama in the city or the luxurious beach front homes on the Pacific in Coronado weren’t buying. Prices dropped, some walked away, losing down payments, and some defaulted on mortgages due to problems at home, not in Panama where the economy stayed afloat.
As of this writing property values are heading back up as fast as 35% a year in some locations in Panama. The knocking sound you hear is opportunity telling you that an investment in a well conceived enterprise buying reposed mortgages in Panama will thrive for the next three to five years!