Cayman: A powerful domicile with a consistent credit rating

“The economy is the start and end of everything.”  David Cameron 

Truer words have not been spoken, as Cayman’s economic strength and political stability consistently receives top marks by the international credit rating agency, Moody’s.

With a fantastic Aa31 rating for bonds issued by the Cayman Islands Government in a foreign currency, and Aa22 rating for long-term foreign currency ceiling bonds and notes, Cayman has once again proved itself as one of the world’s leading and top performing international financial services centres. 

Sovereign credit ratings – the basics

As its name implies, a sovereign credit rating is usually used by sovereign wealth funds, pension funds and other investors to gauge the credit worthiness of a country. 

To give investors confidence in investing in their country and provide financial transparency, many countries seek to gain these ratings from formal credit rating agencies, the main “Big three” being Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch.

The credit rating agency determines a country’s economic and political environment by evaluating its: 

  • foreign, public and private investment
  • capital market transparency 
  • foreign currency reserves 
  • political stability 
  • economic stability during times of political transition 

Arguably the more popular and largest of the “Big Three”, Moody’s was established in the early 1900s by American financial analyst, businessman and investor, John Moody. John pioneered the rating of bonds and authored many books including The Art of Wise Investing (1904) and The Investor’s Primer. 

The Moody’s system assigns credit ratings of Aaa, Aa, A, Baa, Ba, B, Caa, Ca, C- with the ranking ranging from ‘prime investment-grade’ at Aaa down to ‘In default non-investment grade’ at C-; all prime or high grade ratings are found within the Aaa – Aa range. 

Top grades for Cayman 

With its impressive Aa3 rating, Cayman truly is unbeatable compared with other offshore jurisdictions and is able to boast of: 

  • A comparatively low and falling government debt burden. 
  • A very high per-capita income. 
  • A strong institutional framework, broad consensus on macroeconomic policies and fiscal oversight by the UK. 

Not only does Cayman take the number one spot for best credit rating across the Caribbean, but it is also the only domicile to maintain its impressive Aa3 rating since 1997 – even during the global financial crisis of 2007/2008. 

But why is this? What is it about Cayman’s economy and governance that allow it to work so well while others struggle? There are a few reasons. 

Comparatively low and falling government debt burden

Cayman’s fiscal and debt position remains robust and its strong revenues have allowed the government to run budget surpluses since 2013.

These positive financial balances have contributed to Cayman’s reduced debt. Moody’s expects debt-to-GDP to fall to 17% of GDP this year, less than half the 38% of GDP median for Ba-rated sovereigns.

And that’s not all. Debt is anticipated to fall further in 2019, when a single large bullet bond payment, equivalent to 7% of GDP, comes due.6 Cayman’s government plans to pay most, and possibly all, of that upcoming bullet payment from its cash reserves.

High wealth. Impressive economy.

Cayman’s economic strength reflects a GDP-per-capita of US$57,936 for 2017.

Historically, Cayman’s high level of economic development has never been deterred, even when faced with economic and natural disaster shocks. This is because it is a highly concentrated economy, with tourism and financial services representing almost 70% of the island’s GDP.

A strong institutional framework 

Cayman benefits from decades of stable institutions and respect for the rule of law. The Cayman’s Worldwide Governance indicators results are among the highest in the region and in the top 20th percentile of all rated sovereigns – this includes highly developed countries. 

Legal limits on government borrowing and oversight from the UK’s Foreign Office are a key reason behind the drop in debt in recent years.

Nothing short of excellent 

Cayman’s sustained excellent ratings by Moody’s signifies a jurisdiction that knows precisely what it is doing. Public finances are managed prudently, government repayment obligations continue to be met, and this all takes place inside an incredibly sound and stable economy. 

David Cameron was right – the economy is the start and end of everything.