The COVID-19 inflation episode: Lessons from emerging markets

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The impact of beneficial ownership transparency on illicit purchases of US property

S dollars on display in the shape of a house.

Abstract

High value real estate is a popular destination for corrupt and criminal assets, in part caused by limited oversight and lack of transparency in real estate transactions. In response to these concerns, the U.S. Treasury began implementing a series of Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) in 2016, forcing corporate buyers making all-cash purchases in targeted counties to report the company’s ultimate beneficial owner. To estimate the causal effect of beneficial ownership transparency on these types of purchases, we combine data on millions of real estate transactions over the period 2014-2019 with a staggered difference-in-differences design. Our analysis suggests the absence of an aggregate effect of the GTOs on corporate all-cash purchases in targeted counties, as well as little evidence of attempts to evade the program. We contend that the lack of overt enforcement and validation of the ownership information failed to create a sufficient deterrent effect to drive out participation in the sector by illicit actors.

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