Muddled interest rate policy

The Bank of Jamaica’s website shows their inflation target for the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year ranging from four to 6 percent and they expect that such high levels of inflation should be achieved by 2020/21.
While the central bank announced these targets, the government just reopened their 2029 bonds that was originally had a fixed interest rate of 5.679 percent. Investors placed bids to buy $12.9 billion although only $4 billion were offered for sale. The average yield came out at 5.195 percent. Some investors placed bids as high as 9 percent but were unsuccessful.
To tie up money for 10 years when the central banks is targeting inflation above the yield of the bond on the surface is puzzling. That of course is one conclusion. The more probable one is that those who invested in these bonds are betting that the central bank will not see inflation anywhere close to the levels that are targeting. This publication is of the view that the latter is the correct position.
Something is clearly wrong with the monetary policy.

BOJ interest rate & cash reserves cut will help push demand in the economy.

Changes in interest rates should start having an impact on the economy within six months, experts say. At this stage based on the reduction in rates over the past year or more, economic growth should be picking up sharply. That is not happening and its crawling along around 2 percent pace according to the PIOJ, worse, a lot of the growth is coming from export of goods and services, not from pick up in local production of goods or services.
At the start of 2018, BOJ policy rate was at 3 percent today it at a mere 0.75 percent. That is a very sharp reduction within just over a year. The central bank has also in recent times cut the cash reserves levels thus creating more liquidity in the system.
With all of those moves, lending rates remain relatively high, with the only noticeable change, being rates on motor car loans. The worse signal of this is that credit card rates remain at nearly 50 percent per annum without a single point move. Mortgage rates remain unchanged or largely so, with one or two institutions offering new borrowers lower rates. The 225 percentage points cut in overnight rates (ON) should have induced an across the board reduction in lending rates under normal circumstances but that is not happening and is clearly showing that something is wrong with the policy.

National Commercial Bank pays very low savings rates

Some of the impediments to lower lending rates, are caught up in the very measure BOJ is pushing. Banks have a large pool of very low cost deposits and current account balances that pay zero interest rates. When rates are low, it is much more difficult to cut a rate that is just a fraction of a percent. Put another way, if banks are paying 0.5 percent or less savings accounts, how do they pass the BOJ rate cut onto savers, the ones that will bear the cost?
A visit to NCB website sets out the likely interest rates they pay on deposits. Up to $99,999, a saver would get a mere 0.05 percent, at $1m one would get 0.55 percent and 0.70 percent would be the payment for $5 million and over. These rates were at April 2018. This is the clearest sign why the BOJ policy has not worked and will not work. Since last year April, the overnight policy rate is down by 200 basis points. With rates on deposits at almost zero the banks have limited options to cut rates and if they did, it would not be anywhere close to the extent of the ON rate cut.
Reducing the cash reserves is a far better tool to cut lending rates. Banks with the large amount of profits reported and in many cases lousy service, are not the friends of a large cross section of Jamaicans. Like them or hate them they still provide a useful service. Companies generally, do not absorb cost, they pass them on to consumers. When governments place taxes on banks and other financial institutions with the mistaken view that they are taxing those entities, they are making a huge error. What taxes do is increase the cost of banks providing service to customers. That is one reason why some in the system want government to move and curtail bank charges. When banks were first slapped with the asset tax, they turned to fees for added revenues, to offset the increased tax.
Government, if they are serious about stimulating the economy by lower lending rates must bell the cat. First, they must accept that the cutting interest rates on deposits will not work as those rates are already close to zero. Keeping savings rate artificially low will also encourage more persons to revert to savings in US dollar and place pressure on the Jamaican dollar. At best, banks may cut a few points here or there off lending rates but it will make little difference.
Government must sit with the financial institutions and arrive at an agreement to cut taxes in exchange for reduced interest rate on loans and credit cards. That is the only way to effect serious loan rate reduction to stimulate the economy in the shortest possible time.
To continue with a low savings rate policy that is not sustainable is going to lead to a bubble in the segments of the economy and when the inevitable reversal starts, there will be pain, as asset values adjust to the increasing value of money.

Jamaican government screwing savers

The Government of Jamaica is screwing savers and making real estate and stock market investors rich, the exact opposite of what the PNP government did in the 1990s managed by Dr. Omar Davies.
Davies who managed the finance portfolio for the government led by his party, created a paradise for the moneyed class, by having a prolonged period of excessive high interest rates that slaughtered the private sector and killed off many viable financial institutions. Jamaicans to this day continue to suffer for the ill-advised and protracted policy.
The JLP led government has moved in the direct opposite direction, by severely hurting savers. People with money are getting paltry returns by putting funds in banks and not much more if they get into riskier bonds, while savvy investors who understand the stock market are making a killing investing their money in stocks. Added to that, many of the savers are pensioners and must pay tax on the interest earned, thus further reducing the return on investment. At the same time, government sells shares in Wigton Windfarm to a select group of more than 31,000 Jamaicans who are likely to benefit in two ways from the current policy.

Stock market investors making a killing while savers get caned.


The current valuation of local stocks will result in the stock price jumping and handing many a handy profit. The latest move by the central bank in chopping the overnight rate to 0.75 percent is going to increase the valuation of stocks above present levels as investors find the dividend yield of many stocks more attractive than money market instruments.
While the central bank lowers the rate to stimulate the economy, the government has artificially helped in keeping bank lending rates much higher than needed by taxing bank customers with high bank taxes that results in interest rates being around 3 percent points higher than they should. This is where the focus needs to be and not on lowering on savings rate to stimulate the economy. The time for removing the distortion in taxes on banks is long gone. The situation is that banks do not pay the high levels of taxes consumers do, as banks pass on the cost to the end user. Lowering the high bank taxes will do far more to cut lending rates and stimulate the economy than the foolish cutting of the savings rate.

Sharp slash to interest rates

Bank of Jamaica slashed their overnight policy interest rate by a hefty 50 basis points to 0.75 percent per annum, effective 20 May 2019.
This decision reflects Bank of Jamaica’s assessment that inflation will remain low for until the end of 2020 as well as provide added stimulant for faster economic growth.
The reality is that there is a huge disparity between the move by the central bank and government policy. While the central bank lowers the rate to stimulate the economy, the government has artificially helped in keeping bank lending rates much higher than needed by taxing customers of banks by high taxes on banks that is resulting in interest rates being around 3 percent points higher than they should. This is where the focus needs to be and not on lowering on savings rate.
Low inflation is here to stay, despite the central bank’s continued focus on an excessively high 4 to 6 percent range. The lowering of interest rates is hurting savers particularly pensioners who have to rely on savings.
According to Bank of Jamaica, the decision is intended to stimulate an even faster expansion in private sector credit which should lead to higher economic activity, consistent with the inflation target. The move also comes at the same time that the bank announced the lowering of the cash reserves that commercial banks need to keep with the central.
What are the implications, investors looking for yields on local bonds will be getting less on the dollar for savings. Stocks will become more attractive as dividends in a number of cases are paying more than Treasury bill rates that sits at 2 percent per annum. Real estate will benefit from more demand as an alternate form of investing.

Jamaica’s April inflation tame

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Monthly inflation figures returns well below the 2 percent per annum level in April according to data put out by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) today.
According to Statin, the All Jamaica Consumer Price Index recorded an inflation rate of 0.1 percent in April 2019. the inflation for April comes against a rise of inflation in march to 0.8 percent.
This movement in April was mainly attributable to a 0.5 percent increase in the index for Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages. The two groups within this division Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages recorded increases of 0.5 percent and 0.3 percent respectively. Transport division, rose by 0.4 percent due to the rise in petrol prices and its related products. The overall movement was tempered by a 1.5 percent decline in the index for the Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas, and Other Fuels division resulting from lower rates for electricity, water and sewage. The calendar year-to-date inflation movement is 0.8 percent, while inflation over the past twelve months comes out at 3.9 percent and the fiscal year-to-date is a low 0.1 percent with just one month having elapsed.

Jamaica’s historical low unemployment

The unemployment rate fell to its lowest level on record, with January 2019 unemployed falling 1.6 percentage points from 9.6 percent in January 2018 and ending at was 8 percent for the first month of 2019.
The fall in the unemployed number arose from an increase in the Employed Labour Force for January 2019 of 1,232,700, some 28,600 or 2.4 percent more than in January 2018. The largest increase in employment was in the occupation group ‘Clerks’ 12,800 or 15.8 percent, which moved to 94,000 in January 2019. Of the increase in employment in this group, females accounted for 8,300 persons.
Female employment was 3.5 percent more and males 1.4 percent than in the 2018 period, Statin data shows. The increase in employment for females was more than twice that of males. The number of employed males increased by 9,500 to 673,500 and employed females by 19,100 to 559,200.
More females were employed in the occupation groups ‘Professionals, Senior Officials and Technicians’ and ‘Clerks’. There was also an increase in the number of females employed in the industry groups ‘Hotels & Restaurants Services’ and ‘Real Estate, Renting and Business Activities’.

Jamaica’s inflation up 0.8% in March

Inflation in Jamaica rose 0.8 percent in March and brings the year to 0.7 percent date data released by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) shows and the fiscal year inflation to 3.4 percent.
According to Statin, the movement was mainly attributable to a fall of 0.9 percent in the index for the heaviest weighted division Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages and a 1.5 percent rise in the Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels division at resulted from a 2.7 percent increase in the group ‘Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels’. Also contributing to March’s inflation rate was an increase of 1.1 percent in the index for the ‘Transport’ division. This was mainly attributable to the rise in petrol prices.

 

How the east was won?

Annmarie Vaz winner of the East Portland seat.

Anne Marie Vaz increased her party’s support by a stunning 58 percent, over the JLP’s haul in the 2016 General Election to win the East Portland by-election on Thursday with just 11 votes less than 10,000.
At the same time, Damion Crawford only pulled out 5 percent more votes than was polled for the PNP, in 2016. The story gets increasing bad for the PNP and it is not just in this election. The writing was on the wall for years but poor candidature, by the JLP lent the view to many onlookers, that East Portland was safe PNP territory. The 2007, results with the PNP winning by less than 800 votes, should have sent a clear warning to them that things were changing rapidly.
In this latest election, the number of new voters on the list, grew by 5.6 percent, but Crawford’s increase of 4.8 percent was less than the rise in registered voters. Looked at differently, he picked up just 354 votes more than in the 2011 elections or only 3.8 percent more. On a net basis, he garnered only approximately 25 percent of new voters, while Vaz got 75 percent. This is consistent with a pattern seen island wide since 1993 and is one that is not likely to change, anytime soon.
The Labour party was able to get out their 8,000 voters of 2011 and add 24 percent more voters to it, in addition to commandeering the vast majority of new voters, the vote tally at the end of the preliminary count suggests.
The results on the surface is a major about turn for the seat. Closer examination of the numbers for a longer period tells a clear tale. The huge 2019 increase is due to a below performance for the JLP in the 2016 elections, when the votes by the party sank by a hefty 22 percent and  well against the national trend. The trend since the 1993 elections, suggests that the natural growth in party support should have seen them polling over 9,700 votes, just below the numbers she got in the latest polls.
The data also points out that the trend is indicating that the JLP should have polled around 2,000 more votes than they did, this time around.  Those voters are there in their corner based on the growth in support, reflected in the average gains in votes cast in prior elections. This bit of information is also reflected in public opinion voting survey data.

Jamaican economy grew 2% in 2018

Mining was the biggest contributer to GDP gains in 2019

Preliminary estimates by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) puts growth in the Jamaican economy for the 2018 at 1.9 percent, the highest in 11 years bettering 1.7 percent achieved in 2011 and almost twice the one percent rise in 2017.
The increase is “due to a 5 percent growth in the Goods Producing Industries and a 0.8 percent increase in Services Industries,” Statin stated.
The fourth quarter last year, grew 2 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2017. This growth is due to increases in both the Services Industries and the Goods Producing Industries of 1 percent and 4.9 percent respectively.
For the full year, growth occurred in all the Goods Producing Industries: Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing up 3.1 percent, Mining & Quarrying up a strong 25 percent mainly due to the reopening of Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company, Alpart refinery, manufacturing a moderate 2 percent and Construction up 3.7 percent.
For the first quarter of 2019, GDP is expected to accelerate at a faster pace than for 2018 and will be strongly, impacted by a surge in tourism stopover arrivals that is up in double digits for the first quarter.

Tourism drives Jamaica’ GDP to 4%

Big increase in visitor arrivals in the first quarter of 2019 set to give Jamaica’s GDP a big lift in the quarter.

The huge increase in tourist arrivals in the first quarter of 2019 is likely to result in a 4 percent growth in the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the first quarter of the year, data compiled by IC Insider.com suggest.
While the category of Hotels and Restaurants that tourism sector falls only accounts for around 7% of total GDP, the huge increase in stop over arrivals being enjoyed by the sector in the March quarter, will most likely more than compensate for its size in GDP computation and could add as much as one percentage point, to the quarter’s growth.
According to the Jamaica Tourist Board, “stopover arrivals in January 2019 were 216,509 an increase of 11.3% or 21,900 additional arrivals over the 194,609 recorded in January 2018.” Importantly, the arrivals from USA, the country with the high tourism spend is up 20 percent and would have contributed more in inflows as a result of the higher spend even as number of nights they stayed slipped a bit form 2018.

Construction sector is also expecetd to continue to lift the economy in 2019.


February, is up by 14.9 percent, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett told The Sunday Gleaner and reported by that publication on March 3. The Jamaica Observer stated, “data provided by Delano Seiveright, communications strategist and advisor in the Ministry of Tourism, show that total visitor arrivals for the period March 1-17 amounted to 148,052, a 24.8 percent increase over the 118,597 recorded for the same period last year. Breaking down the numbers, Seiveright said that for the period March 1-17 this year Montego Bay welcomed 125,069 visitors, an increase of 22.7 percent compared to 101,967 for the same period last year, while the numbers for Kingston were 22,983, up 38.2 percent over the same period last year.”

Jamaican Government cuts transfer tax to 2%

Effective April will government will reduce transfer tax from 5 percent to 2 percent, the Minister of Finance Dr. Nigel Clarke told Parliament, in his maiden budget presentation.
The minimum business tax for all businesses and asset taxes for non-financial businesses will be abolished effective April. The taxes were a nuisance and discriminatory in nature, lacking equity as they did not equate to the size of all businesses in the country, resulting in smaller businesses bearing a larger burden than larger ones.
The threshold for filing GCT will be moved from $3 million to $10 million, a level below which no GCT return will have to be filed. The minister stated that the change will result in 3,000 businesses not having to file GCT returns.
Stamp duties relating to certain transactions will be removed and substituted by a simple fee of $5,000, equal to the cost of providing the service. They will also abolish ad valorem stamp duties and replace them with a flat fee of $5,000.

Anya Levy of ReMax Elite Realtors

The amount on which estate tax is payable, will move from $1 million to $10 million effective April. The Minister stated that the measures will result in $14 billion in taxes being given up, by the government.
The minister also stated that the primary surplus will be lowered from 7 percent of GDP to 6.5 percent and was arrived at in discussion with an IMF staff.
IC Insider .com spoke to two noted individuals within the real estate market who are positively impacted by the news on stamp duty and transfer tax reduction. Deborah Cumming of Century 21 said “that is fantastic news, it will make a tremendous difference to the industry and the economy.” While Anya Levy associate broker at ReMax Elite. “that is fantastic, it will give incentive for sellers to move their properties and increase volume. It’s the right move and government will make up the taxes given up by increased volumes.”