BOJ overnight rate still 0.50%

Bank of Jamaica announced the decision to maintain its accommodative monetary policy stance by holding the overnight policy rate offered to deposit-taking institutions at 0.50 percent per annum.
In announcing the decision to hold the rate Governor of the Bank of Jamaica, Richard Byles, stated, “I think it is important to emphasize that Jamaica’s financial system remains sound, well-capitalized and its current holdings of Jamaica Dollar liquid balances remain adequate. To ensure that orderly conditions are maintained, Bank of Jamaica has taken some pre-emptive measures to assure financial institutions and the public of adequate access to both Jamaica Dollar and foreign currency liquidity during this challenging period. There are a total of eight such measures, three in respect of foreign currency and five to do with Jamaica dollar liquidity.”
The central bank introduced a number of measures including the continued support of the foreign exchange needs of businesses in the real sector through direct sales to authorized dealers and Cambios, as needed. Increased limit on the foreign currency net open positions of authorized dealers by 5 percentage points.
The central bank states that it stands ready to expand the volume of foreign currency swap arrangements with authorized dealers. The stock of outstanding swap contracts now totals US$86 million.
The Bank commenced a bond-buying programme of GOJ securities on the secondary market from financial institutions and is prepared to effect early redemption BOJ securities. The Bank has so far purchased $26.3 billion GOJ instruments.
BOJ removed the limit on the amounts that deposit-taking institutions (DTIs) can borrow overnight without being charged a penal rate.

BOJ interest cuts overnight rate.

Effective today, we have re-introduced a longer-term lending facility, whereby Jamaica Dollar liquidity will be made available to DTIs for periods of up to six months. This enhances the ability of these institutions to secure their liquidity needs over a longer horizon.
We will re-activate an intermediation facility where BOJ will use its balance sheet to facilitate transactions between holders of liquid balances and others who require liquidity if needed. This facility should support a more even distribution of liquidity in the financial system in a context where institutions who could not access inter-bank loans because of the limits placed on them by lenders, can now do so indirectly with the central bank standing in the middle of the transaction.
As of 25 March 2020, the total value of liquidity assistance provided by the BOJ to the market via its short-term lending facilities and its asset purchase programme amounted to $57 billion.
“We believe that these measures will help to facilitate the smooth functioning of the credit market. Support inflation remaining within the inflation target of 4 percent to 6 percent over the ensuing eight quarters and will augment the fiscal measures already put in place by the Government,“ the BOJ governor stated.
The economic outlook, however, is characterized by significant uncertainty relating to the spread of the virus and the consequent depth and duration of the economic impact. In the near term, some upward price pressures can be expected due to supply chain disruptions and weather-related increases in agricultural prices. However, these will be offset by a sharp decline in oil prices and weaker consumer spending power, given the expected decline in economic activity. If the domestic and external responses to the pandemic have to be sustained for most of next fiscal year, the Jamaican economy will contract significantly. In this context, we expect inflation to be at the lower end of the 4.0 percent to 6.0 percent range over the fiscal year as well as the ensuing eight quarters.
The near-term outlook now, however, reflects significant challenges and heightened uncertainty due to COVID-19. Our monetary policy measures, along with the Government’s fiscal stimulus, are aimed at mitigating the impact of this pandemic on the economy and supporting a speedy recovery once the crisis has passed. BOJ states that it will continue to monitor the effects of COVID-19 on the economy closely. The central bank also indicates that it stands ready to deploy additional measures to ensure the continued smooth flow of liquidity to all participants in the Jamaican financial system and to maintain orderly conditions within the foreign exchange market. Actions the BOJ could take include a reduction of the policy rate and the cash reserves requirement,

Interest rates rise sharply in March

Government of Jamaica Treasury bill (T-bill) rates reached their highest level since August last year when the average rate for the half-year instrument touched 2.01 percent and the three months hit 1.87 percent.
At the March auction, for T-bill, rates moved up from 1.337 percent in February to 1.85 percent in March for the shorter-term treasury rate and from 1.387 percent for the 192 days to 1.796 percent. The rates are coming from a low of 1.252 percent and 1.453 percent, respectively in January this year.
In January, $3.12 billion chased after the $700 million offer for the 91 days offer, in March the demand dropped sharply to just $1.05 billion, for the half T-bills, the amounts applied for fell from $2.32 billion to $1.41 billion.
On February 7, Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) 30 days CD rates averaged just 1.17 percent as $15.64 billion chased after $10 billion offered by the country’s central bank. In the March 16 auction, the average rate jumped to 3.51 percent, with the highest being 4.5 percent for $100 million as investors placed just $7.66 billion for the $8 billion BOJ offered. BOJ also offered CDS on March 11, amounting to $10 billion, with $14.15 billion going after it at an average yield of 2.78 percent.
The rise in interest rates occurs at a time of falling liquidity and the largest intake of taxes for the financial year by the government. Historically, March is the month with the highest fiscal surplus for the year as the intake of taxes is the highest. The result of the increased inflow of taxes drains liquidity from the system. This year, the situation is worsened by the $25 billion initially drained from the financial market by the Initial public offer of Trans Jamaica Highway. With the government planning to pay $73 billion to reduce the public sector debt, investors can look forward to increased liquidity before too long.

GOJ debt to drop by $73B

Government of Jamaica Treasury bill 

GOJ will pay $73 billion in cash to pay down the national debt in the 2020/21 fiscal year from proceeds of shares sold to the public and surplus funds at Petroleum Corporation that will contribute nearly $6 billion to the projected repayment.
Proceeds from the sale of shares of Wigton and Trans Jamaican IPO and projections from the sale of shares in Jamaica Public Service (JPS) and Jamaica Mortgage Bank will contribute the bulk to the repayment.
According to Minister Clarke, debt will drop to 84 percent for the new fiscal year, from a combination of debt repayment and nominal growth in Gross Domestic Product. The Government will raise roughly $13 billion from the sale of shares in JPS and Jamaica Mortgage Bank. The primary surplus is reduced to 5.4 percent from 6 percent, for the 2021 fiscal year and will free up $25 billion.

GCT drops to 15% in April

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Nigel Clarke, Jamaica’s Minister of Finance

The Minister of Finance announced a cut in GCT by 1.5 percentage points to 15 percent, effective April and will results in a loss in revenues of $14 billion as he announced a raft of measures that will result in tax reduction and subsidies for some entities and low-income earners.
The across the board reduction in the GCT tax rate is the first such reduction since the tax was introduced in the early 1990s. The adjustment follows calls by Leader of the PNP’s Peter Phillips for a 2.5 cent point reduction in the tax rate. The government is reducing the asset tax on financial institutions by 50 percent, takes effect in the next fiscal year. The removal will reduce the added cost of providing services by financial institutions to the public and amounts to $3.2 billion in lost revenues.
The SME sector will benefit from a new SME tax credit of $350,000 for 2020 onwards and will cost an estimated $1 billion. They are reducing fees paid for import licenses by Agricultural boards by 50 percent effective April. Reduction in fees paid to Trade Board for import license by 50 percent.

Jamaica GDP set to gain in 2020

Economic growth for Jamaica is expected to remain positive in 2020 following increases in 2019, even as the closure of Alpart acts as a drag on the economic growth rate in the first half of the year.
Jamaica will see steady growth with improvements in several areas during the year, with increased output for manufacturing, tourism, finances and other service sectors such as BPO and entertainment. The continuation of major road construction projects and many new buildings going up in the country will also aid the continuation of economic growth during the year.
Growth in stopover arrivals bounced to 7.6 percent in the December quarter up from a slightly slower summer months with gains of 4.5 percent, 2019 finished with an overall increase of 6.5 percent in stopover arrivals and bettered the 4.6 percent increase in 2018 over 2017. The increase in 2019 suggests a very strong demand for the Jamaican product. Increased demand for the product provides room for greater revenues per room as hotels do not have to do a deep discount of rates as they did in the early part of the last decade. The sector should continue to grow around 7 to 10 percent for the coming year and bring in addition inflows around US$400 million over 2020. It could do even more with the strong demand for rooms that could see hotels getting average rates that are higher than in 2019.
Concerns regarding the coronavirus are worth watching. If the spread in the west is more broad-based than it currently the case, it could negatively affect visitor arrival numbers to Jamaica.
Data out of Statin indicates a 4.9 percent increased output in the manufacturing sector for the September quarter, helped by gains in PetroJam production. That is faster than the July quarter, with growth of 3.2 percent and the first quarter growth with negative 1.3 percent following a 2.4 percent increase in the December 2018 quarter. The trend is positive for the manufacturing sector and augurs well for a good increase in 2020. Continued growth in loan financing and increasing interest of companies seeking fresh long-term capital through the capital market are big positives for the business sector in 2020 and beyond. The Manufacturing sector’s use of borrowed funds, excluding cement, was consistent with 20 percent increased borrowing in 2019 and 2018.
An important thrust in Jamaica’s economic development is the increasing number of companies raising long-term capital and listing on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. Increased long-term capital is an important move in getting greater productivity and production of goods and services out of local businesses that will help greater economic growth in the current year and beyond. Increased listings provide investors with viable opportunities to invest capital long term and be an integral part of the wealth creation in society. During 2019, there were several new listings on the Jamaica Stock Exchange. The exchange is forecasting 20 new listings in 2020 based on information provided by stockbrokers. The country will see the majority of companies seeking to list, raising fresh capital for business upgrading and expansion.
Growth in the construction sector will pick up, with the start of the Kingston to Port Antonio road construction and demand continues in the BPO sector that will stimulate the need for more space while adding to employment. Data out of the Bank of Jamaica shows a sharp rise in lending to the sector with an increase of 37 percent over the amount lent in 2018 and well ahead of the 27 increase in 2018 over 2017. The increase in 2019 suggests a further rise in growth in the sector, which should continue into 2020.
The new Old Harbor power plant commenced operation on December 17 and uses natural gas that is much more efficient than the oil-powered plant that was 50 years old and was highly inefficient. The South Jamaica Power Centre plant will provide a more reliable and efficient source of electricity and will result in fewer power disruptions and lower electricity cost as the new plant will use less fuel, fewer workers and requires lower maintenance than the old one, that will be closed in early 2020. With capital expenditure of US$300 million, some of the lower operating costs will be eaten up by interest and depreciation costs. JPS quarterly financial gave a glimpse of what to expect from the switch over with a 10 percent drop in fuel cost for the quarter even as the official switch over took place in mid-December.
The Foreign exchange market went through a number of changes as the central bank reduced the compulsory take from the market from 25 percent down to 20 percent for dealers and 15 percent for Cambios. In effect, the central bank bought no funds from the market through its weekly intervention tool and had no scheduled sale to the market. About four bouts of strong demand resulted in BOJ intervening by selling funds to the market. Notwithstanding, the interventions, the central bank ended the year with the NIR rising from US$3.005 billion at the end of December 2018 to US$3,16 billion after the NIR sank to US$2.95 billion in July.
Over the course of 2019, the exchange rate moved from $127.72 to US$1 at the end of 2018 to end 2019 at J$132.58 to US$1, after it reached its lowest level of J$141.89 to the US dollar on November. The NIR movement for 2019 suggests that the market is in a fairly balanced position. The country has periods when demand and supplies are higher than at other times and the two may not coincide thus creating some disquiet. There are other times when capital flows can impact the market positively or negatively. Unexpected capital flows can create a serious temporary imbalance in the system and may warrant BOJ’s intervention as occurred on a number of occasions over the last twelve months.

Growth in tourism expected in 2020

Money Market rates have been down and “This decline was also related to the increased supply of  liquid assets during the quarter, given the maturity of GOJ bonds over the period.” Interest rates have been generally trending downwards from April of 2019, following sharp falls in 2018.
Spike in the exchange rate of the Jamaican dollar to the US dollar in the last quarter of the year put added pressure on prices and pushed inflation rate for the year to 6.2 percent, well above the 4.6 percent for the last 12 months to November 2019. Inflation for January dropped sharply by 1.1 percent as the FX rate impact was not present with the Jamaican dollar appreciated. Movements of the local currency accounted for a large part of increased inflation in 2019. The natural level of inflation is in the two to three percent range. The inflation rate should move back to more moderate levels in 2020 than it ended in 2019.
Government normal revenues up to November were running 7.5 percent ahead of the $373 billion intakes forecasted, with inflows at $400 billion to December 2019. This increase is after the government removed or reduced taxes at the start of the 2020 fiscal year with no new taxes levied. The preliminary guideline for the 2021 fiscal year, is for increased expenditure amounting to $18 billion in non-interest expenditure, but that is likely to be well below a probably $30 billion increase in normal revenues. With interest cost on government debt set to fall below that of the 2020 fiscal year, following the sharp fall in interest rates during 2019. The government will have room to increase spending in an election year. There is likely to be increased in capital spending, to be well ahead of the $75 billion projected for 2020, the Ministry of Finance instructions suggest for fiscal 2021.
Unemployment rates continue to fall, with the October 2019 unemployment rate down to 7.2 percent, the lowest on record. Labour Market conditions are projected to continue improving for the next eight quarters, the country’s central bank contends “the expected improvement reflects employment growth in manufacturing, finance & insurance, and business process outsourcing.” The Statistical Institute of Jamaica data shows the number of unemployed dropped to 96,700 persons in October with the number employed rising to 1.248 million persons. Based on the trend seen over the last three years, the unemployment rate should drop a possible one-percentage-point in 2020 compared to 2019 putting the unemployment around 6 to 6.5 percent. What is important about this improvement is the increase in the number of employed persons that will lead to increased demand in the economy, helping to stimulate increased growth levels.
Crime continues to be a major negative on the country acting as additional taxes on the wider economy, unfortunately, this major negative will continue to be present for some time to come.

Business confidence rises

Perception of Present and Future Business Conditions rose in the December 2019 a survey, conducted on behalf of Bank of Jamaica reveals.
According to a report from Jamaica’s central bank, the Present Business Conditions Index increased to 115.8 from 111.3 recorded in the previous survey done in November. The Future Business Conditions Index rose to 127.6 from 123.6 in the November survey.
The advance in the Present Business Conditions Index reflected an increase in the number of respondents of the view that conditions are “better.” The outturn for the Future Business Conditions Index mainly reflected an increase in the proportion of respondents who believe that conditions will be “better.”
The latest report, although up is still below the 128.9 recorded for present conditions in March 2019 while future business conditions, peaked at 155.1 in December 2016 and is still well ahead of the December 2019 count and the recent peak of 153.5 in March 2019 is way ahead of the 2019 year-end result.
IC observations are that the scores are heavily influenced by the rate of exchange of the local currency versus the United States dollar, resulting in sentiments falling when the Jamaican dollar comes under pressure and reverses when it appreciates or stays relatively stable.

Alpart closure a drag on 2019 GDP

The Jamaican economy may not be growing at lightning pace but it should end 2019 with growth around 1.5 percent having grown an average of 1.2 percent for the year to September and reports from players in the private sector that volume sales in the December quarter bettered that of 2018.
Growth in the September quarter was pulled down to 0.6 percent as a result of a decline in the mining sector with the closure of the Alpart Alumina plant and weather-related impact that negatively affected growth in the agricultural sector.
As the end of 2019 approached, concerns about the state of the Global Economy surfaced with forecast for slower growth worldwide. According to BOJ, “a slowdown of 0.3 percentage point in the quarter ending September, relative to the growth in the June 2019 quarter” was seen. The main cause was the “weaker growth in China, Japan and selected emerging market economies”. The Canadian and US economies, however, outperformed growth projections for the penultimate quarter of 2019.
As 2020 starts, a number of the negatives globally seems to be receding with signs that trade issues between the USA and China are thawing as well as the cut in interest rates during 2019 in the USA is helping to keep US growth on track.
For Jamaica, there are three bright spots that augur well for 2020. The closure of the Alpart plant will be a drag on growth in the first half of 2020 but gains in other areas should overcome the negative impact of mining and lead to positive growth for the full year. On the flip side, a major game-changer is the switch over of Jamaica Public Service to new power generating plant that will cut import cost for fuel and result in a fall in electricity cost locally.
Data released by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica shows that inflation was 6.2 percent in 2019, the worse in four years, but the exchange movement played a major role in the spike. Statin also reported a continued decline in the unemployment rate at 7.2 percent to October and an increase in the number of persons employed.

Big inflation spike in 2019

 The Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) reported that the annual inflation rate in Jamaica to December 2019, was 6.2 percent, a sharp increase from inflation over the last four years.
According to data from the Statin, inflation in 2018 was 2.4 percent, down from 5.2 percent in 2017. In 2016 the inflation rate ended at 1.7 percent and 3.7 percent in 2015, 6.4 in 2014 and 9.7 percent in 2013.
Jamaica’s Central Bank, in response to the sharp rise in the inflation for the year, stated, the outturn “represents a sharp jump when compared with the 3.4 percent recorded in September 2019. This inflation outturn was not anticipated and was higher than the Bank of Jamaica’s target of 4.0 to 6.0 percent.”
The release from Bank of Jamaica, stated, “the higher inflation rate was primarily influenced by faster increases in food and energy-related prices in the consumer price index (CPI). The heavily weighted Food & Non-Alcoholic Beverages division of the CPI increased over the year to December by 10.7 percent, when compared with 6.7 percent in September 2019. This was primarily related to higher prices for vegetables and starchy foods, the consequence of adverse weather conditions (drought followed by heavy rains) that affected the Island between June and October 2019.

BOJ interest cuts overnight rate.

There was also news of crop-related diseases affecting some items. Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas & Other Fuels reflected higher rates for electricity and water, which was partly related to increases in international oil prices in the December 2019 quarter. This division increased over the year to December to 1.5 percent, compared with a decline of 3.2 percent in September 2019.”
The release continues, “despite the higher headline inflation, underlying inflation, which excludes the immediate influence of agriculture and energy prices, remained stable and below 3.0 percent. At the end of  December 2019, the annual rate for this measure was 2.9 percent, which was unchanged compared with the rate in September 2019. This underscores that the Jamaican economy continues to reflect some slack with economic growth below its potential. It also highlights that the jump in inflation is likely to be temporary as expected tempered movements in agricultural prices dampen inflation over the next three to six months.”

Unemployment drops below 100K

The number of unemployed persons in October 2019 fell under 100,000 to 96,700, with a fall of 19,000 persons after 29,200 persons were employed over October 2018 and moving the number of employed to 1.248 million persons.
The development in Jamaica’s labour market saw the country’s unemployment rate hitting the lowest level in record history at 7.2 percent down from 8.7 percent for October 2018 and 7.8 percent in July last year.
The occupation group ‘Clerks’ had the most significant increase in employment of 17,700 persons for the twelve months to October. The second-highest increase was for the occupation group ‘Service Workers and Shop and Market Sales Workers’, which increased by 13,900.
The largest change in employment by industry group was in ‘Public Administration and Defence; Compulsory Social Security’ which increased by 10,800 persons, moving from 60,300 in October 2018 to 71,100 in October 2019. Employment in Agriculture, Hunting, Forestry & Fishing declined by 6,500 workers.

Minimum wage hike will hurt Growth

Dr. Peter Phillips – former Minister of Finance

Dr. Peter Phillips, leader of Jamaica’s opposition party, was on to a good thing when he proposed lowering the GCT rate to help those less privileged in the Jamaican society. But he has completely missed the mark with the proposal that sharp hike in minimum wages will spur economic growth.
Phillips should revisit the tax matter and back off from what would be an ill-advised huge hike in the minimum wage that would lead to many minimum income earners losing their jobs. The evidence is there to prove it. Study the details on Jamaica’s employment numbers and the proof will be very clear.
Between 2008 and 2017, the Jamaican government increased taxes sharply to close the fiscal deficit and thus reduced disposable income significantly, which led to lower consumption. The cuts also led to a decline in productivity as businesses had to absorb higher unit costs per output as sales contracted. With the economy growing for the past five years, tax intake has been much higher in each year from the 2017 fiscal year. It is time we return some of the taxes imposed during the years of austerity back to the people.
What is needed is not just an arbitrary cut in one tax or the other, but a proper assessment of those that are inhibiting production. Yes, GCT should probably be reduced to 15 percent, which could well result in increased inflows as the lower tax rate would lead to increased consumption and less leakage.
Corporate taxes need to be reformed. Businesses and their owners should pay one rate based on profits. The tax rate on businesses should be around 20-25 percent with no taxes on dividends. As such, shareholders would pay taxes on profit once not twice, with the latter being the case. All asset taxes that drive up borrowing costs must be removed and thereby reduce the distortion in the system. Payroll tax credits must be eliminated; they are a wasteful use of the country’s taxes. The excessive tax on financial institutions must also be eliminated as they are taxes on the end users, not the financial institutions, and they drive up the cost of production.
On close examination, there are several other categories of taxes that should be removed as they bring in relatively a small portion of the country tax revenues, leaving around ten in all. This would reduce government’s operating cost for tax collection. Small businesses are burdened with all sorts of tax compliance issues and need relief from them so that they can focus on running their businesses and earning a decent income for their owners.
The above are some of the tax proposals that Phillips and his team should be addressing as reforming them could push economic growth. Hiking the minimum wage sharply will not only hurt economic growth, but it will also surely lead to reduced employment.
Contrary to Danny Roberts’ comments a few years ago that raising the minimum wage does not cut jobs, the data clearly shows the opposite. The category of workers most vulnerable to job losses, based on increased minimum wages, are those in private households, who suffered major declines in employment as the minimum wage rose above the country’s overall earnings. In fact, between 2003 and 2009, the minimum wage was increased 35 percent faster than the country’s average earnings and had a telling effect on employment in the sector. Employment in private households peaked at 74,200 in April 2004 and went downhill, hitting 56,000 in 2010 ―a loss of 16,000 jobs or a 22 percent decline. The proposed increase in minimum wages by Phillips is likely to lead to a 30 percent or more cut in jobs at that level.
Unlike many sectors that began to shed jobs with the advent of the global crisis, household employment started to fall off from 2004, making some recovery in 2006 and 2007 and continued to decline, reaching a low of 51,400 in the summer of 2009.