Has Jamaican economy fully recovered?

The Jamaican economy grew 6.4 percent in the first quarter of this year over a similar period in 2020, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, overall GDP was still less than for the first quarter in 2020 but not far behind and with the faster pick up in visitor arrivals in the June quarter and its linkages to the rest of the economy GDP could be back to 2019 levels.

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The economic rebound is happening much faster than official reports suggested. Most likely, except for mining, the overall economy could exceed that of 2019, early data from the tourism sector for the June quarter suggests. The hotel and restaurant sector that grew 107 percent in the March quarter over 2022, with the tourist arrivals at just 72 percent of 2019 outturn. Data of visitor arrivals in the June quarter show the sector looks like it may come in around 97 percent of 2019 and will help push the industry to near full recovery compared to a 78 percent the hotel and restaurant sector represents in the 2022 first quarter versus 2019.  The only other sectors that are down significantly are mining at a mere 28 percent of 2019 and Other Services at 85 percent of that in 2019.

Agriculture is the best performing sector

Statin puts output for the economy in real terms at $189.9 billion at the end of March, just shy of the $191 billion for the first quarter of 2020 but 3 percent off the $195.7 billion in the 2019 first quarter. The economy would need to grow 7.3 percent in 2022 in the second quarter to equal the 2019 outturn of 197 billion.
The data for GDP going back to the early 21 century reveal that the country’s GDP growth has been anaemic as the 2019 GDP of $197 billion is just above the 2008 first quarter of $194 billion.

BOJ is wrong as inflation keeps falling

Jamaica’s central bank (BOJ) was granted independence in 2021 but they seem to be making a mess of it. For much of last year they fiddled around telling the country that inflation was well under control and that it would remain within the band of 4-6 percent for two years, that’s before they found out that it wasn’t.
They informed the Ministry of Finance in April last year, why they could not increase interest rates as that would trim economic growth. In May, they made an erroneous statement that inflation was still getting higher when the underlying data was suggesting that it was improving and close to their target.
According to BOJ inflation was 11.8 percent in April and would get worse over the next two months.
ICInsider.com advised that they were wrong and that inflation was running close to the target since October and therefore was not getting worse but was improving.
According to the BOJ after its meetings held on 12, 13 and 18 of May 2022, “the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) noted that inflation at April 2022 of 11.8 percent was higher than the outturn at March 2022 and represented the ninth consecutive month that inflation has been above the Bank’s target range of 4.0 to 6.0 percent. While inflation is forecasted to rise further over the next two months, the Bank forecasts inflation to fall in the second half of the year, consistent with consensus forecast for a fall in commodity prices. This means that the public should start to see lower inflation rates each month, beginning in the second half of 2022, as long as tensions between Russia and Ukraine do not escalate and inflation among Jamaica’s trading partners falls.”
The latest data from Statin is once more confirming what we stated last month and casting serious doubts on the authority of the central bank.  Statin’s latest reading on inflation is 0.3 percent for May with the year or year rate down to 10.8 percent, which is down 100 basis points from the April reading. The monthly rate for May is the lowest since November last year with zero inflation and April with negative 0.5.
Since October last year, some seven months ago even before the interest rate hikes took effect, inflation was just over 6.4 percent per annum. With an average of 0.535 percent per month. For the period from December last year, the average rate is 0.547 percent per month, but since January it is running at 5.46 percent per annum.
The rate is moderating, but the country is not out of the woods as yet. There are some hopeful signs for the coming months. The rate of exchange of the Jamaica dollar is now officially J$153.45 to the US dollar compared to around $156 up recently, this will cut the cost of imports and will contribute in a major way to cutting imported inflation. The recent increase in interest rates will also slow down economic activity.
The inflation trend since October last year, suggests BOJ has overdone the interest rate hike and the rate should start the downward trek before the end of the year.

Jamaica’s inflation down considerably

Oil prices came back from the pre-Ukrainian war prices easing inflation in Jamaica in April, with the country posting the lowest inflation rate since April last year. The year over year inflation rate is up to 11.8 percent according to Statin’s latest read on inflation.

Increased fuel prices added to inflation.

The release from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica would lead to a view that despite the negative 0.1 percent for April 2022, that inflation is still rising. That of course is false. Over the past seven months, inflation is trending well within the Bank of Jamaica’s range of 4 to 6 percent, at 5.10 percent annualised, with March being the worse month with a 1.6 percent increase, fueled a lot by the events associated with the Ukrainian war, but for that, the rate may well be lower than it currently sits.
The trend is in keeping with ICInsider.com report earlier this year, suggesting that inflation was well in control from the latter part of 2021.
The reduction in inflation in April according to the release by Statin, “was occasioned by electricity rates, which mainly resulted from lower fuel charges.”
The above decline was tempered by Statin states, by the 1.1 percent increase for the group ‘Water Supply and Miscellaneous Services Relating to the Dwelling due to increased water and sewage rates. Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages’, increased by 0.5 percent, as most classes within the division recorded higher inflation rates. There were reduced prices for Vegetables, tubers, plantains, cooking bananas, pulses, Fruit and nuts.

Unemployment at record levels in Jamaica

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As Jamaica’s economy continues to recover from the negative effects of Covid-19, with a sharp drop in the number of persons unemployed and the number of persons employed is 16,000 less than the previous highest previous level in January 2020, according to data released by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin)
“In January 2022, there were 1,257,100 employed persons, an increase of 57,800 or 4.8 percent over January 2021”, Statin reported. But the 2022 numbers lag that of January 2020 with 1,273 million persons employed. With a full labour force of 1.34 million only 83,000 persons were regarded as unemployed as of January, the lowest on record with an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent bettering the previous lowest rate of 7.1 percent in October last year and much better than 8.8 percent for the same quarter of 2021.
While the unemployed numbers have fallen, the number of persons in the workforce declined from 1.373 million in 2020 to 1.34 million in 2022 a drop of 39,000. The job seeking rate declined to just 3.9 percent in the latest survey down from 4.9 percent in January 2020.
The largest increase in employment by occupation group was in ‘Clerks’. There were 120,500 persons employed in the occupation group ‘Clerks’ in January 2022, increased by 22,100 or 22.5 percent compared to January 2021.
Real Estate and Other Business Services had the largest increase by industry group compared to January 2021.

The Hampshire Apartments complex a Guardian Life project.

There were 126,600 persons employed in this industry group in January 2022, an increase of 25,200 or 24.9 percent versus the 2021 quarter. The second highest increase was in ‘Accommodation and Food Service Activities’, which employed 13,900 more persons.
The number of persons classified as Outside the Labour Force was 755,600 in January 2022, a decrease of 22,400 or 2.9 percent from 778,000 in January 2021.
Of import, the data would have done at a period when the tourism sector was operating at around 30 percent capacity as well as some other businesses that were yet to recover fully from the decline since 2020, as such the next reading could result in another fall in the unemployment rate and a strong possibility that total employment could get to record levels.

Jamaica’s GDP drops 6.7 percent in Q1

GDP fell 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2021 due to the 9.9 percent fall in category service industries, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported.

Mining records GDP gains in 2021

Declines recorded for service industries except for government services. GDP for Hotels and restaurants fell 56 percent, being the main contributor to the decline. The Goods Producing Industries grew by 2.6 percent, with mining and Quarrying up 7.1 percent. Construction grew 10.5 percent, but Manufacturing suffered a 1.1 percent decline. Agriculture fell 2 percent due to drought conditions, Statin stated.
Declines were experienced in Other Services 21.9 percent, Transport, Storage and Communication 7.8 percent, Electricity & Water Supply 6.9 percent, Wholesale & Retail Trade; Repairs; Installation of Machinery & Equipment 5.1 percent, Real Estate, Renting & Business Activities 1.9 percent and Finance and Insurance Services 1.2 percent.

The stars in Jamaica’s export world

Jamaica’s export earnings fell in 2020 from US$1.516 billion to US$1.165 billion, but it was not all bad news on the export front. Excluding mining that fell sharply due partially to the closure of the Alpart alumina plant and a fall in re-exports of mineral and fuels, other exports actually increased as a group but not anything like the fall in other major items.

Coffee exports have fallen but could recover

Export data released recently by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica shows the dramatic change that occurred on the export front with the traditional products giving way to new ones. Traditional Exports excluding mineral fuels earned just US$18.85 million down from US$16 million in 2019 and a fall of 44 percent from US$33 million earned in 2017, due primarily to a 43 percent fall in the export of coffee.
Export earnings from manufacturing, agriculture, and mineral fuels exceed the mining sector in 2020, accounting for 56 percent of exports compared to 51 percent in 2017 and 47 percent in 2019, but excluding mineral fuels, the rest of exported products accounted for US$430 million for 37 percent of exports earning in 2020 compared to US$382 million or 35 percent in 2017 and 27 percent with US$416 million in 2019, the decline in sugar, coffee and scrap metals were the main contributors to the slower growth. Excluding the three products along with mining and mineral fuel, exports would have risen an attractive 61 percent since 2017.
For example, sugar, bananas, cocoa are now shadows of their former glory. In their places come yams, now the leading agricultural export, followed by ackee and coffee. Sugar that was said to be king at one stage, generated just US$6.5 million in export earnings last year, bananas brought in a mere US$726,000 citrus US$383,000 and cocoa US$348,000.

Coming tomorrow – Declining sectors obscure export headway.

Jamaica’s unemployment drops again

Jamaica’s unemployment rate has dropped from 10.7 percent in October last year to 8.9 percent in January this year, which is 1.5 percentage points higher than the rate in January 2020, data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica shows.
According to the body charged with gather and reporting on Jamaica’s economic data, there were 1,194,800 employed persons at the time of the survey, 74,300 or 5.9 percent fewer persons compared to January 2020. “The largest decline in employment by occupation was among ‘Service Workers and Shop and Market Sales Workers’, while the industry with the largest decline in employment was ‘Accommodation and Food Service Activities,” Statin said.

Jamaica’s Inflation stays low

Inflation in Jamaica for the first five months of 2020 remained extremely low, with the rate for May, coming in at 0.1 percent following April’s increase of just 0.2 percent, leading the year-to-date inflation rate at negative 0.4 percent.
Inflation over the past twelve months came out at 4.2 percent, with the period between July and November rising by exactly 4.2 percent, mostly due to a hike in the exchange rate of the Jamaican dollar versus the US dollar.
The May movement resulted mainly from a 1.1 percent increase in the heavily weighted Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages division, according to a release from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica due to higher prices for agricultural produce, with a 2.3 percent rise. The division of Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels increased 1.5 percent due mainly to electricity rates, which resulted in a 5.6 percent upward movement in the index for the group.
The index for the Education division fell 22.1 percent, primarily due to a decrease in tuition fees for the summer term and the Transport division index fell 0.3 percent, with lower prices for petrol contributed to this decline.

Jamaica’s inflation is tamed

Inflation in Jamaica is tamed. At least that is what data out of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) is suggesting, with negative inflation for the first four months of the year. 
According to the latest data on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the inflation rate for April 2020 was 0.2 percent. The increase for April comes on the heels of low price increases from December last year, leading to a rise of 0.5 percent in the CPI index followed by January, with a negative price movement of 1.1 percent. February ended, with an increase of 0.7 percent, while March had a decline of 0.3 percent and with the April fall, the year to date movement came out at negative 0.5 percent.
The inflation rate for April is not directly comparable to the previous periods, but whatever difference there maybe is unlikely to be material. Statin updated the basket of goods and services used in the compilation of the index. Accordingly, the products and services included in the new CPI basket and the weights associated with each item have changed based on a 2017 Household Expenditure Survey. The difference between the old and new weighting is not substantial, with Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages weighting of 37.4 percent previously, is now down to 35.8 percent. The group of Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas & Other Fuels is up to 17.8 percent from 12.8 percent previously. Transport is now at 11.2 percent versus 12.8 percent in the old basket. Recreation, Sports & Culture is at 5 percent compared to 3.4 percent in the previous measure. The only other change of note was the areas of Insurance & Financial Services that is now 1.1 percent. Previously it was grouped with Personal Care, Social Protection & Miscellaneous Goods & Services that amounted to 8.4 percent of the overall basket, with the new weighting for the new category, down to 5 percent.
According to STATIN, the reduction in the GCT rate, from 16.5 percent to 15 percent, impacted the inflation rate for April 2020. The ‘Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages’ recorded an increase in its index of 0.3 percent. The inflation rate for the division ‘Housing, Water and Electricity’ was 0.2 percent due to a rise of 3.1 percent in the index for the group ‘Water Supply and Miscellaneous Services Relating to the Dwelling.’ The Transport division declined by 0.5 percent and was mainly attributable to the reduction in the costs of petrol.

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.