Jamaica’s remittances exceed $3 billion

Remittance inflows into Jamaica in 2022 exceeded the $3 billion mark second year with US$3.1 billion inflows for the first eleven months of the year and ended just below the $3.18 billion collected in the similar period for 2021.
remittancesFor the full 2022 year, remittances seem set to exceed $3.4 billion, close to the full year intake of US$3.497 billion in 2021. In November, remittance inflows rose 0.7 percent to US$276.5 million, from US$274.5 million in 2021 and are just one of the four months that inflows increased during 2022.
Five countries account for the bulk of the flows, with the United States of America accounting for 70.2 percent of total flows, up from 70.1 percent recorded for November 2021. The United Kingdom contributed 10.2 percent, followed by Canada and the Cayman Islands at 9.7 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively.

No inflation in December

There was no inflation in Jamaica in December, according to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica. Not only was there no inflation on an overall basis, but prices also fell marginally, with the price index slipping from 128 in November to 127.9 in December.
According to Statin, the outcome emanated from a 1 percent decline in the index for the heaviest weighted division, Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages and a 0.9 percent fall for the Transport division. The fall in food prices was due to lower prices for carrots, tomatoes, cabbage and lettuce, being the main contributors to the 6.3 percent decrease in the index for the class Vegetables, tubers, plantains, cooking bananas and pulses. The fall in the transport index resulted mainly from lower petrol cost. There were increases in the index for the divisions; Restaurants and Accommodation Services by 3.4 percent, impacted mainly by increased prices for meals consumed away from home, and Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels that was up 0.7 percent, due mainly to increases in the rates for electricity, water and sewage.
For December 2022, the point-to-point inflation rate was 9.4 percent compared to the 10.3 percent that was recorded for November and 8.8 percent for 2022, marginally down from 9.1 percent for the 2021 calendar year.

Watch interest rates steer stocks forward

It does not take much to determine the future of the stock market, the direction of interest rates tells it all, well, almost, but profits cannot be ignored. The accompanying chart suggests that the Bank of Jamaica’s recent hikes in interest rates won’t last much longer, a fact that stock market investors need to ponder early in 2023.
While the Bank of Jamaica only recently pushed their Overnight rate to 7 percent, Interest rates on Treasury bills may have peaked as far back as April 2022, with the 182 days’ Treasury bill rate averaging 8.46 percent in the April auction and moderated slightly downwards since, an indication that the market determined rates were at or close to the peak.
Bank of Jamaica moved their overnight interest rates charged to banks from 0.50 percent in September 2021 to 7 percent in November last year, a measure implemented mainly to tame inflation. Inflation has cooled sharply from the high in 2021 and is on the way down. The foreign exchange market buoyancy resulted in some appreciation of the Jamaican dollar, while the NIR seems to have risen to record levels for an end of year close.
The attached chart shows investors tending to react belatedly in response to interest rate movements. Profit ultimately is the primary long term driver of stock values. If interest rates are falling and so are profits, stock prices are unlikely to increase in the short run, the reverse is true. It is, therefore, not surprising that many companies listed on the Junior Market that enjoyed a substantial increase in profits registered good gains in stock prices in 2022, with seven gaining between 100 percent and 312 percent and 8 gaining 50 to 99 percent even as the Junior Market index rose only 16.3 percent for the year, while 21 Main Market stocks gained between 2 and 82 percent for the year, following a 10.2 percent decline in the JSE Main Index and 8 percent for the All Jamaica Composite Index. In all, 22 stocks gained more than the market average. Although not spectacular, the movement in the market was vastly better than the increase in Treasury bill interest rates, which jumped 89 percent above the 4.33 percent rate at the end of December 2021.
Investors can look forward to a fall in rates in 2023 as inflation moderates substantially and falls within BOJ’s 4-6 percent target during 2023. That development will likely be more impactful for Junior Market stocks that will enjoy a higher profit increase than those in the Main Market.

Jamaica’s economy looking great for 2023

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The Jamaican economy could grow by more than 6 percent in 2022, with continued growth in tourism and the Alcoa Alumina plant back in production in late August and could lift the December quarter growth above the 5.9 percent that Statin reported for the September quarter. The strong second half year growth should carry over into 2023, coming from an average increase of 5.73 percent for the period up to September and will be boosted by the expected continued strong resurgence of the tourism sector in 2023, barring unforeseen adverse developments, along with the impact of production from the reopening of the Jamalco Alumina plant that will add quite a bit to growth going into the first half of 2023.

Mining to contribute to GDP gains in 2023

Inflation is still not entirely under control yet, but it peaked in 2021, with the average for 2022 running close to the upper end of the central bank’s target of 4 to 6 percent. Developments that should help decrease the rate include world oil prices that have fallen substantially from the over $US120 experienced after the Ukraine war started and are now around US$80 a barrel. Prices of some other commodities are reduced and others could follow as a push of interest rates by several developed countries is set to tighten economic activities and trim demand. A tighter labour market, locally, could put upward pressure on wages and prices, but the tighter monetary policy from last year could hold prices down for a while.
Growth is not only expected from the above two areas. Assuming fair weather conditions, Agriculture, the star performer in the economy for several years, should continue its contribution in 2023. The sector will be helped by growth in tourism that feeds off the industry. The BPO sector seems poised to continue to add to growth as well as the construction sector, with continued growth in housing, road construction and the need for factories and warehousing space. There may well be a lull in the sector with the two south coast roads coming to completion in 2023: the Harbour View to Portland leg and the May Pen to Williamsfield leg of Highway 2000. The Montego Bay perimeter road should take over but may not fill the gap. This may not happen until the Montego Bay to Ocho Rios dualisation commences and is well on the way.
Why is tourism so important? Data shows that for the first quarter in 2022, stopover arrivals were 28 percent below arrivals for 2019, with the June quarter off by 3.3 percent, but September to November increased an average of 12 percent, which means that the first quarter in 2023 could see a 50 percent increase over 2019 and much more over 2022 in the first half on 2022.
Tourist arrivals into Jamaica are now running at record levels since August 2022. Data shows the country enjoying four consecutive months of arrivals exceeding similar months in 2019, the previous best period. Airport passenger movements through the Sangster Airport are up an average of 12 percent for the September to November period.

Growth in tourism is expected to be big in 2023

If the recent trend continues, it would mean that stopover arrivals should be in the order of 3 million next year, up from 2,680,920 in 2019 and would exceed those in 2022 by a solid 20 percent, with the winter months enjoying much higher levels of growth as shown above.
The strong rebound in tourism traffic in the first half of the year, compared with 2022, will contribute to above average GDP growth in the first half but will also result in a significant jump in revenues and profits for some companies and the government. This will have significant implications for the foreign exchange market with significantly increased flows, especially in the year’s first half. This development could also impact interest rates as BOJ may no longer have to lend much support to the local currency using high interest rates.
ICinsider.com don’t see interest moving higher and most likely will start to decline before midyear, with inflation within reach of the BOJ target of 4-6 percent in 2022 and with interest rates seeming to peak at 8.46 percent from April 2022 and remaining at the 8 percent level since based on 182 days Treasury bills.

Jamaica’s labour market has tightened and could pressure inflation in 2023.

Unemployment at 6.6 percent in July is expected to fall in 2023 towards the 5 percent region as more workers will be needed to man the economic expansion. This could mean wage increases could rise above normal to retain or attract new workers.
But all the above is good news for the private sector overall, that should see increasing demand for goods and services.
The banking sector showed loans growing at an annual pace of 12 percent up to September 2022, data from the Bank of Jamaica shows up to $1,096 billion, but increased loan rates may be negatively affecting some areas. With what could be a year of reducing interest rates engineered by BOJ, there could be even faster loan growth in 2023 than in 2022.
Remittances in 2022 appear they will fall short of the US$3.5 billion generated in 2021 and could come in at just over $3.4 billion for the year, reaching $2.84 billion to October. It may again slip marginally in 2023 since the big surge that took it from $2.4 billion in 2019 to the $3.5 billion level.
Net International Reserves. Jamaica’s Net International Reserves are in a healthy position with a jump of $75 million to $3.85 billion in November, data released by the Bank of Jamaica shows, an improvement over October at $3.77 billion. This year’s November balance is at the highest monthly balance for 2022 but is down US$150 million from the end of December last year with a net of $4 billion. Data from the Bank of Jamaica shows a US$100 million growth to Mid December 2022 that would push the net to around US$3.95, just shy of US$4 billion. Daily trades in the forex market after mid-December suggest a continued buildup of the reserves that should push it over the US$4 billion mark by the end of 2022, with the exchange rate for the Jamaica dollar appreciating 152 to the US dollar at the end of the year.

Road construction could slow growth in the sector in 2023

With the significant rebound in tourism, a resurgence in the Alumina sector and relatively stable remittances and BPO sectors, the country should enjoy record foreign exchange inflows in 2023.
Developments on the foreign exchange front could result in greater stability in the exchange rate for the local dollar. Investors should not be too surprised if there is some revaluation, especially in the first half.
The entertainment and transportation sectors seem poised to get a shot in the arm and benefit from the rebound in tourism, increased employment in the country and the general buoyancy in the wider economy.
The present government will be in power for three years at the end of August, but the last public opinion polls indicate a huge lead over the opposition party; with such a lead, the government is in the driver’s seat as to when elections will be called. But the opposition party could start revving up their machinery, so there could be a fair bit of noise to contend with. Local government elections are due in 2023 and barring some significant negative development these elections appear as if they will proceed as planned. If the opposition does well in these elections, it could result in the political heat being turned up a notch or two. If they don’t things will quiet down as the odds favour the government going the full term.
The above are positive developments but investors cannot ignore the impact that the war in Ukraine has had and could have going forward as well as concerns about the covid19 problems in China and how that could affect the world economies.

Reports to follow – Interest rates and the stock market. Outlook for stocks in 2023. Top 15 stocks. Stocks to watch in 2023.

Jamaica’s inflation drops

Jamaica’s inflation rate slipped in November to 0.4 percent, down from 1.5 percent in October, according to data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) and brings the average for the last twelve months to 6.28 percent or an annual rate of 7.5 percent. Inflation in November is the third lowest month for 2022 to date and the eighth month, with a reading under one percent, the clearest indication that the pace of that inflation has been subsiding for 2022.
The increase in the All-Jamaica Consumer Price Index (CPI) for November was largely the result of a 2 percent increase in the index for the heavily weighted ‘Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages’ division, Statin stated.
According to Statin, all classes within the ‘Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages’ division increased for the review period with the main contributor being ‘Vegetables, tubers, plantains, cooking bananas and pulses’ which rose by 6.5 percent, due to higher prices for agricultural produce such as sweet potato, tomato, cabbage and sweet pepper, while Fruits and Nuts rose 2.4 percent, ‘Meat and other parts of slaughtered land animals’ up by 0.5 percent and ‘Ready-made food and other food products moved upwards by 1.3 percent.
Also impacting the movement of the CPI was the ‘Education’ division, with a 1.7 percent rise due to increased fees for the Caribbean Secondary Examination Certificate. Personal Care, Social Protection and Miscellaneous Goods and Services increased by 0.6 percent.

Food category was the main contributor to November’s inflation.

The overall rate of inflation was however tempered by a 2.4 percent fall in the index for the division Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels’ due to lower electricity rates and a 0.2 percent decline in the index for the ‘Transport’ division as a result of lower petrol prices.
The point-to-point inflation rate (November 2021 – November 2022) was 10.3 percent. This was influenced mainly by the point-to-point inflation rate for the divisions: ‘Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages’ up 14.3 percent, Statin stated.

Jamaica’s NIR jumps

Jamaica’s Net International Reserves jumped $75 million to US$3.85 billion in November data released by the Bank of Jamaica shows. The amount is an improvement over October which ended with NIR at US$3.77 billion after a US$33 million fall from September a month that enjoyed a rise of $57 million and August with an increase of US$90 million following a fall of US$144 in July.
The balance at the end of November this year is at the highest at the end of any month for 2022 but is down US$150 million from the end of December last year with a net of US$4 billion which was up $100 million over November 2021. The data suggest that the NIR could match the amount at the end of 2021, with December historically a month that brings in surplus foreign exchange inflows into the country.
With tourist arrivals expected to jump sharply in the first four months of 2023 over 2022 which was about a third lower than in 2019, inflows could be up some fifty percent over 2022 from that sector and could boost the NIR for the first quarter.

Record tourist arrivals for Jamaica

Jamaica tourist arrivals are now running at record levels since August this year, with data showing the country enjoying four consecutive months of arrivals exceeding similar months in 2019, the previous best period. Airport passenger movements through the Sangster International Airport are up an average of 12 percent for September to November.
If the recent trend continues, it would mean that stopover arrivals should be in the region of 3 million next year, up from 2,680,920 in 2019 and would exceed those in 2022 of around 2.5 million by a solid 20 percent or so, with the winter months enjoying much higher levels of growth as those moths were down sharply compared with 2019.
Tourist arrivals into Jamaica continued the significant improvement over 2019, the best year for tourist arrivals for the country, with traffic through the Montego Bay Sangster International Airport rising 8 percent over 2019 and 38.7 percent over 2021 as 375,900 passengers passed through the airport this year, up from 271,000 in 2021 and 348,200 total passengers arriving and departing in 2019. For the eleven months of 2022, airport arrivals in the west of the country amounted to 3,918,700 compared to 2,240,600 and 2021 and 8 percent less than the 4,208,100 that passed through the airport in 2019.
Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston had 131,700 passengers passing through the airport in November this year and up a solid 68.8 percent above the 78,000 passing through in 2021 and 1.1 percent less than 133,200 passengers passing through in 2019. Kingston’s Norman Manley airport handled 1,398,800 passengers for the 11 months to November, 93.8 percent above the 721,800 handled in 2021 but down 17 percent on the 1,680,477 movements in 2019.

Whether Jamaican interest rates?

Interest rates on the last government of Jamaica Treasury bills averaged 8.27 percent on the 182 days instrument in November, the highest level since December 2012 at 9.12 percent.
The rate is well over the trend since 2013, which suggests it should be just over 3 percent on a longer term. In 2013, the rate did not remain at its peak for long and continued decreasing gradually. It rose again to 9.11 in March 2014 for a brief period and fell to 6.99 percent by January 2015 and moved gradually down to under two percent by 2018.
While the Bank of Jamaica has only recently pushed the Overnight rate to 7 percent the 182 days, Treasury bill rates were around 8 percent from April this year when the average was 8.46 percent and moderated slightly downwards since an indication that the market has determined that these rates are at or close to the peak. The decline in rates should start in the first half of 2023 and could adjust downwards gradually, as was the case in 2014.
The attached chart shows the trend-line slopping from the left side of the chart and reaching around two percent, with the current rates being well over trend, an indication that the recent hike since last year is not sustainable and could start to decline not too long from now with inflation rate now closer to 7 percent and falling.

Jamaica tourist arrivals jump over 2019

After the close of Jamaica’s borders to visitors in March 2020, tourist arrivals continue to recover rapidly, with passenger movements climbing by 17 percent in September and 10 percent in October over the same periods in 2019, data from the local airports show.  
According to the data, passenger movement through the Sangster International Airport increased 10 percent over 2019, with 317,100 arrivals and departures compared with 287,800 in 2019 and 208,700 in 2021, while Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport processed 140,900 passengers in October this year, 3.75 percent more than the 135,807 that passed through the airport in the capital of the country in 2019 and 81 percent more than the 77,900 passengers in 2021.
For the year to October, 3.54 million passengers passed through the Sangster International Airport, up 80 percent over 2021 but 9.4 percent below 2019, with June and August being marginally higher than for the same periods in 2019 but with September 17 percent more than in 2019.
Kingston saw 1.27 million passenger movements to October this year, 97 percent more than in 2021 with 643,800 but less than the 1,545,949 movements in 2019.

BOJ’s several missed inflation forecasts

Bank of Jamaica has done an awful job of telling the truth about inflation in Jamaica since early 2021 and the bank’s management of the tools to combat it. The impression given is that inflation continues to run at nearly ten percent per annum for most of this year, but that is false. According to data released by Statin since January, inflation is running at just under 6.5 percent per annum, not the ten percent the bank is consistently mentioning in its reports and recently reduced to 9.3 percent.

BOJ interest cuts overnight rate.

It is not that interest rates should not have been increased, the question is the extent of it and how long it may go on. It also means that they have been applying the incorrect dosage of interest rates medicine to inflation that has subsided since the start of the year. The reality is that the terribly high inflation rate was up to September last year, not in 2022, although they were some high months this year but not as high as the comparative periods last year.
Come December or January, the country will be told that inflation has suddenly plummeted to the 6 percent level because the bad periods for 2021 are no longer in the data set. The decline will have had little to do with Bank of Jamaica’s interest rate hike, but as sure as night follows day, the central bank will be praised for its action in bringing the inflation rate sharply down. That of course will be far from the truth.
The reality is that just about every public forecast by the country’s central bank since the beginning of last year proved to be wrong. It started with a letter written to the Minister of Finance in March last year in defending the maintenance of the 4-6 percent target for three years. In May of that year BOJ stated that 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 the consensus forecast for a fall in commodity prices. Immediately after that statement, the inflation rate declined in the following two months.
The classic case of getting wrong is BOJ’s letter to the Minister of Finance in 2021. 
“I am recommending that the target for the 12 months point to point in the spread as measured by the percentage change in consumer price index remains at 4 percent to 6 percent for the next three fiscal year,” this is an extract from a letter written to the Minister of Finance by Richard Byles head of the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC ) of Bank of Jamaica dated March 29th 2021, the letter went on to state “the targeted lower rate of inflation is not advisable as achieving this lower rate will require tighter monetary policy which will restrain the anticipated recovery in the Jamaican economy and impair the government’s debt reduction strategy. “
By May of 2021, the central bank changed its position, informing the nation that tighter monetary policy would be put into effect and that the overnight rate would be raised when they meet in September, an action which has taken from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent.
Inflation data indicates that the dark days of higher inflation started to overshadow the country from November and December of 2020 compounded by the March inflation and was well embedded from May onwards suggesting the higher rates should have commenced from then, but the focus on point to point inflation disguised the true extent of what was going on. It appears that they are set to make the same error again, this time by focusing overwhelmingly on the point to point inflation since last year rather than looking at the trends since late last year and in 2022.
Interestingly, although the central bankers raised interest rates over the period to 6.5 percent the economic growth of the country exceeded the bank’s forecast and raises questions about their original assessment that rising interest rates would have trimmed GDP growth significantly.
The issue for this publication is not whether the Bank of Jamaica should raise rates it was clear from the earliest 2019 that the bank erred in dropping rates as low as it did at the time thus removing the incentive of Jamaicans to save in local dollars and instead encouraging them to switch to U.S. dollar investments. If the Bank of Jamaica in a matter of a few months got the inflation outlook so wrong what assurance can there be that the increase rates will not over impact the economy and create mayhem within the financial system?
Jamaicans should therefore be very concerned whether the Bank of Jamaica is correctly interpreting the data that they are churning out or not and how much credibility can be afforded them in directing the country’s monetary affairs. Longer term the bank is still holding to the 4 to 6 percent target, which suggests that sooner than later rates will have to be reduced to prevent the rate from slipping under the 4 percent bottom.
They stated in their MPC release that “while headline inflation at June 2022 may be lower than expected, the Bank prefers to see evidence of a definitive fall in commodity prices, consistent with global consensus forecasts, and a reduction in core inflation before moderating the tight monetary policy stance. The Bank expects to see this in the September and December 2022 quarters and with it, a fall in inflation expectations. Of course, this depends on tensions between Russia and Ukraine not escalating.”
The MPC report goes on to say, “inflation is projected to fall within the target range by the December 2023 quarter. This is two quarters later than previously projected. Consistent with the consensus forecast for a fall in commodity prices and the Bank’s overall monetary policy stance, and absent any new shocks, annual inflation is projected to range between 9 per cent and 11 per cent for the remaining months of 2022. Inflation is projected to fall to single digits in early 2023 as long as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine does not escalate and inflation among Jamaica’s trading partners continues to fall. In addition, the Bank’s baseline forecast assumes that the public’s expectation for future inflation will fall during the second half of 2022.”
The above is not what is taking place currently.