Jamaica’s FX inflows surpass 2020 flows

There is a sharp surge in the earnings of foreign exchange in the first two months of this year and the first week of March for Jamaica over the similar period despite the impact that the Covid pandemic has had on business in the country and, in particular the tourism industry.
Data out of Bank of Jamaica shows purchasing by Authorized dealers and Cambios for the year to March 4 amounts to $777 million US$103 million more than in 2020, while selling was just $33 million more in 2021 than in 2020. This development is a huge revelation with the tourism sector, a large foreign exchange sector operating around a third of capacity compared to a full capacity for the similar period last year.
Trading for last week’s Friday resulted in purchases of US$38.5 million and selling of US$60 million against 2020 purchases on the same day of $34.5 million and sales at $47.7 million in all currencies. On Thursday, purchases totalled US$63,861,970 and sales US$59,145,237, well ahead of the same day in 2020.
On Wednesday, purchases amounted to US$54,236,293 and sales US$63,794,632, with the amounts purchased being well ahead of last year’s figure but with sales just $2 million less than last year. Tuesday’s purchases amounted to US$62,667,923, with sales of US$71,359,269, both being much higher than for the similar day in 2020. On Monday, US$67,469,686 were purchased while US$61,868,091 were sold, falling below the 2020 trades.
Last year, trading on the first Monday in March brought in US$73,900,712 while selling amounted to US$73,904,949. Tuesday’s purchases amounted to US$44,971,292 and selling US$65,382,991, while on Wednesday purchases were US$55,679,393 and sales US$79,738,789 and on Thursday, March 5 last year, dealers purchased US$53,369,689 from the system and sold US$47,373,166.
Financial institutions have been selling US dollar short as demand weakens and the rate is appreciating. Monday last week saw just US$2.5 million sold in excess of purchases, but National Commercial Bank went short by nearly US$7 million and JMMB Bank by $3 million. Traders went short on Tuesday to the tune of US$15 million with NCB, the major short seller with US$9 million and BNS, FCIB, JMMB Bank, Sagicor and VMBS, making up the bulk of the rest.

NCB is a big player in the FX market.

On Wednesday, net selling amounted to just over US$12 million, with the big net sellers being First Caribbean International Bank, First Global Bank, JMMB Bank, NCB and Sagicor Bank.
On Thursday, there were no overall net sales as purchases exceeded sales, but Scotia Bank, JN Bank and Sagicor Bank sold more than they bought on that day.
One usually reliable and knowledgeable source indicates that from where he sits, “increased inflows are coming from remittances, entities selling US dollars to pay taxes, increased BPO flows and from some exporters”. The high level of short selling is based on demand being soft currently as financial institutions take advantage of the higher rate that the Jamaican dollar sits at. Others are confirming increased flows from the BPO sector that has grown over 2020, increased remittances and exports. Additional flows may be coming from entities or individuals who bought last year in anticipation of the local dollar running away but may have decided to cash in with the price peaking around the $150 million mark.
On Monday, March 8, dealers bought a total of US$43.3 million in all currencies and sold US$59 million, with short selling of US dollars amounting to $20 million and the selling rate for the US dollar ending at J$148.97. The major short-sellers are BNS, US$3 million, Citibank, US$7.6 million, JMMB Bank, US$2.5 million, JN Bank US$US$2.3 million and Victoria Mutual, US$1.8 million.

Record Carib Cement profit up 70%

Caribbean Cement reported record profit for the year ending December 2020 from sales that rose 13 percent to $20 billion and up 17.8 percent in the final quarter to $5 billion from $4.3 billion in 2019.
For the year, profit after tax surged 70 percent to $3.2 billion after tax provision of $1.2 billion. The tax charge includes deferred tax amounting to $414 million, down from $664 million in 2019. The results would have been far better but for a billion loss in foreign exchange movement, but interest cost fell from $939 million to $812 million, partially cushioning some exchange losses. Interest cost will fall further in 2021 as the debt load recedes with the strong cash flows allowing for the rapid repayment of the $4.4 billion of long term loans.
Gross profit improved rapidly, surging faster than the increase in revenues with a 26.45 percent increase from $7.2 billion to $9.1 billion. The company also benefited from reducing administrative and other expenses that fell from 2.5 billion to $2.35 billion. The company has contracts that hedge diesel fuel to protect it from major increases in one of the largest cost in its operations.
Earnings per share came in at $3.76 for the year, just ahead of ICInsider.com’s forecast of $3.76. ICInsider.com projects earnings of $5.7 billion with EPS of $6.70 in 2021.
Cement generated positive cash flow of $6.5 billion, repaid $4.7 billion in loans and paid $1.5 billion to redeem preference shares due to the Trinidad Cement, its immediate majority shareholder. The amount owing for the TCL preference shares is now down to $2.3 billion with loans outstanding at 4.4 billion, of which $3.1 billion is in Jamaican dollars owing to National Commercial Bank and $1.34 billion due to Cemex Espana in US dollars. The reduction in overseas debt has significantly reduced the foreign exchange exposure, with 2021 set to benefit from a sharp reduction in exchange losses.
At the end of the year, shareholders’ equity moved to $11.5 billion from $8.3 billion at the end of 2019. The stock is one of the original IC TOP 15 stocks for 2021 in the main market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange and remains in the list but now at 13th position with a target price of $135 in the next twelve months. The company is set to benefit from an improving economy, with low interest rates encouraging real estate development and ownership as well as expansion and rehabilitation of the country’s infrastructure that will consume an increasing amount of cement.
The stock closed at $65 on Friday with eth PE ratio at 17 times 2020 earnings and just 10 times 2021 projected earnings. The company has a strong balance sheet that is getting stronger each year and is moving into a phase where the payment of a dividend cannot be far away. Based on the above, Caribbean Cement enjoys ICInsider.com coveted BUY RATED investment approval.

Investors gobble up new issues

The Jamaican economic and financial environment has undergone much change over the past five decades or so. Since the early 1970s, the country lost its way and endured years of negative economic and in cases social development.
The evidence can be seen in an exchange rate that was US$1.10 to the Jamaican dollar to nearly $150 to one US dollar now. Interest rates rose from 5.5 percent in 1970 for governments Local Registered Stock, by the dark years in 1990s rates on government paper were as high as 52 percent in 1994. The average Treasury bill rates, between 1992 and 1994 was 39.5 percent. That was the challenge that the banks and businesses face in that period that led to the collapse of the businesses and the destruction of the financial sector.
The above set the stage for the state of the capital market in Jamaica now. In 1986, National Commercial Bank as it was then named went to the market, with the issue pulling in $249 million or US$45 million and attracted over 30,000 shareholders in a heavily oversubscribed issue. The total amount attracted seems to be the largest public issue ever in the local market.
That was then, now interest rates have hit levels that are the lowest on record, with Treasury bill rates now less than one percent and there are now more than 200,000 investors owning shares compared to around 40,000 after the NCB issue, making for a larger pool of investors to draw on to take up new issues.
Three companies went to the market to raise funds in January and all were successful with the latest Derrimon Trading Company invitation for subscription of 1,498,698,931 Ordinary Shares with the option to upsize was oversubscribed with taking up an additional 301,301,069 shares. The company will issue 1.8 million  Shares and take in J$4.08 billion in gross proceeds.
The allocation of the issue will result in existing shareholders and Derrimon team members receiving 51.63 percent of their application. Key Investors will get all of their applications, Lead Broker’s Clients 83.72 percent and Non-Reserved Share Applicants (General Public) 39.15 percent.
Proven Investments upsized of the Additional Public Offer (APO) of ordinary shares to a maximum of 134,124,037 units with applications totalling 154,231,234 shares, for an oversubscription of US$4.3 million. Proven states that 4,148 applications were received, totalling just over US$34.5 million.
Applicants in General Pool and existing shareholders applicants in the pool will receive a full allotment, but Key Investors Applicants in this pool will receive 70.75 of the subscription amount.
Sygnus Credit Investments APO of ordinary shares was upsized to 240,887,900 Shares, reflecting a 54 percent upsize to the maximum allowed. The issue pulled around US31 million for the company.

More US$ for NCB Financial Group

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NCB Financial Group went to the international market to raise US$175 million in funds from the issuance of diversified payment rights for payments due from correspondent banks, up the amount taken to US$250 million.

NCB Financial Montego Bay branch

According to the banking group in a release on September 22, “the Board of Directors of National Commercial Bank Jamaica has approved an upsizing of the Securitization of its Diversified Payment Rights to up to, Two Hundred and Fifty Million United States Dollars following an oversubscription of the transaction.” The transaction will be rated by FITCH Ratings and placed in the International private placement market by Westwood Capital LLC, as Arranger.
The transaction will swell the pool of foreign currency the bank will have at its disposal for lending or investing. At the end of the 2019 fiscal year ending September, NCB Group owed just US$50 million but owed US$309 million on Merchant voucher receivables.
NCB Group is listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange and owns the majority of shares in Guardian Holdings, a Trinidadian based listed company and Clarien Bank in Bermuda.

NCB US$ selling revalues Jamaican$

The Jamaican dollar continues to revalue from the low point reached in August $151.18, with the rate ending at J$$141.94 in Thursday’s trading as National Commercial Bank (NCB) continues to be the primary seller of the US dollar for the week to date.
For the week to Thursday, NCB sold off a net of US$24 million. Dealers bought US$32 million on Thursday and sold US$56.6 million compared to buying US$46.8 million and selling US$51.4 million on Wednesday at an average rate of $142.6258. On Thursday, NCB sold a net of nearly US$20 million.
IC Insider.com’s technical chart suggests further appreciation for the currency that came under selling pressure with the fall out caused by the COVID 19 inflicted crisis. The local currency has broken resistance at $142.60, with the next resistance set at $140. If it breaks through that level, it will hit the next resistance level at J$137.
In Thursday’s trading, NCB bought only US$2.36 million at an average rate of $138.01 to the US dollar but sold US$22 million at $141.06. In comparison, Scotiabank bought just US$3.5 million on Thursday at $139.81 sold US$8 million at $142.87 after buying US$18.2 million Wednesday and sellingUS$9.6 million on that day.

More gains for Jamaican Dollar

The Jamaican dollar closed trading on Thursday at $144.48, an improvement over Wednesday’s closing selling rate of $145.30 to one US dollar.
Since August when the rate hit a low of $151.27 against the US dollar, the local dollar has rebounded 4.5 percent. A number of developments have occurred to help the local currency. Unbeknown to many is an issue of $5 billion government bond with a duration of more than 30 years that pulled liquidity out of the market to purchase them at an average rate of just over 7 percent, there was also another issue at the beginning of September for J$3 billion bonds resulting in an average rate of 2.91 percent for the instrument that has a two and a half years life. In addition, the reopening of the tourism sector would be adding some badly needed US dollars to the system.
The trendlines shown in yellow, on the chart suggest further appreciation that could take it below $140 to one US dollar. The chart shows the local currency on an upward rise since December 2018 as it meanders upwards to hit the low point in August and has since been correcting. It could return to the support line at around $138 later in the year but it could face resistance at the $144 region.
In Thursday’s trading, dealers sold $58 million at $144.48 and bought US$42 million at an average rate of $143.36. National Commercial Bank was the biggest seller on Thursday with US$18.3 million at a rate of $144.20, up from $7.7 million sold on Wednesday, while they bought just US$3.5 million on Thursday at $141.10. JN Bank bought just US$315, 000 at an average of $141.10 and sold US$8.8 million at $143.75. Mayberry Investments bought US$4.6 million at an average of $144.21 and sold only $873,000 at $144.59.

More gains likely for Jamaican Dollar

The Jamaican dollar hit a low of $151.27 against the US dollar in August and has rebounded since to trade at $145.3 on Wednesday with one technical indicator showing that it could appreciate further.
The local currency has been on an upward rise since December 2018 as it meanders slowly upwards to hit the low point in August. At the low, traders pushed it beyond the channel top, after moving within the channel as depicted by the yellow lines. It could return to the support line at around $138 later in the year but it could face resistance at the $144 region that it is within reach of currently.
In Wednesday’s trading, dealers sold $64.8 million at $145.306 having bought US$55.8 million at an average rate of $144.43.  In trading, Scotia Bank bought US$8.5 million more than they sold. First Global, JMMB Bank, National Commercial Bank and Victoria Mutual Building Society sold far more US dollars than the bought.

Jamaican$ improved value

The Jamaican dollar closed trading on Tuesday at $145.91 to one US dollar, with dealers selling US$60 million after buying US$51.4 million at an average rate of $144.81. The improved value for the local currency compares with the August 19 low of $151.27 for each US dollar.
On Monday, dealers sold US$36.5 million at an average of $146.89, while dealers bought just US$23.2 million, at an average rate of $144.02.
The big sellers on Tuesday were Bank of Nova Scotia, US$9.6 million at an average of $147.23 after buying a mere US$2.3 million at $142.04. JN Bank bought just $336,000 at $138.16 each and sold US$4.4 million at $142.14 each and National Commercial Bank bought US$6.5 million at an average of $144.79 and sold US$14.4 million at $145.42. JMMB Bank bought US$8.7 million at $143.34 and sold only US$688,334 at $146.19 while JMMB Securities bought US$6.4 million at $146.72 each and sold US$7 million at $146.99.

Sharp rise in Jamaican$ value

NCB purchased US$32m and sold US$73m at J$130.16 on Thursday & drag the US$ down vs the J$.

The Jamaican dollar enjoyed a big rise in value against the US dollar with the rate for buying funds from the market falling to JS$131.72 and selling by dealers closing at an average of $131.52, down from J$133.06 buying and J$134.76 selling.
The sharp improvement in the value of the local currency may not last in the short term, as the drop in the value of the US dollar versus the Jamaican dollar, was due mostly to big trades by National Commercial Bank well below the average for the rest of the market. The market is now in a period of increased supplies and lower demand that is likely to result in further appreciation of the local currency until April unless the central bank intervenes to buy excess flows from the market.
At the end of 2019, the selling rate for the US dollar was J$127.716 but the currency depreciated during the year to a low of J$141.89 to the US dollar on November 7. National Commercial Bank bought US$32,148,142.99 at an average rate of J$129.83 and sold US$73,145,676 at J$130.16 each. The trade by the country’s largest commercial bank accounted for 48 percent of the total of US$67.5 million purchased and 70 percent of the US$104.3 million sold. After NCB, the next biggest trades were by Bank of Nova Scotia, in buying US$10.3 million, at an average of $132.60 and selling $7 million at $133.54.
The largest single purchase is US$25 million at $129 and the largest sale was US$68.35 million at J$130 each.

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.