Business

Jamaican economy set for return to capital markets - Fisher

BY AL EDWARDS

Friday, January 24, 2014    

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THE Jamaican economy, having for so long languished in atrophy and anaemic performances, is all set to stage a recovery and post positive growth. It will also be able to tap into the international capital markets as long as the IMF programme remains on track.

So said Managing Director of Oppenheimer Gregory Fisher while addressing the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Ninth Regional Conference on Investments and the Capital Markets, held on Tuesday at the Jamaica Pegasus Ballroom.

"At Oppenheimer, we are in fact optimistic that Jamaica will be able to tap into the international capital markets as long as the IMF programme continues to remain on track. Kudos to the Jamaican GAovernment for displaying the needed courage to accomplish this feat that I know all too well is anything but pleasant. But without a printing press to the likes we have in the States... this unfortunate pain is a needed element if Jamaica is going to begin its own recovery stage," said Fisher.

He further added that from a credit perspective, 2014 will be a very important year for Jamaica. He drew attention to two important signals - the first being the two large local US dollar issues coming due and the second later in the year when a (euro) 150 million issue is due.

"All of the signals are that the US dollar issues, worth a combined US$400 million will be paid. The Jamaican Government has signalled that it will refinance the Euro issue within the capital markets. If successful, this will be a very positive signal from the global markets when it pertains to Jamaica," said the managing director of Oppenheimer.

As it currently stands Jamaica has a debt burden of $1.7 trillion, a debt to GDP ratio of 140, unemployment officially placed at 15 per cent, and this week the local dollar depreciated to an all-time level of $107 to US$1. For decades the country registered very little growth beyond one per cent. Nevertheless, Fisher remains optimistic about Jamaica, pointing to a number of factors.

He is of the view that the fiscal adjustment in the public sector should eventually lead to some "crowding in" of the private sector. Explaining further, he said that as the Government allocates fewer financial resources out of the economy as a result of lower deficits, it should over time lead to an opening up of financing for private sector investment.

The Minister of Tourism, Wykeham McNeill, and the Director of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), John Lynch, recently announced that last year Jamaica for the first time attracted two million visitors netting the country some US$2 billion.

Fisher believes this bodes well for Jamaica, particularly in the context of several countries in the Caribbean region losing competitiveness in their tourism product.

"I don't think this is the case for Jamaica. I believe the product is still very competitive, and one challenge will be to keep the competitiveness gains from the slide in the Jamaican dollar over the past year," said Fisher.

He went on to stress that it is vital that efforts be made to diversify the Jamaican economy and not to solely rely on tourism. Here he declared: "I believe the port and logistics industry also holds some promise, and offers Jamaica some diversification from solely being a tourism story. Diversification has helped other countries in the region cushion themselves from global shocks.

"I am not expecting a sudden rise in Jamaican GDP growth rates, but these factors will hopefully build the needed economic momentum that has been greatly missed for decades and finally get Jamaica on a higher path of growth."

Fisher made it clear that it is imperative that Jamaica remains faithful to the IMF set framework if it is to avoid another restructuring exercise.

"True, Jamaica has very few degrees of freedom and must remain under a very tight economic policy leash. But given what the Government has done so far... Jamaica is now well positioned, in my opinion, for further gains in economic performance in 2014 and in the years that follow.

"Much has been achieved thus far but more work needs to be done ... but steady as she goes! As we say in America: "The truth always come to light"... and as we say in Jamaica: "Higher the monkey climb... the more he is exposed!"

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