Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Prestige Holdings Limited - Exit from the Puerto Rico Market

Published: April 30, 2008

The following press release was received from Prestige Holdings Limited (PHL).

The Board of Directors of Prestige Holdings Limited (“the Company”) at its meeting of 23 April, 2008 took a decision to exit the Puerto Rico market. The Company entered this market in 2004, and managed the only T.G.I. FRIDAY’s restaurant in Puerto Rico to a condition of viability, before we acquired a 51% shareholding in Prestige Puerto Rico Restaurants, Inc. (“Prestige Puerto Rico”).

Since then, Prestige Puerto Rico built two additional restaurants in San Juan, but had been experiencing increasing losses in a recessionary economy that was plunged into crisis in May 2006 when the Government was shut down for two weeks due to gridlock in the Legislature over Puerto Rico’s budget. In November 2007, the Company acquired, without cash outlay, the remaining 49% shareholding in Prestige Puerto Rico, in a transaction that involved settlement by our former partner, of significant financial obligations to the business and to the Company.

Due to the worsening economic conditions in Puerto Rico, very recent further political uncertainty (the Governor and twelve of his associates were indicted by a United States Federal Grand Jury for corruption; deepening gridlock in the Legislature on fiscal reforms) and expert indicators pointing to a protracted recession, the Company decided not to consummate a new proposed Joint Venture partnership in this subsidiary that was signalled in my 2007 Chairman’s Report to Shareholders.

In reviewing the business during the first quarter and year to date, and taking into consideration our subsidiary’s and the Group’s performance during the previous two years, the Board of Directors decided to exit the Puerto Rico business to allow management to bring greater focus to the viable business units of our Group. Victor E Mouttet Limited, the Parent Company, as a means of facilitating that decision, offered to purchase our shares in Prestige Puerto Rico for the nominal sum of US$100 and the assumption of our significant obligations for Prestige Puerto Rico. Having considered all of the options available to the Company, the Board of Directors, in the absence of the Parent Company’s appointed member, who declared his interest, decided that it was in the Company’s best interest to accept that offer from the Parent for a clean break from this market.

This transaction would result in a loss of $6.1 million to the Company based upon the carrying value of this investment in our consolidated accounts at 30 November, 2007, plus subsequent advances and commitments, as well as $7.1 million of estimated net operating losses incurred by Prestige Puerto Rico for the five months to April, 2008 as a wholly-owned subsidiary. We have made advance provision for these losses in the unaudited financial statements for the quarter ended 29 February, 2008.

Joseph P. Esau
28 April 2008

Source:The Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange Taken from:

Supreme Ventures shelves expansion plans - Five new gaming lounges on hold

Published: April 30, 2008

Citing higher oil and food prices and softening of economic conditions, Supreme Ventures Limited (SLV) has shelved all expansion plans, and has replaced its capital-investment programme with a promise to pay big dividends to shareholders.

The company, whose retained earnings top $648 million built on triple profits last year, paid no dividends in 2007.

Up to two months ago, SVL had said it was pressing ahead with plans to grow its gaming business in Jamaica - a side of the business that brings in only $140 million or less than one per cent of revenue - and to pursue a partnership in Europe.

Plan put on hold

But last week, president of the lottery company, Brian George, said his plan to build out gaming lounges across five locations in Jamaica have been put on hold.

The company had not announced the amount to be invested in the lounges, but the last one opened in rented space in late 2007. Acropolis May Pen, was a $125 million investment.

On that basis, the expansion programme would likely have topped $600 million.

But as George sees it, food trumps gambling, especially when prices are rising and purchasing power is dampened by high inflation.

"It's all about disposable income” George said to shareholders at the company's annual general meeting.

"Food prices are going up and gas prices are going up. The society doesn't have an infinite capacity to spend and, therefore, we have to manage the supply side, which is how many lounges can be profitably opened."

The firm, which on Thursday had only its second annual general meeting after its initial public offering in 2006, says that for this year, its focus would be on awarding high dividends to its shareholders.

The firm currently operates gaming lounges at Barbican and May Pen under the Acropolis brand, Coral Cliff entertainment in Montego Bay and slots at the Hilton in New Kingston.

Slow down expansion

"We have taken a decision to slow down the expansion slightly and generate the cash so we can pay shareholders increasing dividends," George said.

Plans to expand throughout the region have also been shelved.

The move to Trinidad fell victim to government policy when the Patrick Manning administration decided a few months ago to withhold new gaming licences.

George said Trinidad - the largest English-speaking Caribbean country beside Jamaica - would have been SVL's point of entry into the regional market.

"The major population centre that we wanted to go after was Trinidad, but the prime minister of Trinidad, a few months ago announced that he would stop the operation of gaming in Trinidad," George said.

Here at home, SVL faces new competition: casinos. But George said he is not concerned about the added competition, saying SVL's gaming lounges tend to be community based.

He predicts the Jamaican market will treat casinos as a novelty, and will remain loyal to gaming establishments near to home.

The casino licences granted so far go to multibillion-dollar tourism projects Celebration Jamaica in Montego Bay and Harmony Cove, Trelawny.

Big profits

"People may go for that commodity on a weekend," he said.

"The people in Kingston are not going to be going down to Montego Bay to go and gamble tonight, they are going to the place closest to them ..."

SVL's gaming lounges tend to serve the communities in which they operate "and we expect that to continue," George said.

Supreme Ventures made $405 million of net profit last year, off revenues of $19 billion, and hopes to grow that by 80 per cent this year.

For its first quarter ending January 2008, the company reported net profit of $215 million, which again was three times earnings in the similar 2007 period.

Richard Deane
Jamaica Gleaner

Republic Bank continues to climb

Published: April 30, 2008

Market activity declined as overall volume stood at 278, 144 and value at $4.19 million.

Prestige Holdings Ltd posted the highest trade volume with 102,599 shares being exchanged for $463,045.50, while Republic Bank Ltd posted the highest value of $1.84 million as 18,858 of its shares were traded.

National Flour Mills saw 41,000 shares being traded for $47,150, while RBTT Financial Holdings Ltd registered a trade volume of 25,184 shares and a value of $932,653.09.

Advances led the day’s activity as Republic Bank Ltd posted its 52-week high price of $98.00 having moved up by $0.98.

GraceKennedy Company and Trinidad Cement Ltd, also climbed to their 52-week highs, gaining $0.48 and $0.25 to close at $7.98 and $8.75 in that order.

Meanwhile, Guardian Holdings Ltd and One Caribbean Media also enjoyed increases of $0.29 and $0.25, ending the day at $28.29 and $18.00 respectively.

Prestige Holdings Ltd suffered the only loss for the day, shedding $0.50 to end at $4.50.
The Mutual Fund market witnessed trade activity as 98 units of Praetorian Property Mutual Fund were traded for $490 and the price stood firm at $5.

The Composite Index gained another 4.61 points up to 1,061.14, while the All T&T Index added 5.68 points to 1,360.82

Source:Trinidad Guardian Newspapers

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Prestige Holdings loses $7.3 million

Published: April 29, 2008

Prestige Holdings Ltd has declared an after tax loss of $7.3 million (actually $7,344,000) for the first quarter ending February 2008.

The company has also sold off its loss-making businesses in Puerto Rico.

Prestige Holdings Ltd is the parent company of a number of well-known restaurant chains, including Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s and Long John Silver’s.

The first quarter loss was fully anticipated. In published accounts, chairman Joseph Esau said the group expected a fall in earnings due to its losses in Puerto Rico and “initial cost challenges” in the TGI Friday’s business in Barbados as well as “higher than expected” inflation in T&T.

Esau said group sales increased by 18 per cent to $176.4 million, and profit after tax declined by 24 per cent to $5.5 million excluding the Puerto Rico operations, compared with the first quarter last year. Esau said after mounting losses and a poor business outlook, Prestige Holdings decided to shut down its businesses in Puerto Rico.

Esau said that because of “worsening economic conditions” and expert opinion that the island was headed for a “protracted recession,” the board “decided not to consumate a new proposed joint venture and to get out of Puerto Rico in order to concentrate on developing the company’s other viable businesses.

The Puerto Rico businesses along with what the statement said were ‘significant obligations” were sold to Victor E Mouttet Limited, parent company of Prestige Holdings Limited, at a nominal price of US$100.

Esau said the decision was taken in the absence of the Victor E Mouttet representative on the Prestige Holdings board, who declared his interest in the transaction and left the meeting which was held on April 23.

In the process, Prestige Holdings Limited will take a loss of $6.1 million.

The company said it entered the Puerto Rican market in 2004.

Commenting on the T&T operations of Prestige Holdings Limited, Esau said the labour shortage in the country continues to be a major problem, especially during peak periods. He said this was a “constraint on sales levels.” He also said that inflation had had a “negative impact” on earnings for the quarter.

Despite this, Esau said the group had “achieved reasonable top line growth in all brands, particularly KFC and Pizza Hut.” He added that the company had increased prices “judiciously” to compensate for higher food prices and expected improved performance in the second quarter.

Esau said Prestige Holdings’ businesses in the Dominican Republic and Jamaica are producing profits while the TGI Friday’s restaurant in Barbados is still experiencing supply chain and other cost challenges.

Trinidad Guardian Newspapers

Michael Carballo elected OCM director

Published: April 29,2008

Chartered accountant Michael Carballo was yesterday elected a director of One Caribbean Media Limited (OCM), during the company's 40th annual general meeting at Express House, Independence Square, Port of Spain.

Carballo replaced Louis Andre Monteil, who was representing the interests of the Colonial Life Insurance Co (Trinidad) Limited (CLICO) on the board of directors. CLICO holds over 15 million ordinary shares in OCM.

He was appointed earlier this month as CL Financial's financial director, after Monteil announced his retirement. Carballo was not present at the meeting, as he was in Tobago.

All other board members, including Chairman Sir Fred Gollop, were present for the meeting. Three of them, Joseph Esau, Harold Hoyte and Grenville Phillips, who had come to the end of their terms recently, were re-elected yesterday. Thirty seven ordinary shareholders were present at the meeting and took time to thank and say farewell to outgoing OCM Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Craig Reynald.

Reynald served as CEO of OCM, holding company for both the Express and TV6, for the last three years. He has been replaced by former deputy governor of the Central Bank Dr Terrence Farrell, who assumes office in June.

OCM group's gross revenue grew from $448 million during the previous year to $482 million in 2007. The company group profit attributable was $88.5 million, an increase of two per cent over the preceding year's $86.8 million.

The board agreed to pay shareholders a final dividend of 47 cents, bringing the total dividend for 2007 to 72 cents, the same as the previous year, the annual report stated.

Aretha Welch
Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspapers

Monday, April 28, 2008

Banks Beer, Shandy hit US market

Published: Monday April 28, 2008

BANKS HOLDINGS LIMITED (BHL) and partner Banks DIH of Guyana recently commemorated the launch of their flagship products, Banks Beer and Banks Shandy, in the United States market.

During a cocktail reception at the local beverage conglomerate's corporate office in Wildey, St Michael, BHL chief executive officer Richard Cozier told staff and invited guests the project was especially rewarding or him because it took more than "two years from concept to shipment".
According to Cozier, 3 800 cases of Banks Beer were shipped to New York three weeks ago, but those initial numbers represented only the beginning of a huge venture for the brewery.

"Gladly we are now on our way," Cozier said, adding, "these are not huge numbers in themselves, but represent the start of what we expect will turn into a reasonable export business within three years".

Minister of Trade, Industry and Commerce George Hutson congratulated the local manufacturer for its breakthrough into the American market, calling the leading brewery "a Barbadian manufacturing icon" but hoped that their accomplishments could be "replicated by other manufacturers in short order".

"To achieve this goal, it cannot be business as usual for the majority of our domestic manufacturers," Hutson pointed out.

"Manufacturers must appreciate the importance of adapting strategically to the challenges of the global marketplace."

In his address, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Affairs Christopher Sinckler stressed the need for more local businesses to enter the global market in the quest to increase the country's foreign exchange earnings. (JM)

Nation Newspaper

Friday, April 25, 2008

Sagicor still growing

Published: Friday April 25, 2008

One of the largest financial firms in the Caribbean, Barbadian-based Sagicor Financial Corporation Limited (SFC), recently released results for the financial year ended 2007. For the twelve months ended December 31, 2007, SFC produced EPS growth of 27 per cent from US$0.254 to US$0.323. The board of directors has approved a final dividend of Bds$0.08 per share, which would bring the total dividend for 2007 to Bds$0.14, an eight per cent increase over the 2006 dividend per share of Bds$0.13.

This significant earnings growth was fuelled by two adjustments. Firstly, the group recorded a US$26.4 million gain on the acquisition of Sagicor at Lloyd's Insurance Syndicate which was effected in September of 2007. Secondly, adjustments were made to the carrying value of certain intangible assets recorded during previous acquisitions to the sum of US$3.7 million. The overall impact of these two items was a positive addition to net income of US$22.7 million.

At the top line, net premium revenue and net investment income experienced year on year increases of 14 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively. This ultimately led to a 16.7 per cent boost in total revenue from US$662.3 million to US$773 million. Excluding the previously mentioned gain, total revenue increased to $746.6 million.

'Total Policy Benefits and Expenses' underwent a 14.7 per cent increase from US$561.8 million to US$644.4 million. However, when the adjustments are excluded, this component experienced a somewhat smaller increase to US$640.7 million.

It can be observed that the group succeeded in reducing its ratio of expenses & benefits to total revenue by approximately 1.7 per cent, from 84.8 per cent to 83.4 per cent over the year.

Income from ordinary activities saw a 27.9 per cent advance to US$128.6 million when compared to the US$100.5 million of 2006. An 11.6 per cent higher effective taxation rate resulted in an increase in bottom line profit of 25.5 per cent to US$108.7 million.

When a year-on-year comparison is made on Net income attributable to shareholders, a 27.5 per cent increase is revealed, from US$67.7 million to US$86.3 million.

The group was able to maintain a strong balance sheet as at the end of 2007 with assets totalling US$3.6 billion and total equity of US$586.7 million. At the end of the financial year, the Group's total debt financing was US$152.7 million with a debt to equity ratio of 26 per cent.

The chairman reported that its US insurance subsidiary, Sagicor Life Insurance Company, fell short of its revenue targets for 2007 as the group underestimated the length of time it would take to file new products and establish additional distribution.

However, the chairman relayed that revenue levels for the last quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008 are on track with the group's expectations.

Sagicor General, the Caribbean property and casualty insurance subsidiary also experienced some operational challenges during 2007, particularly the T&T operations, which hindered it from reaching its profit target for the year. However, all other significant subsidiaries within the group met or exceeded expectations.

The financial year 2007 has been a year filled with expansions and growth with many acquisitions taking place over the year, from Gerling at Lloyd's Group, Byrne & Stacey
Underwriting Limited, and Barbados Farms Limited, to name a few. These acquisitions have confirmed SFC's drive and determination to become an international contender in the financial services industry.

In February of last year, SFC took a large step forward with its listing on the London Stock Exchange. Since its listing, trading has remained very light. Over first quarter of 2008, only 87,000 shares have traded with the last recorded price at $1.17.

The successful growth strategy adopted by SFC, projects a very optimistic and profitable outlook for the group in the 2008 financial year and by extension, the years to follow.

With the completion of the Neal & Massy Holdings Limited takeover of Barbados Shipping & Trading Company Limited (BS&T), SFC will be receiving an influx of cash during the new financial year in terms of gains on its shareholding, since the group holds a substantial interest of approximately 12 per cent of the total issued and outstanding shares of BS&T.

Jamaica Observer

Lascelles share disposal fattens Mayberry's bottom line - Profits climb 986 per cent

published: Friday April 25, 2008

A one-off gain of more than half a billion dollars, largely from the part sale of its holdings in Lascelles deMercado and Company, has fattened Mayberry Investment Limited's bottom line to $630 million in its first quarter ending March 2007, a stratospheric increase of 986 per cent year on year.

But even when stripped of the share sale gain, Mayberry, which acted as lead broker for Angostura Limited in its two-tier US$10.65 per share acquisition of Lascelles, was still set to returnnet profit of more than $100 million or just about double the $58 million quarterly profit of 2007.

Angostura paid out the first tranche of funds, just under US$3089 million or US$4.50 per share, in February. The next payment to wrap up the deal, which can fall anywhere between US$4.50 and US$6.15 per share, is due by February 2011.
Blazing ahead

Mayberry's profit for the review quarter, which was equivalent to earnings per share of 53 cents, also blazed ahead of its $545 million of top-line income.

"An estimated 80 per cent of the profits have been generated from liquidating our Lascelles holdings, while 20 per cent have been generated from fairly recent investments," said Chris Berry, chairman and top shareholder in the 22-year-old brokerage.

Mayberry on Thursday refused to divulge the details of those new investments, and was equally cagey about disclosing how much of its Lascelles holdings was liquidated.

The company confirmed, however, that it has retained some of the conglomerate's shares, which are currently valued at $500 per share on the Jamaica Stock Exchange, having risen as high as $605 in February.

Mayberry is a $26 billion company, measured by assets, and its equity base climbed $600 million to $3.4 billion year on year.


Scotia DBG's new team built on experience

Published: Friday April 25, 2008

Scotia DBG Investments chose cocktails in a country club setting to introduce its new senior management team to clients and prospectives last Friday, a day after its official name change finalising its transition into the Scotiabank fold.

Anya Schnoor has had control of the investment bank since June 2007, following the departure of Peter Bunting, who had been principal shareholder in Dehring Bunting and Golding up to its acquisition by Scotiabank in late 2006.

After 16 years in operation, Scotia DBG now serves 40,000 clients, representing investments of $85 billion.

Schnoor who will be looking to grow that business has 15 years experience in investment and banking, and appears to have pulled together a team with equal seniority - a mix of old and new faces.

"Today we move forward proud of our new association with Scotia, but equally proud of our rich history," said Schnoor.

As drinks and conversation flowed Friday at the Constant Spring Golf Club in St Andrew, Lissant Mitchell was introduced as Schoor's deputy.

Mitchell, who joined the company in October 2007, is senior vice-president with overall responsibility for treasury, trading, stockbrokerage and asset management operations.

15 years experience

He has worked with Schnoor before at Pan Caribbean Financial Services, and he too has more than 15 years experience in investment, treasury and the banking industry, of which 11 have been at the management level.

"As we move forward as Scotia DBG Investment we will rely on the talent of the extraordinary professionals which work throughout the organisation," said Schnoor.

The other new face is Suzanna Holness, vice-president of operations. Holness who has over 20 years in banking operations and business process redesign joined the group in February in a move from Capital and Credit Financial Group.

Brian Fraser who was inherited when Scotia Jamaica Investments (SJIM) was collapsed into Scotia DBG Investments under a swap of shares, is assistant vice-president for pension fund management and general manager of Scotia DBG Unit Trust Manager's Limited, formerly DB&G Unit Trust.

Both portfolios

Fraser is charged with growing both portfolios.

Prior to joining the Scotia group he held positions in risk management, compliance, trading and treasury at Sigma Merchant Bank and Investment Management Limited.

Sigma was merged with Pan Caribbean years ago.

Making the transition is Vanessa Reid-Boothe, the general manager of asset management, who retains responsibility for the ongoing strategic development of the Easy Own brand, a credit service created by DB&G.

Reid-Boothe also manages the company's operations and marketing and the implementation of credit and collections policies along with new business development.

Her experience spans eight years in foreign exchange and fixed income trading, and commercial and corporate loan structuring.

Tanya Ho-Shue, who has been in banking for 23 years, retains her job as general manager of Scotia DBG Merchant Bank.

Andrea Tinker remains in charge of the company's finances as chief financial controller, while Chorvelle Johnson is in charge of sales.

Tinker has 20 years in the accountancy profession.

Sabrina Gordon

Reynald exits One Caribbean Media - Central banker to fill CEO slot

Published: Friday April 25, 2008

Craig Reynald, who has been at the forefront of efforts of One Caribbean Media to transform itself into a genuinely pan-Caribean media company, steps down as CEO at month end and will be succeeded by Terrence Farrell, a former governor of the Trinidad and Tobago central bank.

Reynald, who is retiring early, was celebrated by directors and staff at a function in Port-of-Spain this week, and in the group's just-released report to shareholders, chairman Fred Gallop hailed Reynald's performance in the decade as the group's boss, having taken over from Ken Gordon of what was thenthe Caribbean Communications Network (CCN).

"In his years of service, he was able to significantly improve the group's performance, not only financially, but among viewers, readers and advertisers," Gallop said.

"His contribution to the merger of CCN and the Nation Group deserves the highest commendation."

Cricket world cup loss

For the year to December 31, 2007, One Caribbean reported net profit of TT$88.57, a mere TT$1.71 million or two per cent higher than the previous year.

The profit was on the back of revenues of TT$482.26 million, up seven and a half per cent on the previous year.

Part of the reason for the anaemic profit growth, the company explained, was a loss of Cricket World Cup publications last year.

Rising newsprint prices

Projected advertising levels did not materialise because of the early elimination from the tournament of teams like Pakistan, England and India.

The company was also hit by rising newsprint prices and the cost of restructuring.

CCN, which started life as Trinidad's 40-year-old Express Newspaper, was listed on the Port-of-Spain exchange in the early 1990s, shortly after Reynald joined as finance director.

One Caribbean was created earlier this decade when CCN merged with the Nation Group of Barbados, which includes the Starcom radio network and the Nation newspaper, one of several that the Express helped to launch and nurture in the Caribbean.

In fact, One Caribbean officially holds 10 per cent of the Jamaica Observer, which it gained for technical help to the newspaper at the time of its launch in 1993.


Reynald and his former boss, Ken Gordon, still appear in the Observer's corporate box as directors.

Apart from the Express and Nation newspapers, One Caribbean, until recently, controlled six radio channels in Barbados, radio and television in Grenada and TV6 in Trinidad.

It recently acquired additional radio stations in Trinidad, St Lucia, Antigua, St Kitts and Montserrat, which Gallop said would lead to the "first truly pan-Caribbean media network".

Vision fulfilled

The group also has commercial printing operations in Barbados and Trinidad.

Gordon had long articulated a vision of, and began the effort to forge, a regionwide media group through a series of mergers.

Reynald has been credited with substantially following through on and fulfilling the idea, although he remained unsuccessful at enticing Jamaican entities into One Caribbean.

While broadly satisfied in establishing itself as a Caribbean media conglomerate, Reynald has identified the failure so far to forge a regional television network as an outstanding mission.

"We originally conceptualised this could be best achieved through strategic relationships and/or acquisitions of television stations throughout the region and, therefore, began the process by acquiring majority shareholding in Grenada Broadcasting Network," Reynald explained.

"This, however, has proven long and tedious, since most of the television stations are government-owned and, therefore, private sector participation is not easily facilitated."

But, he added: "We remain determined, however, to bring this into reality and are currently pursuing other strategies."


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Scotiabank targets Barbados in private wealth thrust

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, April 24, 2008 - Barbados has become the first island in the eastern Caribbean region, and the fourth in the entire Caribbean, to be earmarked for a private client centre as part of Scotiabank's new worldwide rollout of wealth management service centres.

This initiative, which is being led by Dan Wright, Scotia's senior vice president for international wealth in Canada, is expected to result in 25 centres in 18 countries in the initial phase.

Barbados comes after The Cayman Islands, The Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic, and will be followed shortly by the Turks & Caicos and El Salvador.

The Scotia Private Client Group (as the centre is called) was officially launched last night to some of Barbados' most successful business leaders at a cocktail reception and dinner at the upscale Sandy Lane Golf and Country Club in the parish of St James.

During the launch, managing director for Barbados and the eastern Caribbean Stephen Cozier admitted that they were following in the wake of other commercial banks on the island with already established private banking and wealth management services. However, he said this formed more of an advantage than a disadvantage.

"It allows us to do it right, to see where the mistakes others have made, and also the opportunity to see where the real opportunities exist in the market. Ultimately we really are intent on providing a high quality product to a fairly select group through the Scotia Private Client Group because our intention then is to manage our relationships with the rest of the client base through our traditional banking infrastructure where we think we've also developed a pretty good product offering," he said.

Cozier and director of the new Barbados centre Kevin Workman both cited Barbados' growing wealth base, its thriving international business sector, and economic and political stability as factors in Scotia's decision to include this concept in their range of product offerings on the island.

The Barbados private client centre, which is located in Scotia's offices on the third floor of the International Trading Centre in Warrens in the parish of St. Michael, offers private banking services; a range of investment tools covering fixed income, equities, funds and structured products; and advisory services.


FirstCaribbean wins Best Bank Award for fifth straight year

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, April 24, 2008 - FirstCaribbean International Bank has won the Best Bank award from Global Finance Magazine for the fifth consecutive year.

The financial institution scooped the 'Best Bank in Barbados' for 2008, as Global Finance editors, in conjunction with industry analysts, corporate executives and banking consultants, selected the best emerging market banks across the globe.

Criteria for choosing the winners included growth in assets, profitability, strategic relationships, customer service, competitive pricing, and innovative products.

Publisher and President of Global Finance Joseph Giarraputo pointed out that emerging markets, like Barbados, are attracting increased attention as the global economy expands.

"We have identified the banks that provide service to corporations seeking to take advantage of substantial opportunities for growth in a sometimes challenging environment," he explained.

FirstCaribbean's Managing Director, Barbados, Oliver Jordan, said the award is indeed significant cause for celebration.

"This award is excellent testimony to the cadre of talent that resides in our Bank. Over the past few years our efforts at re-engineering and re-energising the Barbados business have been steadfast and our strategic vision and the dedication of our staff during this transformation process has reaped tremendous dividends. I am proud of their efforts and this makes this five-time award extra special," he said.

His comments were endorsed by Chief Executive Officer, Charles Pink who observed that despite the global economic climate, FirstCaribbean continues to weather the storm and maintain its reputation as trendsetter.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Republic issues billion dollar 10-year bond

Republic Bank Limited has announced the successful completion of a TT$1 billion subordinated fixed rate bond issue on February 14, 2008.

The bond was issued with an original tenor of 10 years, at a fixed rate of 8.55 per cent per annum.

The proceeds of the bond issue will be used to fund the Bank's asset growth and the bond issue has received the necessary approvals from the Trinidad and Tobago Securities Commission and the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.

Republic subsidiary, Republic Finance and Merchant Bank Limited was the lead Arranger and Manager to the Bond issue.

Caribbean Information and Credit Rating Services Limited (CariCRIS), the Caribbean regional credit rating agency, has assigned the ratings of CariAA+ (Foreign Currency Rating) and CariAA+ (Local Currency Rating) in its regional rating scale, and ttAA+ on the Trinidad and Tobago National Scale to the debt issue of the size of TT$1 billion of Republic Bank Limited.

These ratings indicate that the level of creditworthiness of this obligation, adjudged in relation to other obligations in the Caribbean and within Trinidad and Tobago is high.

Trinidad and Tobago Express Newspapers
April 23,2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008

TCL files suit against Guyana - Claims failure to protect cement market

Guyanese President Bharrat Jagdeo has hit out at the Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL), saying the regional company was taking advantage of the Guyanese market.

Jagdeo's comments came on the heels of the court action initiated by TCL Guyana Inc against his government in the Caribbean Court of Justice.

TCL is seeking millions of dollars in damages, saying Guyana had failed to impose the common external tariff (CET) on cement imported from outside the region.

Allowed importation

But Jagdeo said his government had waived the CET to allow the importation of cement from outside the region in order to meet the shortfall in TCL's supply.

The shortages had led to skyrocketing cement prices, Jagdeo said, forcing Guyanese to pay more for the commodity.

Minister of Commerce Manniram Prashad added that TCL could not and continues to be unable to meet the local demand for cement.

But beyond that, he had no comment on the suit, saying up to Tuesday the government had no official word on the court action.

Violated treaty

The CCJ application filed by attorneys for TCL claims that Guyana violated the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas when it waived the CET on the extra-regional imports, giving an unfair advantage to extra-regional suppliers and local importers to the detriment of the company.

It claimed that the move resulted in losses around US$2 million and has asked for compensation and/or injunctive relief.

The cement company had set up a US$10 million bagging plant in Guyana during the construction boom there as the country prepared for the 2007 Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean.

Jamaica Gleaner
Friday April 18, 2008

Cable&Wireless Jamaica to invest US$5 million in 150 retail outlets

In a move aimed at significantly enhancing its retail presence, Cable & Wireless Jamaica (CWJ) is investing US$5 million over the next 12 months to roll out some 150 full-service retail outlets across the island.

"We have a very agressive strategy to increase our retail presence by opening new stores and improving our existing outlets to make sure that we have access to every consumer in every parish," said CWJ chief commercial officer, Mariano Doble, at Wednesday's opening of one of the outlets on Half Way Tree Road in Kingston.

Branded "Lifestyle Stores", CWJ is opening 50 new retail outlets and renovating 100 existing dealer locations, whose product offering, Doble says, will encompass the traditional fixed line phones and mobile handsets, to include a full range of gadgets and electronic devices.

Three other stores were launched on Wednesday in New Kingston, Ocho Rios and in the Half Way Tree Transport centre, and another 16 will be unveild by the end of April.

Doble told Caribbean Business Report that this is part of an overall strategy to redefine the image of CWJ, and position the company as the premier full-service provider in the local telecoms market.

"We really developed a 360 degree strategy around the experience that we want to deliver on the market, and this is the first step in that direction," he said. "Basically the strategy is to position Cable & Wireless as the only real full service provider in Jamaica - one place where you can meet all your communication needs.

"We used an outwards-inwards approach rather than inwards-outwards (in developing the concept)," added the chief commercial officer. "We are saying that we know what you want; tell us what is your need and what is your lifestyle, and we will tell you what products are right for you."

Xesus Johnston, CWJ vice president of business development and sales, disclosed to this newspaper that during the quarter, CWJ will also seek to penetrate the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) markets, with a full portfolio directed towards the needs of small business owners.

"The hottest market in business right now is the SME market and Jamaica has one of the most vibrant SME market," said Johnston, who noted that the portfolio will be a combination of mobile, fixed lines and data requirements. "This is a market that we will tap into and there is a whole new portfolio that we are going to roll out just for SME customers. Around May to June you will start seeing new products."

This move by CWJ is very timely, as the company continues to face stiff competition in the Caribbean from other telecoms, especially from Irish company, Digicel. In fact, last year, Cable and Wireless invested £78 million across the Caribbean to improve the customer experience. The company also introduced a range of services such as eTopUp, international pre-pay roaming and Netspeak.

Jamaica opened its telecommunications sector in 2002 after more than 40 years of monopoly by Cable & Wireless. The telecom remains the leading provider of fixed-line service in the Caribbean nation, but is No 2 in cellular service behind Digicel, which launched in 2001.

Julian Richardson
Friday, April 18, 2008
The Jamaica Observer

Locals may soon invest in Microsoft, Google

Local investors are expected to get the chance to buy and sell shares of foreign publicly listed companies through depositary receipts by mid-June or July.

Trinidad and Tobago Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Osborne Nurse said yesterday he will take the necessary draft legislation to make depositary receipts a reality to Finance Minister Karen Nunez-Tesheira and Cabinet next week.

The draft could become law by the end of May, after which the first sponsored receipts could be issued for Royal Bank of Canada shares-which are traded in the United States-after the US$2.2 billion deal for the takeover of RBTT by RBC is finalised.

A depositary receipt is a type of negotiable financial security that is traded on a local stock exchange but represents a security that is issued by a foreign publicly listed company.

During a workshop on the topic at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel at Invaders Bay, Port of Spain, yesterday, the SEC showed a slide presentation which suggested that local investors might have the opportunity to buy and sell stocks through depositary receipts in foreign companies like BP, IBM, Google and Microsoft.

This will depend on if an issuer (like a brokerage house) can provide the depositary receipts for investors to buy into.

It provides a chance for investors who don't have access to trade online or can't afford to buy a share in a company like Google-which trades at hundreds of US dollars per share-to buy a fraction of a stock unit in these companies in TT dollars.

Nurse described the depositary receipt concept as the "'next best thing since sliced bread" for local investors and added that the time was right for the introduction of this activity.

He said depositary receipts would provide an "excellent incentive" for people to indirectly own foreign stock and would also be an avenue to soak up excess liquidity in the financial system as well as provide an injection into the local stock market.

If people, especially RBTT shareholders who will split about $8 billion in cash when the RBC deal is completed, invest in depositary receipts, it could take some of the money out of the system and also reduce inflation, other SEC analysts said during the workshop.

Curtis Rampersad
Saturday, April 19th 2008
Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspapers

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Arawak fighting energy costs too

WAS the recent increase in cement prices unavoidable?

Based on certain factors including comments from the Arawak Cement Company, it does seem so.

The St. Lucy based manufacturing company reported a price increase for its cement in the wake of rising prices for energy.

The international price of oil has impacted on many sectors leading in many instances to higher production costs.

Jeffrey McFarlane, Chairman of the ACC in an address at the beginning of last month, explained that a major factor which impacted the company in 2007 was the high cost of fuel oil. This issue has become a key to companies in Barbados as many manufacturing grapple with fuel costs.

McFarlane told the audience at the Company's Award Ceremony that oil prices rose to an unprecedented level $100 per barrel, we were faced with high fuel costs, coupled with increased prices for the major inputs to the process of making quality cement, required consistent review of our internal operations to ensure that the business remained viable in the face of unfavourable external factors.

McFarlane has also noted a major issue for the lone cement producer in the island and one of the largest in the Caribbean that is energy optimisation.

According to him in 2007, the cessation of their main kiln fuel orimulsion, the company had to use a more expensive fuel.

Therefore as noted by the Chairman the company is embarking on a $15 million project aimed at transforming the operation to solid fuel firing.

Consequently, Petcoke, petroleum based product, which is used extensively in cement plants across the globe was successfully introduced to ACC in October 2007.

The price increase drew a comment from Prime Minister David Thompson who said on television Monday night he could not understand why Barbadians are paying for cement prices that are higher than other countries in the Caribbean.

The Barbados Advocate
April 16, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

GKC - Listing of Shares

This is to advise of the following:1,396,898 Ordinary Shares in GraceKennedy Limited will be admitted to the Official List of the Stock Exchange on Tuesday 15th April 2008, thus increasing the Company’s issued share capital to 330,693,307 Ordinary Shares.

These shares are issued pursuant to a Stock Option Plan for Managers of GraceKennedy LimitedPlease be guided accordingly.

The Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange
Taken from:
Tuesday April 15, 2008

Workers down tools at TCL

A protest by workers of Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) yesterday temporarily shut down operations at the company’s Claxton Bay packing plant and Mayo quarry.
However, in a statement the company said it would make “every effort” to minimise disruptions to supply.

Led by their trade union, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), hourly-rated and weekly paid workers began protesting to demand improvements to their health and pension plans.
Chanting the union’s battle cry, “We shall Overcome,” the demonstrators erected tents outside TCL’s factory, at Southern Main Road, Claxton Bay. OWTU branch president at TCL, Lawrence Renaud, said negotiations began since June 26, 2007, and after 40 bilateral meetings, TCL had failed to agree on an improved medical plan.

He said the union met with TCL’s human resource manager Keith Johnson last Friday but no agreement was reached. “We are fed up of this and we are saying enough is enough. Workers need a better medical plan,” Renaud said.

He said that the existing medical plan was outdated and had not been upgraded for 13 years. Renaud said the workers were entitled to hospitalisation benefits, specialist consultations, maternity leave, physiotherapy, psychiatric assistance, supplementary benefits as well as traveling allowances.

He said workers needed an improved medical plan because of the hazardous working conditions. “We fed up of the dust. Workers are suffering and we believe that the company must put a proper medical plan in place.”

Renaud also called for adjustments to the existing housing plan. He said that the plan stands at $300,000 but the union was negotiating to have it increased to $600,000. Renaud said that although TCL had agreed to some of the proposals, they were yet to finalise the agreement.
He explained that although TCL plants were up and running, workers were dissatisfied. He said that workers from the Mayo TCL plant as well as the TCL factory had agreed to stop working until their demands are met.

The protest triggered an emergency meeting between the union and the company around midday, following which workers returned to their jobs.

However, the workers threatened to cripple the company’s operations if their demands are not met.

In a statement, TCL said it had presented proposals to the union called the work stoppage unfortunate and premature. TCL said it had made proposals to the union which are being considered and the negotiations were at an advanced stage. The company said the pension and heath plans are the only outstanding matters in the negotiations.

APril 15, 2008
The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper

Monday, April 14, 2008

Investors warned of sub-prime effects

SAGICOR FINANCIAL CORPORATION has put shareholders on notice that America's sub-prime mortgage crisis and economic recession "will likely impact the markets" in which the Barbados-based company operates.

The acknowledgement has come from Sagicor chairman Terrence Martins, who said although the financial turmoil gripping the United States did not affect the group much in 2007 and so far this year, Sagicor could soon be feeling the pinch from the US economic slowdown which was expected to last throughout 2008.

Reporting on the company's performance for the financial year ending December 31, 2007, Martins said the American insurance subsidiary, Sagicor Life Insurance Company, did not reach its revenue targets for 2007. This, he revealed, affected the group's revenue target while the full cost of operation was carried.

The revenue shortfall resulted from the long process of filing new products and establishing additional distribution, Martins said.

Sagicor General, the Caribbean property and casualty insurance subsidiary, also lagged in profits for the year. Even though the subsidiary was profitable, it "encountered some operational challenges . . . particularly in its Trinidad and Tobago operations".

Nevertheless, Martins stressed, "Sagicor is in a strong financial position; to weather these financial storms we will continue to focus on the fundamentals of efficiency and cost containment, the acquisition of quality assets, adherence to strong corporate governance, and the delivery of value to our customers".

Sagicor's total asset value was US$3.64 billion as at December 31, 2007, an increase of $286.42 million on the 2006 performance.

The Nation Newspaper
April 14, 2008

Angostura posts $137m loss

Rum and other spirits sales increased but a once-lucrative business deal gone sour led to local producer Angostura posting a $137.3 million after-tax loss in 2007.

The net loss means that Angostura shareholders will receive no further dividends for that financial period.

The Laventille-based rum maker reported an improvement in core operating performance for the year ended December 31, 2007, up from the previous year, with an increase in gross operating profit from $243.2 million to $299.3 million, Angostura chairman Lawrence Duprey said in his published report of the company's audited financial statements.

The company's core spirits business reflected a solid increase of $102 million, primarily as a result of increased liquor sales and marketing efforts locally and abroad, with all classes of its spirits business, including bulk rum, local and export cases, achieving positive gains, Duprey said.
Last year, the group sold its ethanol production subsidiary to parent group CL Financial and this resulted in a reduction of $97.4 million in reported revenue for Angostura.

Even with higher sales and better marketing, the group still showed a $137 million loss, largely as a result of a dispute in a business deal with French spirits company Belvedere SA.
Angostura had to reverse its non-cash gains for Belvedere in 2006 when it disposed of the French company last August for around $3 billion.

This followed a "serious shareholder dispute between our group and the founding shareholders of Belvedere SA", Duprey said in the Angostura financial statement yesterday.

Angostura and CL Financial are currently in the process of finalising another sale, this time for the 86 per cent acquisition of the Lascelles de Mercado Group, owners of Appleton Rum and other brands.

"In view of the year-end loss position, arising primarily out of our Belvedere acquisition and subsequent disposal and the fact that an interim dividend of five cents per share was already paid, your board has decided that no final dividend will be declared this year," Duprey told shareholders.

Curtis Rampersad
Trinidad & Tobago Express Newspapers
April 12, 2008

Grace sends Michael Ranglin to head UK subsidiary - Orane makes raft of managerial shifts at GK Foods

GraceKennedy has sent Michael Ranglin, the deputy head of its food division, to London to replace his boss, Irwin Burton, as CEO of WT Foods, the British ethnic foods manufacturer and distributor it acquired a year ago.

Burton has been promoted to deputy group CEO, even as he keeps his position as CEO of the food division, GK Foods.

Burton's recall and promotion and Ranglin's February dispatch to the United Kingdom subsidiary are among a raft of managerial reassignments made by GraceKennedy's chairman and CEO, Douglas Orane, since his former deputy and head of the group's financial services arm, G K Investments, resigned last September for a seat in Prime Minister Bruce Golding's Cabinet as minister without portfolio in the Finance Ministry.

Wehby was replaced as the boss of GK Investments by Joe Taffe, who is still acting in the post.

Making the switch in the UK is Michael Ranglin, who is answerable to Burton. Promoted With Ranglin assigned to the UK, Ryan Mack, formerly the general manager of Grace Foods & Services Company, has been promoted to senior general manager of domestic business since January 1.

He has taken over some of the duties Ranglin had in Jamaica.Mack's old job has gone to Gilroy Graham, formerly the general manager of World Brands Services Division.

Stanley Beckford, formerly an assistant general manager at GK Foods and sales and marketing manager for its world brands services division, is now the general manager of the World Brands Services Division.

Source:Jamaica Gleaner
Friday April 11, 2008

RBTT - Listing of Shares

This is to advise of the following:

7,000 Ordinary Shares in RBTT Financial Holdings Limited will be admitted to the Official List of the Stock Exchange on Friday 11th April 2008, thus increasing the Company’s issued share capital to 344,072,265 Ordinary Shares.

These shares are issued by way of a Share Option Plan for Non-Executive Directors and Executive Management.

Please be guided accordingly.

Source:The Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange

Friday April 11, 2008

TCL takes Guyana to court over imported cement

Trinidad Cement Ltd (TCL) has filed an action in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) against the Guyana government seeking millions of dollars in damages for its failure to apply the common external tariff (CET) on cement.

The action was filed on April 3 at the CCJ on Henry Street, Port-of-Spain, by TCL’s attorney Claude Denbow.

According to a TCL spokesman, in January 2007, TCL commissioned a US$10.5 bagging facility, Guyana TCL Inc, to supply the Guyana market with cement on the understanding with the Guyana government that the CET would have been placed on extra-regional imports of cement.

TCL ships bulk cement from its cement plant in Barbados to Guyana where it is bagged at the Guyana facility.

The spokesman said the Guyana government had “unilaterally waived” the CET on cement imported from outside the region without seeking approval from the Council for Trade and Economic Development (Coted).

TCL officials said they raised the issue at a Coted meeting in Guyana last October, and Coted officials informed the Guyana government of its obligation to apply the CET.

There was no comment from the Guyana government on TCL raising the matter at that forum.

The TCL spokesman said TCL did not legally contest the matter earlier because there was a supply issue, and the understanding was that the CET would have been applied once the bagging facility was operational.

Prior to the legal action being filed, TCL wrote several letters to Edwin Carrington, secretary general of Caricom, complaining about the issue.

The non-application of the CET means TCL has lost some market share and competitive edge, to importers of cement.

TCL has calculated its earnings loss from the CET not being applied and has asked the CCJ to order damages be paid as it sees fit.

Source: Sandra Chouthi The Trinidad Guardian
Friday April 11, 2008

Republic Director Rahaman Retires

Republic Bank Limited today announced the retirement of Razai A. Rahaman after 20 years of service as a Director of the Bank.

Mr. Rahaman, Chairman of the Rahamut Group of Companies and Honourary Consul General for Bangladesh, joined the Bank on June 22, 1988 under the chairmanship of then chairman, Mr. Frank A. Barsotti.

During Mr. Rahaman’s tenure as a Republic Bank director, he participated in the transformation of the Bank from a leading local player to a Caribbean Bank with subsidiaries in Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Cayman Islands and St. Lucia, growing from a $2.7 billion asset base in 1988 to $37 billion today.

In thanking Mr. Rahaman, Republic Bank’s Chairman, Ronald Harford noted Mr. Rahaman’s significant contribution over the years, lauding the depth of his experience from which Republic Bank was able to benefit. Replacing Mr. Rahaman on the Republic Bank Board from April 30, 2008, will be Dr. Terrence Farrell, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. Dr. Farrell is President of Business Insight Limited, Chairman of Advanced Oil, a land-based oil exploration company and was recently appointed CEO of One Caribbean Media Limited.

An executive with over 30 years of business experience Dr. Farrell studied economics at the University of the West Indies and obtained his PhD at the University of Toronto. He brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to Republic Bank.

Source:The Trinidad and Tobago Stock ExchangeFriday April 11, 2008

Friday, April 4, 2008

GraceKennedy looks for value overseas

With limited room for growth at home and its two most recent foreign acquisitions adding 16 per cent to the group's revenue last year, GraceKennedy bosses say they are increasingly looking to overseas markets to expand their operations and, ultimately, enhance profits.

"Our international business is the area we are looking for the greater portion of the growth going forward," Grace's chairman and CEO, Douglas Orane, told the Financial Gleaner in an interview this week.

"We are pretty strong in Jamaica and we are looking at other countries," Orane said. "The UK and Europe are our areas of focus.

"GraceKennedy seeks opportunities in its two major business segments, food and financial services, Orane said.

In the financial year that ended last December, the conglomerate reported group revenue of $48.74 billion, a 35 per cent increase on the turn-over for 2006, while its next profit jumped approximately 89 per cent to $3.53 billion.

But driving Orane's vision for expansion overseas is the fact that about 70 per cent of GraceKennedy's sales come from its home base Jamaica, whose potential notwithstanding, has over a long stretch delivered only anaemic growth - an average of 1.5 per cent per year.

In that context, Orane and his managers, while not writing off Jamaica, are pushing through with their initiative, first outlined in the mid-1990s, to position GraceKennedy as a global company, looking first at markets where Jamaican and other Caribbean people reside.

Looking to India

Focus now is on the Caribbean and its Europe/Central and North American market segments.

But, GraceKennedy is looking as far as India where last year it began distributing its beverage line Tropical Rhythms.

According to the group's accounts, in 2007, $2.26 billion, or 4.6 per cent of GraceKennedy's earnings were earned in the Caribbean, where the Jamaican firms have several operations in mainly Caricom member states.Another $12.55 billion, or approximately 26 per cent of sales were from the Europe/Central and North America segment. Orane wants to improve on these numbers.

While the breakout for the Europe and the Americas were not immediately available, the bulk of the turnover on the international business would have come from Britain where GraceKennedy in February 2007 bought WT Foods, a manufacturer, marketer and distributor of Caribbean and other ethnic foods.At the time of the acquisition WT Foods had sales of £60 million, a figure that would have, on the face it, added approximately J$7.8 billion to group turnover at prevailing exchange rates.

In its recently released financials, Grace said that WT Foods and One1 Financial Limited, a financial services firm it bought in Trinidad last July, added a combined $7.88 billion to revenue and $41.24 million to profit.Those figures Orane said related to 10 months of sales at WT Foods, and five months at One1 Financial.

Annualised, the WT figures alone would have been in the order of $9.4 billion. Strongest growth Had the acquisitions happened at the start of the year, GraceKennedy suggested, its revenue might have been around one-and-half billion dollars higher and its net profit would have increased by around $63 million.

But it is Europe, and specifically WT Foods, where GraceKennedy apparently sees the strongest growth in the short-term.Under its restructuring strategy Grace has marked food as its core business - the one that it will always be in - although financial services (banking and investment, insurance, money services), accounted for $2.39 billion or half or pre-tax profit.

Orane has in the past indicated that while Grace will always be in food trading - which accounts for 58 per cent of turnover but only 12.4 per cent pre-tax profit - it sees its GK Investments, the arm that holds its financial services entity,as precisely what the name implies - an operation that invests for value without necessarily feeling itself locked in for good to any business it may acquire or start.

Against that backdrop, WT Foods and the UK are particularly attractive.

Michael Ranglin, group deputy CEO of GK Foods, pointed out that the UK food market was worth about £120 billion of which the ethnic portion currently accounting for around £100 million."It is getting bigger; it can only grow," Ranglin said. He feels that the market for ethnic foods needs more nourishment and that WT Foods and its subsidiaries are on a growth path in Europe.

Arguments like these clearly excite Orane, who suggests that the £23 million invested for the acquisition of WT Foods was money well spent."Our investments have worked out very well for us," he said. "The company continues to be profitable and it has a very good management in place."Not only has sales increased since the acquisition the GraceKennedy boss said, but the group has gained by the fact that Sterling, the currency in which WT conducts its business, has gained against the depreciating US and Jamaican dollars. The bottom line: more money on GraceKennedy's bottom line.

Source:Susan Gordon, Business Jamaica GleanerFriday April 4, 2008

Jamaica Money Markets Brokers (JMMB) applies for commercial banking licence

Jamaica Money Markets Brokers Limited has applied to the central bank for a commercial banking licence, which, if approved, will grow the sector to eight licenses.

"The application was submitted late Wednesday evening, March 26," said Marguerite Cremin, the brokerage's marketing manager.

"Having submitted the application, no further communication was received from BOJ except that the application has been received.

"JMMB had disclosed plans to expand into commercial banking in its home market last year, saying it was part of the company's 2010 vision.

The 15-year-old brokerage, which is currently capitalised at $7 billion, is already engaged in commercial banking in Trinidad, but only as a very small player with 50 per cent ownership of the three-branch Inter-Commercial Bank.

Among of the criteria the Bank of Jamaica looks for, aside from the 'fit and proper' background checks on the principals seeking the banking licence, is the health of the company or group operation, which includes a three-year review of its financials.

The central bank also seeks to satisfy itself that the proposed bank won't be so intricately woven into a web of group companies so that its regulation is made difficult.

"In assessing the supervise-ability of such financial groups, the Bank of Jamaica considers the complexity of the corporate structure of the group and impact on supervisory reach (and) the potential for prudential concerns such as contagion, connected lending, etc," the guide to licensing application reads in part.

Since December, as it hunts acquisitions and opportunities for deals in Jamaica and Central America, JMMB has raised more than $2.5 billion of added capital via three issues of preference shares on the Jamaican stock market and is seeking an additional $350 million from a yearlong pref placement to fund its programmes.

The brokerage house conducted a demand study late last year to help inform the decision on whether the market was open to its offer of commercial banking services, but did not disclose the findings.

The sector currently comprises six operating banks, dominated 72 per cent by National Commercial Bank and Scotiabank Jamaica.

The seventh to be launched Pan Caribbean Financial Services, is expected on the market mid-year, though its licence was granted two years ago in April 2006.

It is the finance minister who grants the licence, but acts on the advice of the

Source:sabrina.gordon@gleanerjm.comJamaica GleanerFriday April 4, 2008

Wray and Nephew put on hold

The Agriculture Ministry has back-paged a request from rum manufacturer J. Wray and Nephew Limited for access to a substantial block of state-owned cane lands, saying no deal would be struck ahead of the divestment of the Sugar Company of Jamaica.

Wray and Nephew, a subsidiary of the powerful Lascelles deMercado group of companies controlled by William McConnell, wants access to 700 hectares on which to plant additional cane for molasses.

The lands eyed by the company are in Clarendon, and currently idle.

But Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says the company's request is on hold until the terms of the SCJ divestment have been fully agreed with sugar and ethanol producer Infinity BioEnergy of Brazil.

Those talks are expected to lead to a signed agreement by June.

Leasing cane lands Tufton said the Government could not lease any of the cane lands currently under the control of the SCJ as they were part of the divestment deal.

The Government is selling the SCJ factories, but leasing the cane lands.

"Right now we are focusing on the negotiations," Tufton said Monday.

"When those negotiations conclude, then we decide how to proceed from there because those negotiations include all current cane lands and, therefore, you can't make an alternative arrangement until you conclude them.

"J. Wray and Nephew - the island's largest manufacturer of rum - has been trying for three years to gain access to the Clarendon lands.

Molasses prices have been rising on the world market, sending Wray and Nephew's production costs higher.

The company, which produces the premium Appleton as well as the Wray and Nephew white rums currently imports 40 per cent of the 60,000 tonnes of molasses it uses annually, but hopes to cut that bill by growing more cane and producing more of its own inputs.

Its distillery is based in St Elizabeth. Additional land needed Ideally, the managing director of Wray and Nephew's production department, Paul Henriques, said the company would want an additional 2,000 hectares of land to grow sugarcane.

For every 1,000 additional hectares of cane planted, he says, the company would be able to cut back on volume molasses imports by 5,000 tonnes.

Wray and Nephew paid an average of US$175 a tonne last year for molasses, with prices fluctuating within a band of US$140 to US$190 per tonne on the international market.

Tufton has not ruled out the possibility of leasing the additional cane lands to Wray and Nephew, saying "in those negotiations there may be possibilities.

"But those possibilities would not emerge until after the negotiations are completed with Infinity, which should be finalised by June.

Source:John Myers Jr., Business Reporter john.myers@gleanerjm.comJamaica GleanerFriday April 4, 2008