Jamaican stocks were up almost 75 percent on the MSCI Frontier index and external bonds were reopened at record low 5-6 percent yields, as the IMF praised strong compliance under the second review of the 3-year $1.7 billion program. Fiscal year 2016-17 growth was 1.5 percent on second half mining, weather, and agricultural lag offset by “buoyant” construction and business outsourcing which reduced unemployment to 12 percent. Headline inflation was 4.5% in August, within the target zone, and the central bank dropped the benchmark rate 25 basis points to sustain double-digit credit expansion with bad loans now under 5 percent of the total. The current account gap rose to 2.5% of GDP with car and machinery imports on $2 billion in net international reserves and slight local dollar depreciation in the last quarter. In the financial sector securities dealer oversight tightened and competitive foreign exchange auctions were launched. The budget was roughly in balance with a 7 percent primary surplus amid slow progress on reducing public sector wages and “reshaping” government, according to the Fund’s October report. Pension reform is under preparation with Inter-American Development Bank help, and one-fifth of assets in two big state bodies, the Urban Development and Factories Corporations, could be divested though the stock exchange and direct tenders, with the plan a key trigger for the market rally. While all securities brokers observe a master retail agreement, legislation has not been finalized for a new bank resolution regime and pension fund portfolio guidelines for more domestic and international diversification. The central bank may need recapitalization, and foreign exchange exposure is a “sizable share” of financial institution balance sheets, equal to 10 percent of GDP for non-loan investment. Intermediaries often finance themselves through subsidiaries and are in turn tied to corporate conglomerates threatening wider spillover risks, the analysis cautioned.
A separate IMF piece of work soon to come out as a book examines the broader Caribbean distressed debt legacy over the past decade which peaked at 15-20 percent levels and have only marginally improved with lingering restructuring, sale and write-off obstacles. The highest loads are in the Eastern Caribbean in St. Kitts and Nevis and Dominica, while at the opposite end Trinidad and Tobago, with stocks ahead 7 percent, has less than a 5 percent burden. They contribute to economic drag, and courts take on average three years for insolvency cases. Valuation and registration are inadequate and social customs also weigh against disposal as property foreclosure is shunned. The research asked bank executives and government officials to rank the chief resolution impediments, and the former stressed economic, legal, collateral, and real estate conditions, while the latter cited poor creditor information and underwriting and the absence of formal impaired asset markets. The authors split the difference by urging clearer loss recognition rules and greater credit bureau use as in Jamaica in recent years. Judicial and bankruptcy frameworks should be revamped and beyond the Bahamas a pan-regional NPL market could be set up, building on OECS harmonization efforts in asset management and credit reporting to create “momentum” rather than creative accounting, they suggest.