ON THE RIGHT PATH

Jamaica 2019 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

The JSE is expecting a solid 2019 on the back of a decreasing unemployment rate and is planning to introduce a green market by 2020.

Marlene Street Forrest C.D, JP
BIOGRAPHY
Marlene Street Forrest is the Managing Director of the Jamaica Stock Exchange and Director of both its subsidiaries. Her mandate is to continue the process of developing the JSE Group and particularly the exchange, in an atmosphere of transparency and fairness while utilizing appropriate technology in providing the greatest possible efficiencies to the market. Street Forrest has a wealth of experience having worked in senior management positions at varying private and public sector organizations in Jamaica and overseas. She studied management studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and later gained her MBA from the Barry University in Florida.

How would you describe 2018 financially for the JSE?

We have experienced growth, but it is not sufficient. The unemployment rate has fallen significantly, and we should now look at moving toward full employment and ensuring that those who are employed are in meaningful employment. Jamaica's economy is poised for the world; there is value to be had in doing business in Jamaica, and moving toward 2019, we will see solid growth.

How easy is it for SMEs and small investors to access the stock exchange?

With respect to small businesses, in 2009 we saw a need to look at SMEs and enable them to gain access to capital. As a result, we started the junior market, which has allowed over 38 companies to access capital. We also entered into partnerships with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and IMF to approach SMEs; we help them with certain competencies, such as the development of a business plan, resource management, team development, and so on. Moreover, the government has been supportive in terms of tax concessions, allowing companies to operate with zero tax for the first five years and 50% of the prevailing rate for the next five years. This same model can be replicated for the micro market, and we have had dialogue with the government on this.

What are the reasons behind the strong increase in quarterly profits?

The economy is doing well; there is more money to be invested, and the interest rate has fallen, so the key thing is to look at the stock market for real returns in investment. The stock market is also seen as a safe, efficient, and transparent market, as the regulatory framework is tight, effective, and efficient. Our profits have also increased due to our diversification efforts. We have strategically looked at all the areas that would be necessary if the economy and financial sector grows; hence, we can provide what we call the back-end service. Companies can focus on their deals, and we will do their paperwork, which is what we will do as we expand with every financial transaction that comes through the pipeline.

What opportunities does the high liquidity of the Jamaican dollar bring?

More products and services are being developed, and people are being innovative. Recently, we have had significantly more listings, and the sectors that they come from are more varied and interesting. When we look at the stock exchange, the companies initially coming to market to raise capital were mostly financial and insurance companies; however, at present, we see companies mopping up the liquidity across several industries. For example, for the first time we had a listing in the health sector, partly because there is great potential in medical tourism.

What is your perspective on the green economy?

The listing of Wigton Windfarm excites us because the green economy is an area where government divestment programs should be through an exchange that offers a transparent process and allows Jamaican ownership; it is important that we engage our own people in terms of investment. The JSE will look at how to introduce a green market by 2020, so that people who operate in the green space, namely investors in green bonds, will look at investing in Jamaica. I see this more from a standpoint of a capital inflow to Jamaica, because while the green economy is still nascent, there is a greater international consciousness about the green space.

What are your goals and strategy for 2019?

We will soon launch a bureau to look at collective investment schemes. In 2019, we will launch the JSE Social Stock Exchange, which is part of our CSR program. We are also keen to look at areas of disruption in the financial sector and fintech, such as blockchain and will embrace this gradually, study it, and collaborate with entities such as the Development Bank of Jamaica and IDB. We are currently piloting a digital platform that will be rolled out in 2019.