TURN UP THE VOLUME

Panama 2016 | FINANCE | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Olga Cantillo, Vice President and General Manager of Panama Stock Exchange (BVP), on the size and importance of the operation, integrating exchanges with El Salvador, and expectations for 2016.

What is the total size of the BVP and what are the most important sectors?

Since its creation 25 years ago, the BVP has grown at a CAGR of 34.25% per year. Our volume as of December 2015 amounted to nearly $5.25 billion, which consists of $3.40 billion in the primary market and $1.85 billion in the secondary market and repurchases. The main sectors that make up the stock exchange are government debt issues and the financial industry, which amount to $1.5 billion and 1.06 billion, respectively, followed by industry and energy at $706.04 million and credit at $276.89 million.

What features have allowed the BVP to remain resilient in light of global economic turbulence?

One important factor is that the BVP is locally driven. Our issuers have little or no international influence on their business here. Being locally driven, there is little that can affect us dramatically. In addition, we are a dollarized economy, which helps us because we do not experience sizeable currency fluctuations. Our tax-free trading in the market obviously attracts regional and international players, and this has helped us remain resilient in our market.

What roles do education and strategy play in developing the BVP?

Education from every point of view is key for this market. It is a common misconception that the stock exchange is for only a few privileged or private investors. It is largely because there has not been enough education that many people still do not understand that the stock exchange is an alternative to investing savings in banks. Part of our strategic plan for the next year is to teach students from elementary school through college about how the stock market works. It is also important for us to educate investors so they can understand what a rating is, as well as the risks and purpose of investments. Also, it is important to educate them on who the key players are, their role, importance, and responsibilities. For example, we are constantly considered the local regulator when we are not and our role is not. We also want to use is social media in the coming year in order to reach the younger generations and the social media users. We believe it is key for information and education purposes. Our market is small compared to other countries, which makes it easier for us to communicate with the public.

Panama was removed from the Financial Action Task Force's (FATF) grey list in February 2016. To what extent will this impact foreign participation in the BVP?

The impact on foreign investment will be huge. Along with Euroclear and Latinclear, we have been working on an important project that we launched in April 2014; the i-Link. Under the project, securities that are listed on our exchange go through this i-Link and, once authorized by Euroclear, are available to international investors through the Euroclear platform. Being on the grey list had paused this project, so now that we have been removed from the list we will be able to proceed with the second phase. That will have an important impact on the country; not only in the financial industry, but on the strategic planning at the exchange. Having Panama labeled as a high-risk country obviously affected banks and possibly discouraged investors from coming to Panama. That said, the country took all the necessary measures in order be removed from this list and I am thrilled that it has happened.

What explains the low number of upcoming IPOs?

Our market is small and it is mainly focused on fixed income. However, one of the things that we will be working on is meeting with the market players and working with potential issuers to better understand their needs and why they are not coming to the stock market to issue. By doing this, we can understand what we need to include or exclude from a regulatory point of view in order to make it more appealing for them to list shares on the exchange. We have no information about any future IPOs coming to the market at this moment.

Panama and El Salvador recently signed an agreement to integrate their stock exchanges. How will this benefit both countries?

It is beneficial and something that has been in the making for many years. The fact that the Central Depositories of Panama and El Salvador have had a bilateral agreement for almost 12 years now made it easier. Due to regulatory issues, Costa Rica has been unable to join at this moment, but we will continue to work with them to include them in the integration. This integration will facilitate trading without having to separately list securities on each country's exchange and regulators. In a way, our integration has also attracted further potential issuers.

You are a founding member of the Asociación de Mujeres Directoras Corporativas (WCD-Panama), which aims to promote the integration of women in executive positions. Can you tell us more about this?

It is a global association that promotes the representation of women on corporate boards. We have held a series of activities throughout the year and hosted some important speakers at two important conferences here in Panama. Our aim was not to diffuse the information amongst women, but rather to give men all the information they would need in order to have women on a board. We launched a website this year that has information for any woman that is interested in being a part of our organization, and for any organization that is looking to add women as executives or as board members. We also keep record statistics of any country that has a regulatory minimum percentage of women that need to be on boards. We do not have that here in Panama, and actually I would not like to see an enforced quota for female composition of boards. I would rather have this happen naturally, as women have the potential to achieve this by merit.

What are your expectations for 2016?

I have many expectations for the year ahead. Now that we have been excluded from the FATF's list we can continue with our i-Link project, which will help us attract more issuers to Panama. We are also analyzing important software providers in the region to replace our existing trading platform. Internally, we have an important consolidation that we are working on with our sister company, Central Latinoamericana de Valores, which will translate into more efficiency and we will be able to provide better service to our clients and to the market as a whole. Education will also remain an important component of our agenda for the upcoming year.