Notes From The Margin

April 7, 2008

Is The Barbados Stock Exchange Becoming Irrelevant? Is it already?

We on the margin were reflecting on the recent conclusion of the Neal & Massey BS&T takeover. Neal & Massey were successful of course in buying the entire company. Some 97% of shareholders willingly took the offer and the remainder were bought out by N&M following the 90% rule. (If you own 90% of a public company you can take possession of the other 10% of shares just by paying for them). So lock stock and barrel, BS&T as an independent entity is history. What was once considered the symbol of white corporate power in Barbados has been sold (but that is another post).

So what happens next? Of course the company will be de-listed from the BSE, it’s now a wholly owned subsidiary so it won’t be traded. As a result the numbers of companies on the exchange take a hit. This will be the latest in a series of reductions in the number of public companies in Barbados. Island Properties Ltd. was taken off the exchange by Colin Brewer & Tony Hoyos, Life of Barbados was taken down by the Mutual (now Sagicor), BWIA was grounded by the Trinidad Government. If we want to think back that far Plantations Ltd. went in a long agonizing slide into oblivion. Now we have BS&T joining the ranks of companies that were once public.

Along with this slow dwindling, there is a scarcity of new companies going on to the exchange. Of course unless you count Sunbeach (we won’t go any further on that one). To make matters worse there’s an overwhelming tendancy for people to buy shares and then hold onto them for long term appreciation. So we have far more buyers than sellers. The mutual funds have added a new dimension but the returns (if you take out the BS&T takeover) have been pretty much moribund.

Merging the regional exchanges will buy time, however the fact of the matter is the investment arena in Barbados is pretty stagnant. If you listen to the rumour mill, the stories floating around about “back room deals” may or may not have substance, but they don’t engender confidence in smaller investors.

The management of the exchange must see the trends, and also must realise that from a long term view, if they do not take action they will be consigned to the same file folder that currently holds BS&T.

Marginal

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April 4, 2008

Beachfront Development In Barbados, A Look Into The Future…

Now that the dust has had a chance to settle, we on the margin have been reflecting on the sale of Cheffette Holetown. At $40 Million for the site Cheffette would have taken the offer. How many years of profit is that from the Restaurant? Further that’s enough money that they could build a second restaurant nearby and still have money left over. As a business deal this is fairly straight forward, Cheffette got an offer that was simply too good to turn down and that is that.

From an economic point of view, the Holetown site in condos will contribute more to the economy than it would as Cheffete. Certainly it would be part of the foreign exchange earning sector rather than being a user of foreign exchange. Economically this is good for Barbados as well.

However one of the very few remaining windows to the sea will close when condos go up on the site. Locals will have to go in either at the Holetown Police Station (the old Pizza House restaurant) or go all the way up past Sandy Lane to access the beach. Heading south after that we believe the next opportunity for beach accesss is Paynes Bay.

Now we on the Margin can’t argue with Condos, but we do have a specific issue with beach development. The development of a condo project allows the developer to make his money back quickly, with relatively little risk. A hotel means that the developer takes the business risk and all of the headaches that come with running a hotel. So if you are a developer, a condo is lower risk for a higher return and an extremely quick payback period. This is why hotels are closing for condos, we on the margin doubt that anything the new administration does will change this. (Despite what Mr. Loveridge says)

The other factor at work here is that there’s only so much beach front land in Barbados. The simple law of supply and demand means that prices for land on the coast will skyrocket in the face of huge demand fed from outside of the island. Hence we can hear about $40 million being paid for a relatively small piece of land. Remember all of those little chattel houses in the Garden in St. James? Little gold mines each one of them.

Now because the land costs are skyrocketing developers need to do two things 1. increase the value of each condo unit and 2. increase the number of units on the lot. This means that development along the beach is going to be high value, and is going to maximise the land use (so much for beach access for locals) and further is going to go up and up and up. This results in what we are seeing at Paynes Bay in St. James where the people on the land side of highway one stop seeing the sun around 3.00pm in the afternoon each day.

If you watch the BTA advertisement above it talks about

“…an island that hasn’t been homogenised and supersized and commercialised away from even being Caribbean anymore”

While these words are being said images of high rises next to the beach are being shown.

Ironic isn’t it?

We think that there is a need for a policy intervention by Government that puts the brakes on this form of development. Now this will have to be done with a light touch otherwise we run the risk of killing the goose that laid the golden egg. One possibility is restricting future high rise structures to the land side of the road. We are not saying no to development of the coast, we are simply saying if we continue as we are going now we will end up being one of those islands that no one wants to go to. The economics of it are inexorable.

Now is the time for an enlightened policy response.

Marginal

March 16, 2008

A Further Thought on Air One…. and other investments.

A further thought on the AirOne story…. The airone project represented a significant investment project that would have brought considerable jobs to Barbados (or Jamaica for that matter). Because of the upward movement of oil prices, that project won’t be happening now.  If you talk to people in the legal and financial fields there is a feeling of caution in the investment community. There are a number of projects that are still going ahead as their investors are committed, however there are some that have been put on pause as investors wait to see what will happen with the global economy.

If Airone has been put on hold, it does make u wonder what other projects are being put on pause? With Oil at $113 a barrel, it may be sometime before they get considered again.

Marginal

March 5, 2008

Sir Charles Williams on Apes Hill and Agriculture

 

A couple of days ago we were listening to the mid day call in programme and heard Barbadian construction magnate Sir Charles (COW) Williams call in. After he had made his point, the moderator David Ellis took the opportunity to ask him about the progress of his Apes Hill project.

Never one to miss an opportunity for promotion Sir Charles proceeded to wax lyrically about the great success that Apes Hill is becoming. Apparently the sales of lots has been so great it has forced them to accelerate their business plan to keep up with demand.

Then Sir Charles made an insightful point, when Apes Hill was a dairy farm, it employed approximately 12 persons at minimum wage, in its current state of construction it’s employing close to 400 persons (we were driving so we didn’t have the opportunity to write this down so if the numbers are slightly off don’t scream for our scalps) and those 400 are employed at much higher salaries.  One can reasonably assume that as the project completes it will occupy much more than 12 persons.

Now this opens an interesting point, is moving land out of agriculture necessarily a bad thing for society? Obviously there are limits on how much of this you can do but, is society better off with Apes Hill in agriculture or with it in tourism and golf courses? Similar questions could be asked about Royal Westmoreland.

It is unfortunate that there wasn’t an opportunity for this point to be discussed more on the call in programme.

Marginal

February 22, 2008

Rihanna Named Youth & Cultural Ambassador

We on the Margin have long called for some form of national recognition for Rihanna. So we were thrilled to hear last night that she was named Youth Cultural Ambassador for Barbados. The (largely ceremonial) title has been bestowed once before on Barbados’ Olympic Bronze Medal winner Obadele Thompson. As part of the ceremonies Rihanna was also given “a piece of the rock” in the exclusive Apes Hill Golf Resort area, so that in Prime Minister Thompson’s words “Barbados will always be home”.

 

The proclamation read….

The proclamation, read by Minister of Culture Steve Blackett, said:

* “Whereas the Government and the people of Barbados truly acknowledge and celebrate the remarkable achievements of Robyn Rihanna Fenty;

* “And whereas such an accomplishment has brought significant honour and deserving recognition not only to Rihanna but also to her beloved country and has elevated Barbados to the forefront of the entertainment world;

* “And whereas this phenomenal success has come at so tender an age evoking invaluable inspiration and motivation to youth everywhere;

* “And whereas all Barbados stands proud in the face of this honour and gives full support to Rihanna on her continuing path;

“Be it now proclaimed in Bridgetown, Barbados . . .that the Government of Barbados designates Robyn Rihanna Fenty an honorary Youth
and Cultural Ambassador of this country.”

 

We on the Margin congratulate Rihanna (once again) and tip our hat to PM Thompson for bestowing this national honour.

Marginal

November 19, 2007

Is The Barbados Property Market A Bubble?

We on the margin have been observing the skyrocketing prices of real estate in Barbados, especially on the Platinum coast. We can well understand the logic of investing in real estate particularly on the coast in Barbados, after all there’s only so much land and they aren’t making any more of it. Traditionally real estate has been seen to be… as safe as houses.  (sorry for the pun) the old bajan saying of “Land don’t spoil” has been a truism that traditionally could be counted on as readily as the sun coming up tomorrow.

The legions of real estate agents will tell you that land has never declined in value in Barbados. In fact the tremendous appreciations in property values has attracted international attention, with international agents who market to the affluent UK market.  Now here’s where things get interesting….

The price of premium property in Barbados is out of the reach of all but a very few Bajans. And further if we’re honest much of it is already owned by BVI corporations to get around the issues of property transfer tax. The reality is that the demand for Barbados property is being driven not by the Barbados market but by the UK economy.  Suddenly things don’t look so rock solid any more.

If we then factor into the picture the possible effects of a global economic slowdown (keep an eye on that sub prime mortgage crisis) it is VERY possible that in such a scenario, Barbados’ overvalued beachfront could become just so much seawater and sand.

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