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Cablegate: Jamaican Real Estate: Lower Rates May Lift Market

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKG #0282/01 0571713
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 261712Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY KINGSTON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0772
INFO RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
RUEHKG/AMEMBASSY KINGSTON
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0205
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA

UNCLAS KINGSTON 000282

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
STATE FOR WHA/CAR (JMACK-WILSON)(VDEPIRRO)(WSMITH)
WHA/EPSC (FCORNEILLE)
EEB/ESC/IFD/EPC (MCMANUS)
SANTO DOMINGO FOR FCS AND FAS
TREASURY FOR ERIN NEPHEW
USTDA FOR NATHAN YOUNGE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD ENRG EFIN EINV PREL PINR SOCI TRSY OPIC
IBRD, IMF, XL, JM
SUBJECT: Jamaican Real Estate: Lower Rates May Lift Market

REF: KINGSTON 90

Summary

1. (U) The successful completion of the Jamaican Debt Exchange
(JDX) program, combined with the Executive Board of the
International Monetary Fund (IMF) approving a 27-month Stand-By
Arrangement with Jamaica on February 4 for nearly US$1.27 billion
to support the country's balance of payments and economic reforms,
appears to be restoring confidence in the Jamaican markets.
Already there is a decline in interest rates, and the stock market
is springing back to life. Absent any unforeseen shocks or a
return to the government's fiscal indiscipline of the past, lower
interest rates are likely to lead to a recovery in the real estate
sector in 2010. Even before the JDX was announced, plans already
were afoot for three new hotel projects in Kingston, not a city
that traditionally draws tourists. The interest in Kingston hotel
projects appears to be bucking the downward trend over the past 18
months in other areas of residential and commercial real estate.
Lower borrowing costs could fuel more construction in resort
properties and restart some of projects that stalled with the onset
of the global recession. End Summary.

Interest Rates On the Decline?

2. (U) Under the successful JDX program, the Government of Jamaica
(GOJ) restructured the terms of its domestic debt to allow for
longer maturities and lower interest payments (Reftel A). Many of
the GOJ's domestic debt obligations were for rates of up to 24 to
28 percent; the newer bond issues will yield about 12.5 percent for
investors. While the cost savings of the JDX could be enormous for
the GOJ, a significantly beneficial side-effect is likely to be
reduced borrowing costs throughout the economy. Anya Levy, the
executive director of Valerie Levy and Associates, told reports in
an Observer newspaper article dated January 29, that borrowing
costs hover around 19 percent at the moment, while mortgage rates
are between 13 and 17 percent. With the GOJ's benchmark interest
rate declining, the expectation is that private banks and mortgage
lenders will follow suit and lower their rates accordingly. Lower
interest rates for real-estate developers and lower mortgage rates
for homebuyers should stimulate fixed investment in the economy
throughout 2010, with significant upside remaining a strong
possibility for the real-estate market.

High End, Bucks the Trend

3. (U) Despite an overall slump in both commercial real estate and
home prices, new developments are progressing in certain high-end
hotel markets. This phenomenon comes amidst a backdrop of dire
conditions elsewhere in the economy. Lavish properties have opened
in the mountains overlooking Kingston, on the beaches of the north
coast, and new hotel projects catering to tourists and business
travelers are under development in the heart of Kingston. The
investment interest in Kingston is a bit surprising, given that the
area already appears saturated with hotel properties for the
business traveler and the capital is better known for its high
crime rate as a draw for tourists. Regardless, investors who spoke
with Emboffs appear highly optimistic about the projects. Plans
include a new Marriot hotel, a Sandal's City (part of the Sandal's
chain of resorts) and a major renovation of the former Oceana hotel
which was converted into a government office building in the 1990s.
New plans call for turning the building back into a hotel and
merging it with the Jamaica Conference Center.

Arrivals Up, Revenues Down


4. (SBU) Although new arrivals helped the hotel industry remain
afloat in 2009, the President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist
Association (JHTA) Wayne Cummings believes that those tourists are
only being lured by deep discounts of 30-65 percent. While this
has helped to fill rooms, it results in fewer dollars per tourist
actually remaining in Jamaica. Hence, Cummings cautions observers
not to equate having strong arrival numbers with the operational
health of Jamaica's tourism industry. Cummings projects that total
inflows from the tourist sector in 2009 will register at US$1.62
billion, or roughly $400 million below last year.

Challenges Remain

5. (U) Despite investment interest in upscale tourist properties,
challenges still remain. The Ritz Carlton, one the more premier
properties on the North coast, provides a cautionary tale. The
Ritz-Carlton Rose Hall laid off eighty-three employees on January 6
and management of other hotels have also told Emboffs that they
have had to reduce work hours for many employees. The owner of the
property, Rose Hall Resort LP, currently is suing Ritz-Carlton for
mismanagement in a federal court in Atlanta, seeking US$145 million
in damages while looking for another management group to operate
the 427-room hotel. Virginia-based Salamander Hospitality LLC
appears to be the early favorite to take over.

6. (U) Similarly, Sandals Resorts International recently informed
Sagicor Life that they would not renew the five-year lease for the
Sandals Dunn's River Resort in Ocho Rios. Sagicor Life is a
Jamaican corporate giant spanning real-estate, equities, fixed
income products, and insurance, that purchased the 256-room
property in 1989 and began leasing it to Sandals in 1999. The
lease for the hotel is set to expire in May. Sagicor Life now will
be forced to join Rose Hall on the list of high-end real-estate
owners looking for a new operator amidst a highly competitive
tourism market, characterized by glamorous new projects and riddled
by the deep discounts needed to fill existing rooms. Meanwhile,
Sandals Resorts International reopened their Sandals Whitehouse
Hotel in December. Gordon "Butch" Stewart, the President and CEO
of Sandals Resorts, had closed the four-year old hotel in August
2009 in response to the slow-down in the economy and to remedy
problems plaguing the hotel, which was built as a joint venture
with Urban Development Corporation (UDC), an agency of the GOJ.
Sandals did manage to pay the 300 staff who worked at the
Whitehouse location half their normal wages during the four and a
half months that the hotel was closed.

Comment and Analysis:

7. (SBU) Despite wide ranging new activity in luxury hotels and
anticipated growth in the wider real-estate market in 2010, the
overall state of the economy remains mired in the global recession.
There is hope that the JDX and the recent IMF agreement will spark
new life into the economy, although the GOJ lacks the luxury of
being able to run deficits for investment projects that would help
grow the economy. Moreover, officials at the Ministry of Tourism
appear grossly unprepared for any potential change in the U.S
relationship with Cuba. They do not believe a relaxation of the
travel restrictions that currently prevent U.S. citizens from
visiting Cuba would have any negative effect on their tourism
industry, and they have made no plans to deal with a shortfall in
visitors if one were to occur. If the GOJ does find ways to
improve unemployment, or if economic conditions worsen after the
positive JDX/IMF bump, the GOJ could face worsening joblessness,
possibly leading to growing social unrest and worsening crime. If
the Jamaican dollar slides, interest rates could climb again, thus
diminishing the hopes for future investments. End Comment and
Analysis.
Parnell

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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