Over the year 2022, the good ship GraceKennedy encountered foreboding squalls and challenging headwinds while on course to its destination.
Still the impressive ship remains resilient and unbowed.
Speaking at a press conference to review the Group’s 2022 performance, CEO Don Wehby said the conglomerate, headquartered in Jamaica, was impacted by both rising inflation and interest rates last year, which was particularly injurious to its remittance business.
With less disposable money in their pockets, those living in the Diaspora simply didn’t have as much money to send back home as their salaries were eroded by increasing inflation.
Wehby made note that Jamaica’s policy rate was 2.5 per cent in 2021 and now stands at seven per cent as the Bank of Jamaica moves to tame inflation.
The war between Russia and Ukraine has led to supply chain disruptions, exacerbating problems. Wehby said Grace normally receives 70 to 80 containers a month through its New York port but in February of 2022 had to clear 130 leading to a backlog. He says the situation has normalised in New York, Canada and the UK but not at pre-Covid levels although it is getting close.
As it currently stands, 45 per cent of Grace’s revenues and profits come from outside Jamaica and both these local and international factors have impacted margins.
This is clearly the case with the movement in foreign exchange rates. Last year the British Pound depreciated against the US dollar by 11.9 per cent. The Canadian dollar by 6.3 per cent while the Jamaican dollar appreciated against the US dollar by 1.9 per cent.
Remarking on this, Wehby said: “When you have an appreciation in your local currency and you are an earner of international foreign exchange – 45 per cent of our earnings comes from overseas- it has a negative impact.”
Despite the headwinds, GraceKennedy put in a creditable performance last year. It posted revenues of J$142.9 billion up by J$13.6 billion or 10.5 per cent. This passed its target of J$100 billion by 2022 considerably.
The Group posted a profit before tax of J$10.2 billion, down by 12.5 on the prior year. Wehby explained that the money services and food division margins were impacted by both interest rates and inflation. Taking into account, normalised profits, it was down by 6.8 per cent.
Energy continues to be a top line in operating costs and companies are looking to reduce their electricity bills. GraceKennedy is no exception as it turns to alternative and renewable energy.
“If you are going to compete in Jamaica, it is my opinion that you have to invest in renewable energy. If you are in manufacturing and are looking to export, you must have solar in place. We have invested US$3 million in solar which covers our meat plant. We are looking to be more efficient in our energy costs. We are prepared to look at every company in the GraceKennedy Group to see how we will reduce our energy costs. You have to, if you are going to compete regionally or locally,” declared the GraceKennedy boss.
In recent times, Grace has made a number of alliances and acquisitions across several business lines. It took a significant stake in data company Blue Dot and has over 70 per cent of drinking water brand Catherine’s Peak as well as a 100 per cent stake in 876.
Last month it launched Scotia Protect, a general insurance product which sees property, content, and automobile insurance underwritten by GraceKennedy General Insurance Company. This alliance with Scotia Group Jamaica gives it access to 700,000 of the largest financial entities in Jamaica’s clients.
Then earlier this month it launched GK Mutual Funds, a collaboration with Trinidad & Tobago Unit Trust Corporation (TTUTC).
The highly anticipated GK One app which covers the Group’s services will be rolled out in both Trinidad and Guyana later this year. It was launched in Jamaica in November 22. Grace has invested J$1 billion into its digital offerings to date.
Customers can use this app to receive remittances, apply for an FGB credit card, pay bills, shop on the Hi-Lo e-commerce site, track their GK Value Rewards points and access exclusive promotional offers. The prepaid Visa Card associated with the app can be used anywhere Visa cards are accepted and at over 700 ABMs across Jamaica. Over J$100 million in remittances were paid through the app by the end of January 2023.
Wehby reported that the fruit flavoured drink Tropical Rhythms is doing exceptionally well in the US, UK and Canadian markets and continues to show growth.
TARGET CAN BE MET
The target is to get Grace’s manufacturing exports to 50 per cent of revenues by 2025. It currently stands at 30 per cent and Wehby is confident that the target can be met.
The GraceKennedy Group CEO drew attention to its Money Services business experiencing a dip in 2022. He put that into context saying that Western Union and Grace’s alliance has endured for 34 years of which he has served the company for 27 years and it was the first time he had seen remittances down.
The Bank of Jamaica’s data shows remittances dropped by 1.6 per cent last year and throughout the wider Caribbean this number is 3.4 per cent which has impacted Grace. Here the ogre of inflation has made its bite felt.
Grace has signed an agreement with a major retail chain which will see Western Union in 50 more locations, This will take its network up to 250 locations and widen its Caribbean footprint.
“When we started in 1922, our revenues were 15,000 pounds. Today we have revenues of US$800 million. The next 10 years will be very exciting for the Group. We expect to see 70 per cent of our revenues and profits come from outside of Jamaica with total revenues coming to US$2.1 billion and profit before tax of US$250 million.
“We have engaged BroadSpan and Citigroup to plan our overseas listings,” said Wehby.
The Group will be paying a dividend of 50 cents per stock unit and is looking to a stock buyback as it feels its share price is below the company’s value. It sees a clear opportunity to enhance shareholder value.
For 2022 it paid out over J$2 billion in dividends.