Wed | Aug 23, 2017

JP doubles down on global strategy

Published:Friday | June 30, 2017 | 6:00 AMNeville Graham
Jeffrey Hall, CEO of Jamaica Producers Group.

Jamaica Producers Group's goods and services are consumed in more than 20 markets, and the company now aims to leverage more business internationally.

But while CEO Jeffrey Hall is telegraphing a strategy described as 'relentlessly global' and sees acquisitions as a means to his goal, he says he has no deals lined up.

The conglomerate is equally focused on its two core arms - logistics and food production - as it looks outward for opportunity.

"In both the divisions, we look at ways to expand internationally. Our employees are diverse. So, too, are our operations, in that we are international and our customers are in over 20 countries. We intend to continue this ethos," Hall told shareholders at the company's June 23 annual general meeting.

Speaking later with the Financial Gleaner on the specifics of his 'relentlessly global' strategy, Hall listed some of the key markets.

"We're listed in the leading supermarket chains in Holland, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Sweden - just to name examples in Europe. In Latin America, we have the likes of Panama, Jamaica, United States, Barbados, Cayman and St Maarten - again only naming some," he said.

"We believe there is growth potential in those markets, and that applies to Europe and the Americas," he added.

Jamaica Producers deepened its presence in Europe through the 2008 acquisition of fresh juice maker Hoogesteger. More recently, it deepened its Caribbean presence through cake maker Tortuga International, which it purchased in 2011.

But Hall says he has no new targets in his sights, notwithstanding a doubling of its cash hoard that resulted from a robust year in which earnings grew fivefold for the conglomerate.

Last year, Jamaica Producers made super profits of $3.94 billion - it's biggest haul in two decades of accounts reviewed by the Financial Gleaner - from $12.14 billion of revenue.

That's a sweet profit margin of 32 per cent, but that fat bottom line was largely brewed from the sale of its coffee holdings and mined from the disposal of its aggregate business Four Rivers Mining, but came mostly from the recasting of its port associate Kingston Wharves Limited as a subsidiary company - in other words, it mostly came from one-off events and book gains.

There is one logistics target that Jamaica Producers is going after now, as part of a consortium with foreign partners - the Norman Manley International Airport - but that would be home-based.

The conglomerate's bet on logistics, through the upsizing of its holdings in Kingston Wharves in 2014, has paid off in a big way. Jamaica Producers is in love with the port operation because of the prospects for risk mitigation and hard currency earnings.

It's the latter factor that leads it to count the port company as part of its global strategy.

"Our investment in logistics is a part of that because not only is it a hard currency earner, but it also allows us to diversify our risk to a range of markets. Eighty per cent of the revenues of this group are earned in hard currency," Hall said at the annual meeting.

Pressed later about how JP Group would grow under the global programme, Hall was non-committal, saying it will come as a natural occurrence or by taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.

"We are pursuing strategies in those two spaces, both organic growth and by acquisition," he told the Financial Gleaner.

He says a lot can be expected if JP and its partners are selected to operate the NMIA concession. They are among eight shortlisted. But it's not clear what other prospects the company has to grow, if they don't win the bid.

Still, Hall believes Jamaica Producers' track record of profitability and top line growth speaks for itself.

"It's not so much about the next deal, but we want people to understand how the earnings of JP over recent times have been delivered," he said. "We have realised very significant gains, giving good return on equity for shareholders. So I am not here signalling the next deal, but saying that what we do, in the way we do it, is done well," he asserted.

Looking ahead, Jamaica Producers aims "to build a diversified international speciality food group" by investing in technology and deals that arise.

"This goal requires us to focus on businesses with optimal ties at the cutting edge of the food industry. We believe that the businesses that we are in give us the opportunity, and we are looking for more in this space," Hall told shareholders.

Asked where the money is coming from to underpin JP's global plan, Hall leaned on the strength of subsidiaries and associate companies.

"The ripening room and cold-storage facilities (in Kingston) are financed from local banks. The head office location on the waterfront is financed by SAJ Properties, and they are using their own resources. The expansion at the wharves has Kingston Wharves using their own funding plus our equity. The expansion of the juice business in Europe has been financed by banks that are local to Holland as well as internal resources," he said.

The conglomerate has no plans to turn to the market for capital, Hall said.

neville.graham@gleanerjm.com