Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Millions more! - Parliament to be asked to approve new oil hedge

Published:Thursday | October 20, 2016 | 10:00 AMJovan Johnson
Brian Wynter, governor of the Bank of Jamaica.

Governor of the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Brian Wynter and Financial Secretary Everton McFarlane have come out defending the costly 'insurance' Jamaica has taken out against oil prices as the expiration date nears and a new one is being prepared for Parliament's approval.

Hedging is an investment position used to reduce substantial losses that could be incurred based on actual or perceived fluctuating developments.

Last year June, Jamaica entered an arrangement with Citibank, which covers the period from June 2015 to December 2016, and for which the bank has been paid approximately J$3.3 billion (US$27.9 million) in premiums. The arrangement involved three contracts.

Under the arrangement, Jamaica would get a payout if oil prices exceed US$66 per barrel. Up to yesterday, the West Texas Intermediate crude rate used under the hedge put the latest oil prices at US$51.60 per barrel.

McFarlane told Parliament's Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) yesterday that the Parliament would be approached to approve funds to extend the hedge as no provision was made in the 2016-2017 National Budget, approved in May.

"In the coming Supplementary Estimates, we are looking to find the resources so that we're covered a longer period of time," he said. He added in a Gleaner interview later that "the details as to the period to be covered and the level of coverage are to be finalised in short order."

He said the resources would come from budgetary reallocations.

 

NUMBER OF BARRELS DECLINING

 

The BOJ Governor also noted that with just two months to go under the last contract, the number of barrels has been declining.

"We're not covering the full monthly amount now. This is the tail end of what was being hedged over a year ago. It's a little under 200,000 barrels per month, whereas when you're covering (fully), you'd be up there at about 700,000 or 800,000 barrels per month," he said.

Concerns had been raised that because prices have remained low, Jamaica was losing millions under what some critics held was an unnecessary hedge.

PAAC member Franklyn Witter, using similar concerns, questioned whether the risks that gave rise to the hedge still existed.

"You have a projection over the medium term for oil to remain within $52 per barrel, so given that projection, why do you think it would be important to continue with the hedge?"

McFarlane responded that the risks still existed and that "Jamaica's interest in continuing the hedge is based on the loss of foreign exchange that can entail or the budgetary loss that may arise in the event of significantly higher prices".

Wynter, meanwhile, noted that investors have questioned how Jamaica would cope when oil prices increase even if other risks are low.

"There are several different answers to give. One answer is to build the Net International Reserves up by an extra billion so that we have it sitting down. The other extreme is to pay the $20 million or $30 million, still a lot of money, which, if nothing happens, you lose the premium, but if that event occurs, you get the payout that someone else has to have to pay you.

"We do look at what makes more sense," he added. "Accumulating reserves is good for all sorts [of] reasons, but it's also costly. So what we've done is try to strike the balance."

The hedge has been funded by a special consumption tax on fuel.

The Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica has supported it.

No date has been given for the tabling of a supplementary budget, which the Finance Minister Audley Shaw has indicated will be coming.

In January, while on opposition benches, Shaw said the administration may have been ill-advised in pursuing the hedge.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com