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GK taps two subsidiaries for groundwork on international listing

Published:Friday | January 9, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Avia Collinder, Business Reporter

Don Wehby, Group CEO of GraceKennedy Limited, said Wednesday that London is only one of several international stock exchanges being considered for listing of the food and financial services conglomerate.

Conditions in the local economy continue to improve in a manner which would favour such listings, he said.

"London is only one of the exchanges being explored. We are also investigating other International exchanges, including some of the major exchanges in the United States," he said.

Wehby initially disclosed last May that a team had been created to explore the overseas listing. He said then that the GK stock was grossly undervalued on Caribbean exchanges where the company was trading at around half its book value. The company began looking further outward for markets with "depth and volume" to unlock shareholder value and gain access to international investors.

Since then, the company has tapped two of its subsidiaries - GK Capital Management and GK Corporate Finance - to begin the preliminary work on the project.

"It is, however, our intention to appoint an international investment banker, at the appropriate time," said the GK CEO.

Some of the hurdles, he adds, include international accounting standards and regulatory requirements of the various markets, which will require "significant due diligence" to overcome.

The overseas listing aligns with the company's build-out into a global consumer group by 2020, two years ahead of the company's centenary. GraceKennedy's market diversification strategy foresees the conglomerate earning a combined 45 per cent or 15 per cent of revenue from each of three continents: Europe, North America and Africa - Jamaica currently accounts for around 64 per cent of group revenue - and 50 per cent of profit from markets outside of Jamaica.

"This, we believe, should make GK even more attractive to prospective investors in the medium to long term," Wehby told the Financial Gleaner.

GraceKennedy's businesses span banking and investment, money services, insurance, agro-processing, food manufacturing and retail, and distribution, spread geographically across home market Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, Central America, Africa, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The company has been expanding markets in Africa, the Caribbean, US and Europe, where it reported a recent breakthrough into 85 Russian stores. It's newest acquisition last July was grocery company La Fe Foods, which has outlets in New Jersey, Florida and North Carolina, and gives GK access to the Hispanic market.

GraceKennedy at third quarter September 2014 was worth $97 billion by assets - down from $108 billion, following the divestment of wealth subsidiary First Global Financial Services to Proven Investments - and revenue to that point was growing at an annualised 15 per cent. Revenue in FY2013 topped $67 billion.

Asked whether the GK stock would be listed by introduction or via an initial public offering, Wehby said the work of the planning committee was still in its preliminary stages, with no definitive decisions on strategy.

GK's listing project comes less than two years after National Commercial Bank Jamaica's aborted attempt to list on the New York Stock Exchange via an IPO.

Jamaica's largest commercial bank had hoped to raise up to US$258 million from the flotation of NCBJ shares, but pulled back in February 2013 due, as reported at the time, to pricing concerns by foreign investors.

NCB Group Managing Director Patrick Hylton, in comments at an investor briefing late last year, cited international investor perception of the state of the Jamaican economy as the reason for pulling the offer.

Amid bouts of recession, the local economy has endured two domestic debt restructuring since 2010, both as preconditions of bailouts from the International Monetary Fund.

GraceKennedy itself is now optimistic about the country's turnaround.

"Over the last year, there have been improvements in the Jamaican economy with interest rates remaining relatively low, the exchange rate continuing to show relative stability and the Government continuing to pass the IMF tests. Given [the] improvements, the appetite for Jamaican equity investments should have also improved," said Wehby.

"It is still early days with the IMF agreement and things can go off-track very easily if not properly managed. I remain, however, very positive about Jamaica's potential for growth," he said.

GK stock price

January 7, 2015

Jamaica: J$61.88 (US$0.54)

Trinidad: TT$3.66 (US$0.57)