What’s The World’s Best-Performing Market? The Jamaican Stock Exchange

Written by Ann Brown

There’s more brewing in Jamaica than Blue Mountain coffee. Jamaica is home to the world’s best-performing stock market.

Jamaica’s main index increased 29 percent (U.S. dollar), the most among 94 national benchmarks tracked by Bloomberg.

“Its outperformance over the past five years is even more striking. Jamaican stocks have surged almost 300 percent, more than quadrupling the next-best-performing national benchmark and septupling the S&P 500’s advance,” Bloomberg reported.

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And, according to Bloomberg, the  Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) “shows no sign of losing steam.”

Not bad for an exchange so obscure, even emerging-market funds don’t use it. There are no Jamaican stocks in U.S. exchange-traded funds, yet it’s been a spectacular run for the JSE.

Jamaican Stock Exchange

On Christmas Eve 2015, Bloomberg reported that the JSE was the top-performing index for that year — topping 92 markets tracked by the global financial research company. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped about 1 percent that year and the Euro Stoxx 50 lost 6 percent in U.S. dollar terms, the JSE saw a 90 percent surge in 2015, the Jamaican Observer reported.

The JSE, headquartered on the waterfront of Kingston Harbor, was created 50 years ago and led by Edward Seaga. The Harvard-educated Jamaican actually started as a record producer in the 1950s and ’60s before getting  into politics and being appointed finance minister.

So why is the JSE doing so well?

“It doesn’t take much investment to make a tiny market boom, and the total value of the 37 stocks in the main Jamaica index is less than $11 billion, smaller than the valuation of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. But it’s also a story about Kingston’s nascent attempts to reinvent itself as a financial hub, even as it works to reduce the heavy debt load that brought the country to the brink of crisis a decade ago,” Bloomberg reported.

“If I could hold a megaphone and tell investors now’s the time, I’d do it,” economist Uma Ramakrishnan, the IMF’s Jamaica mission chief, told Bloomberg.

The investors are coming. China’s Jiuquan Iron & Steel announced plans to spend about $6 billion to expand output at an aluminum refinery and develop an industrial park in Jamaica. Over the past few years, foreign investors have also bought the Jamaican producers of Red Stripe beer and J. Wray & Nephew rum — considered the real rum from the island where the rum comes from.

Can the JSE keep up its run? According to the exchange’s managing director, Marlene Street Forrest, they are making some improvements to ensure the JSE will remain on a high. The exchange plans to introduce market making this year as a way to make sure stocks have a ready buyer and seller. The JSE may also be adding other tools used in bigger markets such as margin accounts.

The JSE is backed by Jamaica’s growing economy, a stable Jamaican dollar, and the fact that unemployment in 2018 reached a record low of 8.4 percent.