Kingston Wharves un­fazed by COVID

To in­vest in tech, se­cu­rity

Jamaica Gleaner - - FINANCIAL GLEANER - mcpherse.thomp­son@glean­

CHAIR­MAN OF Kingston Wharves Lim­ited, KWL, Jef­frey Hall says the port com­pany’s cap­i­tal base and liq­uid­ity are strong, and is con­fi­dent they can sus­tain all core op­er­a­tions for the likely du­ra­tion of the worst ef­fects of the COVID-19 pan­demic. At the on­set of the cri­sis, which has been af­fect­ing Ja­maica since March, Kingston Wharves ac­ti­vated its busi­ness con­ti­nu­ity plan to fa­cil­i­tate the on­go­ing ef­fec­tive func­tion­ing of the port ter­mi­nal and lo­gis­tics cen­tres as crit­i­cal chan­nels for the move­ment of essen­tial cargo, in­clud­ing food and med­i­cal sup­plies. “We have sup­ported the plan with the roll­out of tech­nol­ogy to fa­cil­i­tate dig­i­tal trans­ac­tions by cus­tomers and to al­low many of our team mem­bers to work re­motely or on flex­itime,” Hall told KWL share­hold­ers at their an­nual gen­eral meet­ing, held at New­port West in Kingston on Thurs­day. The meet­ing was also streamed live for per­sons who were un­able to be phys­i­cally present. Kingston Wharves CEO Mark Williams also re­ported that the port com­pany, in op­er­a­tion for 75 years, would be ac­cel­er­at­ing a pro­gramme to dig­i­talise the ser­vices. “The world, even post COVID, has seen an area where fo­cus is on tech­nol­ogy and we want to be at the fore­front of that,” said Williams, who suc­ceeded Grant­ley Stephen­son in Jan­uary. “We con­tinue to roll out sev­eral e-pay­ment plat­forms for our cus­tomers,” he said. In out­lin­ing some of KWL’s strate­gic plans, he said that even amid the pan­demic, the com­pany is about to spend in ex­cess of $1 bil­lion to en­sure that the ter­mi­nal is COVID-re­silient and ready for the next 75 years. KWL will also be spend­ing in ex­cess of US$2 mil­lion, he added, to en­sure that the ter­mi­nal and its en­vi­ron­ment have a ro­bust in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cepted se­cu­rity sys­tem. “We’ll be spend­ing on CCTV, sur­veil­lance cov­er­age, ac­cess con­trol, and en­sur­ing that the cre­den­tials that are re­lated to se­cu­rity in and around Kingston Wharves meet the high­est in­ter­na­tional stan­dards,” the chief ex­ec­u­tive told the AGM. “We want to ex­pand and lever­age the strong bal­ance sheet that we have to ex­pand the foot­print into nearby ter­ri­to­ries,” he said, re­fer­ring to but not spec­i­fy­ing ac­qui­si­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties that the com­pany fore­sees. “We also want to di­ver­sify our cargo type. What COVID-19 has taught us is that we need to en­sure that the busi­ness isn’t con­cen­trated in any cargo type,” he said. Last year, Kingston Wharves made a profit of $2.64 bil­lion, up from $1.97 bil­lion in 2018. The com­pany closed the March quar­ter with a nar­row gain in rev­enue to nearly $1.88 bil­lion, and big spike in quar­terly profit, from $458 mil­lion to $562 mil­lion. Still, KWL said in that re­port that it was not yet in a po­si­tion to prof­fer an as­sess­ment of the virus’ im­pact on the busi­ness. Williams said on Thurs­day that the com­pany’s bal­ance sheet was strong. Against $32 bil­lion of as­sets, the com­pany has just $1.7 bil­lion of long-term bor­row­ings and $2 bil­lion of cur­rent li­a­bil­i­ties. “We are not de­terred by COVID-19,” said Williams. “We have put the plans in place and we want to leave you with the as­sur­ance that this Kingston Wharves ship re­mains steady.” Hall said the im­pact of COVID19 on tourism and other in­dus­tries in Ja­maica, and else­where in the Car­ib­bean, will ad­versely af­fect consumer and busi­ness con­fi­dence, as well as the level of in­ter­na­tional trade han­dled at Kingston Wharves’ ter­mi­nal and within its lo­gis­tics busi­ness. How­ever, he said, the com­pany re­mained con­fi­dent that its ca­pac­ity to han­dle a range of spe­cialised cargo types on be­half of a di­verse and multi­na­tional cus­tomer base would serve to mit­i­gate some of that fall­out. “KWL re­mains op­ti­mistic about the long-term, struc­tural sound­ness and com­pet­i­tive­ness of our core busi­ness, not­with­stand­ing the im­me­di­ate neg­a­tive im­pact of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic on the global econ­omy,” he said.

Kingston Wharves CEO Mark Williams.

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