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Atlantis Paradise Island Resort is projecting that it will pay $224.5 million in employee compensation and benefits in 2014, $129.1 million for goods and services purchased from Bahamian companies and $68.4 million to the Bahamas Electricity Corporation, the prime minister has disclosed.
Prime Minister Perry Christie commented on these figures and a number of others representing the resort's contribution to the Bahamian economy in Parliament yesterday during his speech to close the 2014/2015 budget debate.
Christie said that the resort has a list of major facility upgrades under consideration for 2014/2015, including a full-renovation of The Cove tower in 2015, a full renovation of The Reef tower in 2015, new high-end private gaming salons, a complete renovation of the Marketplace buffet restaurant, a complete redesign and rebuild of Plato's Lounge, a new "kosher kitchen for the development of new markets" and several additional attractions.
In earlier interviews with Guardian Business, Atlantis President and Managing Director George Markantonis had indicated that the company was set to decide on its full capital investment strategy for the next year once it had finalized the refinancing of its multibillion-dollar debt.
In this regard, in addition to outlining this contribution, Christie updated Parliament on the status of efforts by Brookfield Real Estate Financial Partners to refinance the Atlantis Paradise Island properties, a critical initiative given that the resort is the country's largest private sector employer and largest single earner of foreign currency.
Christie said there has been "further progress" in this regard. Markantonis had earlier told Guardian Business that the resort "must" complete the refinancing by early June, suggesting that the negotiations have already extended somewhat beyond the targeted deadline.
"My government has been working very closely with Brookfield on this matter. As a result of working tirelessly around the clock, we have provided all the necessary approvals for the Atlantis refinancing transactions, which Brookfield is in the final stages of negotiating.
"The refinancing, when shortly completed, will involve significant further investment by Brookfield, reducing leverage on the property and putting in place the seven year loan package."
Other payments forecast to be made by Atlantis in 2014/2015 include $11.9 million in business license fees, up from $11.6 million in 2013; $7.1 million in casino taxes; $59.6 million in room tax; $1.4 million in property tax; $18.8 million in import duty and stamp tax and $12.2 million in N.I.B. contributions.
After donating $27 million to charitable causes in the past 20 years, Atlantis has budgeted $1 million for this purpose in 2014, Christie added.
One small business comparing itself to David is out for the Goliath of its sector, looking to the National Job Readiness and Training Programme (NJRP) to load its sling with trained young Bahamians.
Scotiabank (Bahamas) Limited plans to launch its Carmichael Road branch by next monday, part of a $8.2 million capital project expenditure for 2012.
The 4,100-square-foot bank, nestled in one of the capital's fastest-growing communities, will be consistent with the look and style of the Cable Beach branch. While an official grand opening is expected in January, Scotiabank (Bahamas) has scheduled the "soft launch" for this coming Monday.
Kevin Teslyk, managing director at Scotiabank (Bahamas), said that $1.3 million was invested into the new facility and it created 10 new jobs.
"It is very clear to me that it's a location we need to have, as the fastest-growing residential community. Clearly it is a place we want to be," he said yesterday.
The branch features extended banking hours and three new automated banking machines.
This level of capital expenditure should continue into 2013, according to the managing director. He envisioned a similar budget for next year and even further expansion to the bank's network.
The institution is considering another location in eastern New Providence, although executives have decided to wait for the right location.
In 2012, Scotiabank (Bahamas) invested considerably in large-scale real estate projects, such as foundational work on buildings beside Rawson Square. Investment in upgrades to existing infrastructure and signage is expected to continue into 2013.
Looking at 2012 from a bottom-line perspective, Teslyk told Guardian Business that commercial banking and wealth management should drive growth going forward. Other segments, such as retail banking, should remain "relatively flat". Scotiabank (Bahamas) expects a year-on-year improvement for 2012, which is mostly the result of high provisions in 2011 against the residential mortgage portfolio. Provisions decreased this year, but are still trending higher than prior to the financial crisis.
The global wealth management division has really been the hero for the financial institution. This segment, only in its third year of existence in the Bahamian market, saw an increase of around 20 percent year-on-year.
"We can sustain that or better, hitting perhaps north of 20 percent next year," he explained.
The bank is investing in new talent for this division and going after attractive clients. Teslyk noted that offshore banking is still "critically important", whether it be financing for a second home, or helping a client start an international business.
Part of the bank's strategy is to hold the line before what is believed to be a possible change in fortune by early 2015, coinciding with the opening of the $3.5 billion Baha Mar resort.
"The bulk of jobs will come online then and that will impact the general economy. It should be pretty significant. Getting there will be the next challenge," according to the managing director.
Another particular area of focus in 2013 is the "rebirth" of its Internet platform. While a new website should come online this week, the bank hopes to leverage the new platform go to after new business. The new look and feel is designed to perform differently depending on the device being used, adapting to tablets, smartphones or standard computers.
Further announcements are expected in 2013 on new programs for its commercial division as it relates to the Internet platform.
Bank of The Bahamas (BOB), for example, recently started an e-commerce program. Whether Scotiabank has similar ideas for The Bahamas remains to be seen.
For an investor, technology companies can be a scary place.
With memories of the dot.com crash still fresh in some people's minds, investors are rightfully cautious. But last week, Apple surpassed Exxon as the world's most valuable company, worth $337.2 billion now compared to the oil-giant's meager $330.8 billion.
It was truly a sign of the times, said Kevin Burrows, the Senior Vice President of CFAL.
"It's important to highlight that when you think of technology companies today, they aren't the same highly leveraged and volatile industries they were back in 2000, during the Internet bubble," he said.
"These companies are fairly mature now and have very strong balance sheets."
But if you're seeking an investment in technology, Borrows said Apple isn't the only company in the electronic universe.
On Monday, Google sent stocks of Wall Street flying when they acquired Motorola Mobility for a whopping $12.5 billion - in cash.
The acquisition sent Motorola's stock price surging more than 60 percent.
Analysts said the move was the first step by Google to build a position in the mobile world so they can distribute their products and services through phones and tablets.
If this proves accurate, the acquisition could mean huge strides for Google.
At press time, Google was trading at $533.14 per share.
"This is really the first time they are buying a manufacturing type of company," Burrows added. "Google is clearly diversifying. I think this purchase made people realize that Google is not content to let its growth rate slowly decline like that of Microsoft. That sometimes happens when you have a monopolistic situation. It's good to see that Google, as big as they are, can still focus on earnings and revenue growth."
In fact, Burrows said he wouldn't be surprised if eventually Google surpasses Apple as the world's most valuable company.
In some respects, technology companies are a good buy when it comes to investment, he said. They can be less risky than your industrial company that may be dependent on economic growth, or the lack thereof.
However, can these companies be too much of a good thing?
"I think that something investors are trying to get their heads around is how do you evaluate a company like Google or Facebook. At times, these juggernauts appear to be invincible."
He points out that no business model is iron clad.
However, in his mind, what differentiates Google from Facebook, for example, is Google's willingness to diversify its holdings.
"I tend to question the valuation of something like Facebook and social media," Burrows said. "I wouldn't put them [in the] same value for the long term. "
An online brokerage launched early last year is reporting more than 100,000 equity transactions each day, a figure that far exceeds all other Bahamian firms combined.
SureTrader.com, listed with the Securities Exchange of The Bahamas since January 2012, has increased its staff to eight Bahamians and filled out its 4,000-square-foot office at Elizabeth on Bay. The firm plans to hire up to 20 more people by the end of this year and currently seeks professional Bahamians amid expansion, according to its founder Guy Gentile.
The parent company, Swiss American Securities Limited, is also the founder of SpeedTrader.com, a U.S. online trading broker with around $20 million in annual revenue.
Gentile told Guardian Business that SureTrader.com is poised to earn $25 million in annual revenue in 2013.
"What gives us our edge is superior trading technology and a New York business approach," he said. "I operate a lean aggressive staff that has a strong desire to be the best. Not only the best in The Bahamas, but the best in the world."
Gentile added that SureTrader.com hopes to open 5,000 new accounts in 2013 after opening 2,000 in 2012. The firm wants to become the largest brokerage in The Bahamas by revenue in 2014.
"We have given ourselves an advantage by offering extended margin leverage of 6-1 compared to 3-1 in Canada and 4-1 in the U.S. We have the largest short list in the industry, we allow shorting in penny stocks, and you can fund an account easily with a credit card. There are no restrictions on day trading," he added.
Later this year, Swiss American plans to widen its project offerings through Canadian stock and options, Gentile said, and by connecting VISA debit cards to the accounts.
Following a staffing boost, the firm also wants to offer a customer service line and eventually go to 24 hours after adding European trading. The company has recently aligned itself with RBC Royal Bank, Interactive Brokers, ETC Clearing and DAS Trader.
Gentile, a U.S. investor, remains the largest tenant in the Elizabeth on Bay plaza, located on East Bay Street. He has invested approximately $400,000 into the new SureTrader.com office, with an additional $1.5 million or so in Sur Sushi.
The latter is expected to open in the coming weeks.
Back in December, Gentile reported that the restaurant has received more than 500 applications. Only 45 Bahamians will be hired for the trendy, new restaurant. Blu, formerly located across from the up-and-coming Sur Sushi, closed its doors late last year and put dozens of Bahamians out of work. Investors hope Gentile and his business ventures will help re-energize the plaza and East Bay Street.
Valued theologian-therapist Dr. Lazarus Castang's response to my article is a treasure (The unbridgeable moral divide between the Caribbean church and homosexuals). It represents a clarity that is both concise and thorough. I see a rare pastoral willingness to jump out of the closet of internal church talk into the burning bush of public discourse.
This attitude elaborates a thoughtful view of subjecting the chaos of human sexuality under the ideal of faith. By uncovering a powerful vernacular located within a broad and deep knowledge of the Caribbean Christian tradition, Castang does not assume his faith. He chooses to wrestle with the morality of homosexuality so that we can see an ancient truth through new lens. Four concerns rivet my attention.
First, Castang stays clear of religious polemics. Although he conveys that the Caribbean church is morally committed to a heterosexual norm, he demonstrates that the distinction between law and religious practice is not sufficient to encourage a humane culture within the Caribbean. I couldn't agree more. My judgment is that the insistence on the truth of doctrine going up against the majesty of individual choice and civil obligations will not automatically produce ethical restraint within a culture that resists an exclusive morality.
Second, his critique that I left uninvestigated the impact that homosexuals have had on the Caribbean state and church is fair. I could have more fully explored how the openness of homosexual lifestyle has invaded our rigid morality about the role and function of human sexuality, while expanding our culture to live with diversity through an anthropology of wholeness. Further, I could have underscored the possibility of advocacy for a more inclusive democratic civilization that homosexuality has evoked. These effects deserve finer articulation.
Third, he opines that homosexuals must be prepared to bear the moral burden of Caribbean culture that frowns on their sexual practices. This keen observation, however, does not erase the manifestations of mental, spiritual and psychological anguish the church inflicts on homosexuals in its sincere efforts to condemn the sin and affirm the sinner. The church's uncompromising moral stance has far-reaching consequences. It shapes and informs wider communal behavior toward homosexuals, which often breeds callous practices, all of which fall outside a Christian love ethic that screams for justice.
Therefore, the church cannot merely acknowledge this problem with deliberate speed. If it is going to pragmatically merge its spiritual intelligence with this social dilemma, a transformative attitude towards homosexuals within Caribbean societies should produce a more genuine Christian disposition as well as a more just society.
Fourth, Castang is fully aware of the focus to make sexual choices in our pluralistic society realizable but affirms that the Caribbean church must act in accordance with the discernible heterosexual order of creation that Genesis explains, even though our fallen nature has put us at odds with the ideal of human sexuality.
My question to Castang is this: What do we do with this moral schism that is too wide for any bridge? If this is the case, then the church would have to abandon its efforts to employ the power of God to deliver people from sexual behaviors that it condemns.
I understand that the Caribbean's conservative morality is on display in a churning progressive political culture, and that clashes around issues of personal liberty and equality will occur. Yet, I believe that the Caribbean church should construct an ethical bridge where private virtue and public conscience form the matrix for doing good, bearing witness to the truth, and eliminating stereotyping in order to preserve the common good.
If not, the church will find itself trapped in an irony where the qualms of social conscience arise in the most intimate of human relations but the principles of Christian love become ineffective to these challenges.
If any movement is to be made in this moral standoff, either the church admits defeat or takes some risks. These risks should both affirm the gospel of Jesus Christ and respect the efficacy of a diverse society and, consequently, the humanity of homosexuals.
It strengthens Christian beliefs in the Caribbean to know that a pastoral voice could leverage the tensions between faith and feelings with sensitivity.
Castang offers conscientious citizens enough room to breathe, albeit without a sigh of relief. As an act of redemptive love, this may be a time to combat every injustice that paralyzes human life from within the sacred space of the church.
Even if his voice does not reform society, Castang's view can become an agency of the Kingdom of God for preserving one's integrity. An honest enthusiasm for resolving these tensions is superior to a disconnected existence. Still, the tragic limitations or sublime beauty of sexual tolerance in the Caribbean is dismantling.
o Dr. Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specializes in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.
Kingston, Jamaica; Jamaica and the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival will once again receive another boost as Flow leverages its broadband technology and partnership with international content provider HBO to help create multiple avenues for exposure.
With the partnership with HBO, viewers across the Caribbean and Latin America will be treated to another Special feature showcasing Jamaica and the 2012 Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, a repeat of the highly successful initiative that was such a key element of the previous year's festival.
Flow's technology will also facilitate live streaming to various countries across the globe, OnDemand programmes on its Flow OnDemand platform, and a local feature on Flow TV...
Eleuthera has been granted its own Chamber of Commerce, which will change the way the island - and indeed the country - conducts business.
Thomas Sands, a prominent entrepreneur on the island - with interests in retail, property, insurance and tourism - takes up the post of president.
He told Guardian Business the paperwork has been approved to become a legal, incorporated entity.
"We questioned the viability of acting as a club versus an incorporated Chamber that is recognized throughout The Bahamas and the world," Sands added.
"It was important, going forward, to legitimize the organization prior to establishing membership or activities. We will now have influence over our own economy and communication with any developments that may take place."
However, it took a lot of hard work to get to this point, he said.
In July 2010, Guardian Business reported that executives announced their intention to launch a Chamber of Commerce for Eleuthera.
Since then, hundreds of discussions, memos and proposals have taken place.
With the approval now in place, the next task is to develop the membership, which will include business owners, stakeholders and individuals of influence on the island.
Elizabeth Byron, the editor and owner of 'The Eleutheran', will serve as vice president.
Unlike some other Chamber of Commerce entities in the Family Islands, Sands said making the organization incorporated gives it real teeth when dealing with the government.
In other words, it is expected to have significant clout in all future business dealings on the island.
Winston Rolle, the Chairman of The Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employer Confederation (BCCEC), told Guardian Business that, in the past, there was only one real economic center in the country.
That, however, has changed over the years as the islands develop industry and work to address their specific needs.
He believes the Eleuthera Chamber of Commerce will only strengthen business in The Bahamas.
"The way we see it, while we are focused on things in New Providence, we can now focus on the more macro items - the things that affect us as a country, and that shall facilitate business as a whole," he said.
"We envision other chambers will provide focus on issues in their areas, and we can leverage and exchange resources, training and contacts.
"We want a better relationship with our Family Island chambers."
For example, Rolle pointed out that this week, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization, the BCCEC has put on a free training seminar for aspiring entrepreneurs in Grand Bahama.
The 40-hour training program at the Sunrise Resort and Marina is giving participants access to top business and financial consultants.
"The idea is to have a partnering relationship and leverage our resources," he added.
Accessing these resources is a top priority for Sands, he told Guardian Business, and it should be on the agenda for their first meeting in the next 30 days.
Sands said he would like to establish more educational programs with the BCCEC and be involved in the small-to-medium-sized business legislation currently being worked on in New Providence.
The hurricane, he said, has set them back somewhat in terms of progress, and businesses need time to get "their priorities sorted out" before turning attention to the new chamber. Other issues on the agenda will be tackling the tourism challenges faced by Eleuthera, with a focus on improving the number of flights and increasing the island's overall exposure in the market.
But Sands felt the most important function of the new chamber is communication.
"We have spoken a lot about communication between developers and business," he said. "There is a sense of working together to develop the island and eliminating the idea that people do their own thing and feeling threatened. That dialogue is a priority."
He said, at first, progress will be slow as they gather momentum. The most important thing is Eleuthera now has a united, legal voice.
"It will make business more efficient," Rolle agreed.
"All of the islands have their uniqueness. I would not try to sit in New Providence and indicate what is going on in Exuma or Eleuthera. But that doesn't preclude us from working together and forming a better relationship."
Blagojevich gets 14 years in prison for corruption.
CHICAGO (AP) -- Rod Blagojevich, the ousted Illinois governor whose three-year battle against criminal charges became a national spectacle, was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, one of the stiffest penalties imposed for corruption in a state with a history of crooked politics.
Blagojevich's 18 convictions included allegations of trying to leverage his power to appoint someone to President Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat to raise campaign cash or land a high-paying job.