When I started work as a junior auditor back in the 70s, there were quite a few Jersey public companies - Le Riche, Anne Street, Jersey Gas, De Gruchy department store, the Grand Hotel to name just a few.
Later in my career, I became company secretary and eventually a director of Le Riche, a company that was in public hands from 1897 to 2007.
There was something important and special about being able to meet your owners. The Annual General Meeting was an event we prepared for carefully, because you truly never knew what would happen. Jersey shareholders were a pretty sophisticated and demanding lot who had a habit of asking all the tricky questions.
Sadly, this all passed for various reasons and now we are left with very few public companies, although it is nice to see the descendant of Le Riche, Sandpiper CI, back as a public company.
These days, we tend to own important local companies via the States of Jersey. This brings a long-term investor and allows control to be exercised in addition or as a substitute for economic regulation. In the case of Jersey Electricity and Jersey Water, the States do not own all the shares, but own enough to exercise control if ever required.
Pictured: How should Jersey's government use its assets to fund the support needed by businesses in the age of covid-19?
In a previous opinion piece, I suggested that the States consider a review of their balance sheet with the idea of topping up the rather depleted strategic reserve.
One way to do this would be to sell minority stakes in these companies to the Public of Jersey - they would be able to continue exercising control when necessary, but also raising some cash.
According to page 219 of the latest report, the total value for JT, JEC, Jersey Water and Jersey Post are over £300m. In addition, there is Ports of Jersey and SOJDC. I would not be surprised if it was possible to raise a couple of hundred million by selling shares in these companies to local investors whilst still retaining control.
The States could also consider following the recent idea from Deputy Roffey in Guernsey - of raising some of their new debt from the public of Guernsey. There are probably plenty of Islanders looking for a safe home for their funds, one that pays a bit more interest than the banks. Why not invest in the place we know best?
Pictured: should islanders be given more opportunities to invest in Jersey public companies?
We already have a local stock exchange, a substantial funds management industry and high levels of regulation, so this is all possible. The only thing we don’t really know is the public appetite, which I am sure could be found out relatively easily. My bet is that investing a proportion of our savings in Jersey would be popular.
Another very important initiative that the States would be taking a lead on through this is the resurgence of Jersey public companies, where other established and growing local companies could raise equity as well as debt, supporting long-term investment in our island.
Some may remember the 'Tell Sid' campaigns of the 80s... Maybe now is the time for a local version? We could call it, 'Tell Helier!'
Kevin is proud to have invested in the shares of The Jersey New Waterworks Company Limited and Jersey Electricity PLC so is a little biased.
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