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Caribbean capital markets: Plans drawn up to create regional exchange

Financiers in the Caribbean are planning to establish a region-wide capital markets exchange to create a financial hub with critical mass.

Most ambitiously, the Dominican Republic aims to set up the Independent Financial Center of the Americas by creating a 17-sq km financial “city” at a cost of $850 million, with its inauguration set for 2009. Led by local banker Gaetan Bucher, the initiative aims to create an electronic stock exchange, called Laifex, or Latin American International Financial Exchange, and a financial centre that would be a clearing and settlement house for emerging market debt and house private and commercial banks, similar to the Dubai International Financial Exchange.

Spain’s Santander and BBVA are said to be interested in having a presence, Laifex’s backers say. “Being an exclusively electronic platform, Laifex will allow much smoother, faster and cheaper clearing of regional transactions,” says Bucher. President Leonel Fernández’s government has so far backed the plan, although the island still suffers from severe energy shortages following its banking and economic crisis in 2003.

Even if such grand schemes do not come to fruition, most Caribbean bankers and local stock market executives say it is time to consolidate the region’s eight exchanges, which list only a little over 100 companies, especially as the Caribbean creates a single market.

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