Tuesday, March 19, 2019

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In an unprecedentedly massive primary turnout, Colombia’s voters on March 11 chose moderate presidential candidate Ivan Duque of the center-right Centro Democratico party to face-off against socialist-populist Gustavo Petro in this spring’s presidential elections.

As the polls closed, the soft-speaking, diplomatic Duque publicly announced that he has chosen moderate Conservative Party candidate Marta Lucia Ramirez – the runner-up in the center-right primary contest yesterday -- as his vice-presidential candidate.

In his post-election speech, Duque promised that if elected, he would reach across the broad political spectrum of Colombian politics to guide his administration’s policies. However, Duque added that he would fight any attempts by communists and populists to impose a Venezuelan-style dictatorship in Colombia.

"Our proposal is to include all Colombians, without exclusions," Duque said.  "The time has come to turn the page on impunity, clientelism, tax asphyxiation, distrust of institutions. We do not want to succumb to the temptations of populist authoritarianism in Venezuela, which has ruined Venezuela and has delivered the crudest kind of socialist reaction, whose reality is bread for today, hunger for tomorrow."

In contrast, Petro’s venomous, conspiracy-filled post-election speech insulted Duque, Ramirez and their mostly moderate allies, terming them “the extreme right.”

Many Colombians fed-up with the murderous violence of nearly 60 years of communist and narco-terrorism – over the last 20 years tacitly or overtly supported by members of Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship -- have protested at Petro’s populist-socialist campaign rallies, some of which have featured hundreds of bussed-in supporters aiming to create the illusion of majority support for Petro.

In his post-election speech, Petro denounced these protests against his socialist-populist campaign as a “conspiracy” which fails to provide “guarantees” for his candidacy.

In contrast to Petro’s venom, the ever-polite, calm-but-firm Ramirez -- a veteran Colombian politician – modestly and warmly welcomed Duque’s primary victory. Ramirez would become Colombia’s first female vice-president if she is elected this spring.

The Duque/Ramirez ticket -- uniting Conservatives and Centro Democratico – is now seen by many political analysts as likely to win either in the first or second round of Colombia’s presidential elections this spring, facing Petro and four other less-popular presidential candidates.

Duque and Ramirez collectively won twice as many votes as Petro in the Sunday primaries -- a strong indication of Colombian voter intentions.

Voter sentiment here in favor of moderate-conservative candidates is partly a reaction to the horrors of the economic collapse of the socialist dictatorship in neighboring Venezuela, as well as voter anger over what many see as current President Juan Manuel Santos’ betrayal of former President Alvaro Uribe’s anti-terrorism policies and Uribe's relative economic-policy successes.

Meanwhile, socialist-populist candidate Petro – a former Bogota mayor that left a legacy of administrative chaos and divisive, political venom -- has been an apologist for the totalitarian Venezuelan government, issuing statements that have attempted to discredit independent news reports on the devasting impact of the Chavista regime on the majority of Venezuelans.

Also in Sunday’s voting, former president Alvaro Uribe won reelection in the national Senate races -- getting far more votes than any other Senate candidate – while Uribe’s center-right Centro Democratico party gained 13 more seats in the House but dropped one seat in the Senate.

However, in Colombian congressional politics, party ideology typically plays a lesser role in policymaking, as Senators and Congress members of most parties typically form partial alliances with whomever becomes the next President.

Hence a Duque/Ramirez administration – which campaigned on a platform critical of the generous “peace” deal negotiated with the communist FARC by outgoing President Juan Manuel Santos -- likely will be less generous in clarifying or confirming some still-unclear deal terms -- either with the current FARC political leaders or the politically similar ELN terrorist group.

Many members of the new Congress -- from various parties – are now seen by analysts as likely to work cooperatively with a Duque/Ramirez administration, as is typical of Colombian politics.

Following the President Santos “peace” deal, which guarantees the FARC 10 seats in the House and Senate -- even without them having to win any popular vote -- the FARC subsequently formed a political party, using the same FARC initials. In yesterday’s elections, the FARC gathered a paltry 85,000 popular votes -- out of more than 15 million votes cast.

It’s yet another sign of Colombian voters’ overwhelming disgust with the communist FARC -- and also a back-handed slap-in-the-face to President Santos, who went ahead with the “peace” deal despite a public plebiscite that voted to reject the deal.


U.S.-based global power tools, appliances and security-systems manufacturer Stanley Black & Decker just decided to make Medellin its new Americas-region financial services unit for commercial customers -- creating 200 new jobs here over the next 12 months.

According to Medellin’s business-development agency (Agencia de Cooperación e Inversión de Medellín y el Área Metropolitana, ACI), Stanley Black & Decker (SBD) now has some 50,000 global employees with annual sales now topping US$12 billion.

According to ACI, the company chose Medellin for the new financial-services offices “because of its solid business environment and its capacity to provide high-quality commercial services,” as well as the joint recruitment-and-collaboration efforts of ACI, Medellin’s high-tech “Ruta N” commercial landing space and Colombia’s “Procolombia” investment promotion agency.

SBD financial director Jamie Ritter added that “Medellin is a growing city, focused upon innovation and with a great quantity of talent, making it an attractive location for Stanley Black & Decker to develop a world-class center tied to strategic growth initiatives.”


Medellin-based construction giants Conconcreto and Construcciones El Condor separately reported in late February that fourth-quarter (4Q) net earnings dipped slightly in 2017 versus 2016.

For Conconcreto, net income fell 14.9% year-on-year in 4Q 2017 versus 4Q 2016, to COP$78 billion (US$27 million), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 6.6% year-on-year, to COP$220 billion (US$77 million).

Explaining the dip in profits, Conconcreto cited “evidence of the lower dynamism of the [Colombian] economy and therefore of the [construction] sector, reflected in the decrease in volume of construction and lower margins of the projects,” as well as “lower profits of the road concessions and associated companies.”

Among Conconcreto’s 2017 highlights: Continuing build-out of the 2.4-gigawatt “Hidroituango” hydroelectric plant in Antioquia – due for intial start-up in late 2018 -- as well as several road, tunnel and bridge works around Colombia, according to the company.

As for two big potential projects still in the planning stage: the proposed “Darien International” ocean-freight port at Necocli, Antioquia, in which Conconcreto has a contract covering all the civil works, as well as a proposed, four-lane divided road connecting the existing Las Palmas highway east of Medellin to the El Tablazo neighborhood near Medellin’s international airport in Rionegro.

El Condor Results

As for Construcciones El Condor, this company saw its 4Q 2017 net profits dip slightly year-on-year, to COP$185 billion (US$64 million), versus COP$186 billion (US$65 million) in 4Q 2016.

Operating income rose by 66.9% year-on-year, to COP$603 billion (US$210 million), while construction EBITDA rose 58%, to COP$119 billion (US$41 million).

Among 2017 highlights: El Condor saw financial close on the “Ruta al Mar” highway concession totaling COP$1.47 trillion (US$511 million) through a syndicate of local banks and international finance.

The company also finalized an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contract between El Condor and “Concesion Ruta al Mar SAS.”

As for the “Pacifico 2” highway project in Antioquia, the company achieved certain compliance milestones enabling the first payment of credit on the project.

Meanwhile, at year-end 2017, El Condor had a project and investment portfolio with a combined book value of COP$802 billion (US$280 million), the company noted.

Among the projects in the portfolio:

1.Concesión La Pintada S.A.S. in Antioquia (21.15% share), where construction has begun on a new bridge over the Rio Cauca. The “La Pintada” project had advanced by 29% at year-end, with capex to-date totaling COP$275 billion (US$96 million).

2. Concesión Pacífico Tres S.A.S. in Antioquia and Caldas, in which El Condor has a 48% stake. All licenses and permits have been approved, and the project had advanced 36% by year-end, with a to-date capex of COP$308 billion (US$107 million)

3. Concesión Aburrá Norte S.A.S. (Hatovial S.A.S.) in Antioquia, now 100% built, with El Condor having a 21.1% stake. Capex totaled COP$1.3 trillion (US$454 million).

4. Concesion Vias del Nus SAS, in Antioquia, where El Condor has a 21.15% stake. This project recently won regulatory approvals for the crucial “Tunel de la Quiebra” highway tunnels that will smooth freight transport between Medellin and northern Colombian ports.
Capex invested: COP$15 billion (US$5.2 million), with project advance at 1.56%

5. Concesión Vías de Las Américas S.A.S., in northern Colombia (66.67% participation), with capex at COP$1.16 trillion (US$ 405million) and project advance at 89.3%

6. Concesión Túnel Aburrá Oriente S.A.S., linking Medellin eastward to the international airport at Rionegro through new tunnels (already 71% complete at year-end 2017). El Condor has a 12.5% stake, with COP$500 billion (US$174 million) capex.


Medellin-based UNE EPM – the minority shareholder in Colombia’s “TigoUne” cell-phone service partnership as well as related internet, cable TV and land-line services – announced last month that the company's full-year 2017 consolidated revenues dipped slightly year-on-year, to COP$5.06 trillion (US$1.7 billion).

Net loss in 2017 also improved year-on-year, to COP$40 billion (US$14 million), compared to a net loss of COP $190 billion (US$66 million) in 2016.

The majority shareholder is Luxembourg-based Millicom Spain SL along with partners Peak Record SL, Peak Five SL, Global Albion SL and Global Locronan SL.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose slightly year-on-year, to COP$1.349 trillion (US$472 million) in 2017 versus COP$1.346 trillion (US$471 million ) in 2016, according to the company. EBITDA margin rose to 27%, from 26.9% in 2016.

Revenues reported separately for UNE (not including the partnership) slipped year-on-year, to COP$2.38 trillion (US$833 million), versus COP$2.4 trillion (US$840 million) in 2016, but net loss improved dramatically, at COP$10 billion (US$3.5 million million) in 2017 versus a net loss of COP$145 billion (US$50.7 million) in 2016.

Millicom View

Meanwhile, commenting on the TigoUne 2017 results, majority partner Millicom added: “In Colombia, our strategy has been to build for the future, enhancing our convergence capabilities to provide long-term, stable growth.

“We are adding 4G users, building our HFC [hybrid fiber coaxial] network and connecting homes, improving bundling, differentiating our brand, and improving our internal operations in order to serve our customers more efficiently.

“In mobile [cell-phone service], we added almost a million 4G smartphone data customers, a year-over-year growth rate of 98% [and] an acceleration over 2016’s year-over-year growth of 79%.

“[As a result], 4G smartphone data users now represent 26% of our B2C [business-to-consumer] mobile base [now totaling 2.016 million users] and have contributed to driving data use up by 39% to 1.7 GB [gigabytes] per user.

“We continue to expand the reach of our HFC network in Colombia, with just over 612,000 additional homes passed and 93,300 new homes connected [now totaling 1.108 million homes].

“In addition, the bundling ratio of our HFC customers has risen steadily in recent years as Revenue Generating Units (RGUs) growth of 15% has outpaced the growth in homes connected.

“We also launched next generation television this year; ‘Tigo ONEtv’ integrates traditional linear television content with leading streaming and video-on-demand platforms. The service is the result of a partnership with TiVo.

“Service revenue declined by 0.7% year-over-year, as we faced regulatory headwinds, but results improved in the second half, indicating that our strategy is gaining traction,” according to the company.


Medellin-based multinational cement, power and highway/airport-concession giant Grupo Argos announced this month that its full-year 2017 net income rose 29% year-on-year, to COP$453 billion (US$158 million).

Argos also reported earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 7% year-on-year, to COP$630 billion (US$220 million), with EBITDA margin hitting 53%.

Consolidated EBITDA results hit COP$3.9 trillion (US$1.36 billion), the highest in the history of the company. This was the result of “good moment of the concessions and energy businesses and the moderate recovery tendency of the cement sector in Colombia,” according to the company.

Year-end 2017 assets rose 6.3% year-on-year, to COP$47.6 trillion (US$16.6 billion), with liabilities totaling COP$23 trillion (US$8 billion) and equity at COP$24 trillion (US$8.4 billion).

While debt grew 9% year-on-year, “given the substantial improvement of EBITDA, we highlight that the adjusted net debt/EBITDA indicator stands at 2.3x, being one of the lowest leverage levels in the history of this group,” according to Argos.

“This indicator, added to the 4.7x operating cash flow/interest, shows the high flexibility that Grupo Argos has in order to continue with the growth strategy. At the cash flow level, it closed the year surpassing COP$300 billion [US$105 million],” according to the company.

Corporate revenues rose 7% year-on-year, to COP$1.2 trillion (US$419 million). “This variation is mainly explained by the divestiture of [ocean port operator] Compas, which generated COP$403 billion [US$141 million] in revenues,” according to Argos.

“In addition, revenues from the real estate business increased by COP$53 billion [US$18.5 million] to COP$260 billion [US$91 million], due to the contribution of Pactia and adjustments in the fair value of investment properties,” the company added.

As for the Cementos Argos division, adjusted EBITDA excluding non-recurring items came in at COP$375 billion (US$131 million) with a 17.8% margin. However, Cementos Argos posted a full-year net loss of COP$80 billion (US$28 million) mainly due to “effects of the [deferred] tax reform in the USA” along with lower sales volumes in Colombia, the company added.

Cementos Argos produces and markets cement and ready-mix concrete in 15 countries including the USA, Colombia, and the Caribbean & Central America (CCA) region. Total annual capacity is estimated at 24 million tons of cement and 18 million cubic meters of concrete.

Despite the 2017 financial setbacks in the USA, Argos foresees a “positive outlook in the United States after the fiscal reform, which is expected to generate positive effects in the country’s economy, the industry and in Argos operations.”

Meanwhile, the Celsia electric-power division – operating in Colombia, Panama and Costa Rica – now boasts 2.4 gigawatts of generation capacity through 28 hydroelectric, thermal, photovoltaic and wind-power plants, generating around 6,317 gigawatt-hours (GWh) per year, according to Argos.

During 4Q 2017, Celsia’s consolidated power generation was 1,769 GWh, “up 12% compared to the same quarter last year and up 23% compared with Q3 2017. Out of the consolidated generation, 77% came from hydroelectric generation, 20% from thermal power plants, 3% from the wind farm in Costa Rica, and 0.20% (4 GWh) from the new solar farm in Yumbo,” according to Argos.

However, Celsia’s full-year 2017 electric power generation dipped 11% year-on-year, to 6,317 GWh, the company added.

Celsia’s consolidated revenue for 4Q 2017 rose 4% year-on-year, to COP$824 billion (US$288 million) , while full-year 2017 revenue fell 18% year-on-year, to COP$3 trillion (US$1.05 billion), “in line with our expectations given the lower generation volume of the thermal power plants and the spot price decrease, influenced in 2016 by the El Niño phenomenon,” the company added.

Celsia’s 4Q 2017 EBITDA rose 21% year-on-year, to COP$309 billion (US$108 million), as “good performance in Central America together with a more efficient operation in Colombia allowed the power generation facilities to make a significant contribution to the results, which added to the stability of the distribution and retail sales business,” according to Argos.

Celsia’s full-year 2017 net earnings rose 47% year-on-year, to COP$251 billion (US$88 million) while net profit attributable to controlling shareholders more than tripled, to COP$149 billion (US$52 million), the company added.


Japan’s Ambassador to Colombia Keiichiro Morishita this month unveiled new offices in Medellin of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI).

The decision to open new offices here came following an initiative by local investment promotion agency ACI (Agencia de Cooperación e Inversión de Medellín).

According to ACI, the new CCI office aims to boost foreign investment in Medellin, fortify commercial exchanges and promote educational and cultural initiatives.

CCI already has offices in Bogota -- for more than 30 years -- but now aims to expand its efforts in Medellin.

CCI affiliates are mainly Japanese companies operating in Colombia as well as Colombian empresarios with commercial aims in Japan, added CCI executive director Oscar Romero.

Initially, CCI will locate its offices in Medellin’s “Ruta N” high-tech landing space, but later will move to its own headquarters, according to ACI.


Medellin-based multinational retail giant Grupo Exito announced February 21 that its full-year 2017 net profits rose five-fold year-on-year, to COP$217 billion (US$76 million).

Exito credited the improvement “mainly to solid operating results in Brazil,” lower interest rates in Brazil and Colombia, and productivity improvements corporate-wide.

Gross revenues rose 9.4% year-on-year, to COP$56.4 trillion (US$19 billion), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 24.4% year-on-year, to COP$3.6 trillion (US$1.27 billion), according to the company.

Synergies generated between its coordinated operations in Colombia, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay are now valued at US$100 million in EBITDA, according to Exito.

In Brazil, its “Pão de Açúcar” food store operations saw 8.2% sales growth year-on-year (measured in Brazilian Reais).

But in Colombia, a 2.8% contraction in average family buying power (as measured by Nielsen surveys) hurt domestic sales and operating results.

Despite those economic headwinds in Colombia, Éxito still managed to achieve domestic operating earnings of COP$11.2 trillion (US$3.9 billion) and EBITDA margin in Colombia hit 5.7%, the company added.

Also in Colombia, Exito “continued to focus on strengthening of its omnicanal [multichannel]” formats including the “Surtimayorista” cash-and-carry stores and the “Carulla FreshMarket” food-store formats.

Surtimayorista saw a 52.5% sales growth year-on-year thanks in part to the opening of eight new stores. Those stores borrow heavily from the “Assai” format as employed in Brazil.

Meanwhile, the first “Carulla FreshMarket” store debuted in Bogota, featuring a novel vegetable garden inside the store -- enabling fresh-picked lettuce.

Also during 2017, Exito’s “e-commerce” sales in Colombia via computer and home deliveries grew 19% year-on-year, totaling COP$270 billion (US$95 million), according to the company. As a result. Éxito became Colombia’s number-one home-delivery service via its alliance with Rappi. Those sales grew 26% year-on-year.

The electronic “carulla.com,” “Domicilios Exito y Carrulla” e-commerce home-delivery services, digital catalogs and its “marketplace” web sites also recorded 51 million visitors and 837,000 orders last year. The “marketplace” platform for vendors and corporate partners now totals 700 companies -- offering 50,000 products, according to Exito.

In addition, Exito now offers to pay customers that find cheaper prices at competing stores double the savings that they would have realized at a competitor.

Meanwhile, Éxito’s Colombia-based comercial real-estate division (Viva Malls) saw a 25% hike in sales by its retail occupants, according to the company.

As for Uruguay operations, store sales grew 7.7% year-on-year (measured in local currency), exceeding the 6.55% inflation rate, while EBITDA margin there hit 7.8% as measured in Colombian pesos. The Uruguay operation expanded by nine stores, rising to a total of 33 “Devoto Express” outlets.

In Argentina, Éxito’s real-estate division helped generate positive operating income, thanks in part to 170,000 square meters of space either remodeled or expanded at the San Juan and Rivera Indarte malls.

During 2017, Éxito added 69 new stores (either ground-up or conversions) corporate-wide. As a result, Éxito now has 1,573 stores: 574 in Colombia, 882 in Brazil, 88 in Uruguay and 29 in Argentina. Store space now totals 2.8 million square meters, while employee count stand at 140,000.

“Our strategic decision to diversify internationally is producing positive results for the organization,” added Éxito president Carlos Mario Giraldo.

“The competitive environment in Colombia is dynamic -- and we’re facing it with innovative options including a deepening of our strategies in electronic commerce, the recent alliance with Rappi to optimize time-of-delivery to homes, and the expansion of Surtimayorista, the cash-and-carry format.

“We have great opportunities to grow and monetize our activities with real estate in Colombia and Argentina, as well as with the start-up of the coalition with Bancolombia via the ‘Puntos Colombia’ [reward program],” Giraldo added.

The “Exito” credit card in Colombia has now grown to 2.6 million cardholders, while the “Viajes Exito” travel-agency service saw a 17% sales hike year-on-year, to 210,000 clients.

The “Movil Éxito” cell-phone service in Colombia also saw sales jump 40% year-on-year, now serving 950,000 cell phones.


Starting humbly from a garage workshop in 1971, Medellin-based clothing manufacturer Creytex has since become an especially successful innovator in the fiercely competitive global textile/clothing business.

It’s an exceptional story, as most local textile and clothing manufacturers here experienced sharp declines last year in the Colombian domestic market -- due mainly to a hike in value-added tax, combined with a national economic slow-down.

But amazingly, Creytex actually boosted its 2017 domestic sales by 20% year-on-year -- and simultaneously boosted profit margins– thanks to exceptional market intelligence, high technology, enthusiastic leadership, motivated employees, and a novel “fast fashion” production system, as company managing director Lina Bustamante revealed to Medellin Herald in an exclusive February 9 interview here.

However, international sales volume dipped last year when one of Creytex’s major international buyers -- with whom it had been supplying for nearly 12 years -- strategically switched production to a proprietary factory in Asia.

That switch wasn’t entirely unexpected, as Bustamante explained. Reason: This big buyer had been gradually withdrawing from various contract manufacturers and shifting production to proprietary factories for “commodity” clothing items where lowest-cost -- rather than fast-fashion -- is the deciding factor.

Even though Colombian textile/clothing production costs are much lower than costs in the USA or Europe, Colombia is still relatively costly -- if price alone is the over-riding factor – compared to certain Asian and Middle-Eastern producers, and even some Central American producers (such as Honduras), Bustamante explained.

So, to stay competitive in the domestic and global clothing business, Creytex has to specialize in “fast fashion” -- and avoid “commodity” production, she added.

Intelligent Evolution

As a result of losing that international “commodity” clothing buyer last year, Creytex now exports about 60% -- down from 70% previously -- of its nearly 4 million clothing items produced here annually, mainly to the U.S. market. The other 40% mainly goes to the Colombian domestic market as well as to nearby South American and Central American markets.

Celebrating its 47th anniversary this year, family-owned Creytex – along with Medellin-based technology partner Inn Solutions (which shares office space at Creytex) – showed-off a miniature version of their “intelligent factory/fast-fashion” system to more than 22,000 attendees at the annual Colombiatex 2018 textile-industry congress here last month.

The novel technologies Creytex employs include the “3Dress” computer-based fashion design system from Italy-based MorganTecnica, which features three-dimensional, on-screen “avatars” that substitute for conventional mannequins or live models in design and development work.

This novel system enables flexible design creations, fitment validations and subsequent adjustments in just hours or minutes– hence cutting many days, weeks or even months from older, conventional development-and-approval cycles in clothing-fashion design.

What’s more, this “3Dress” system also can transmit the final design instructions electronically to computer-driven stamping, sublimation and cutting machines on the factory floor, followed by “lean” final assembly by highly skilled seamstresses -- all overseen by an automated “Shopfloor” software-control system.

This novel system is now run by highly skilled Creytex employees -- with technical help from Inn Solutions and its bilingual (English-Spanish) general manager, Juan Pablo Mejia.

Leading the charge here is the ever-smiling, infectiously enthusiastic Bustamante, who inspires a team of 400 direct workers at Creytex’s clean, quiet, friendly, high-tech factory totaling 7,000-square-meters, spread-out over four floors. (The company also has additional indirect workers producing certain items at satellite workshops near Medellin).

Creytex not only designs and produces clothing for both domestic and international markets – touting a special expertise in needle-point knitting -- but also produces its own textiles, another key factor responding to the “fast fashion” trend sweeping global clothing markets.

In years past, many of Medellin’s small-to-medium-sized enterprises (including Creytex) had depended heavily (or even exclusively) upon giant textile manufacturers (such as Coltejer and Fabricato) to supply feedstock textiles.

But the ever-growing “fast fashion” trend means that manufacturers like Creytex can’t wait weeks or months for certain critical supplies from big textile makers – and retailers likewise no longer can sustain excess inventories or suffer heavy mark-downs to move excess product that’s growing “stale.”

So, as part of its novel fast-fashion production system, Creytex instead makes its own textiles, including numerous blends of cotton and synthetic fibers, for example. This system boosts efficiency, cuts losses, cuts production time, avoids costly subcontracting, increases control and enables greater volume production and higher margins, Bustamante explained.

While “low-cost” Asian producers might out-compete Medellin producers on cost in “commodity” clothing, Creytex has multiple advantages with its “fast fashion” system – including low-cost, fast-delivery air freight from Medellin to Miami, she said.

This system can quickly deliver “high-demand” fashion items -- from design to production to delivery in Miami -- in just days, rather than the months-long delays typical of Asian manufacturers shipping to the U.S. market.

Batch Production

What’s more, Creytex can design, produce and deliver such “high-demand” items in customized, limited, serial batches – responding quickly to demand changes -- rather than producing and delivering huge (but slow-to-market) volumes that are typical of “commodity” producers.

In addition, Creytex now electronically gathers and analyzes customer demand at individual stores in Colombia, so that it can quickly respond to demand changes and adjust production for individual clothing items – avoiding inventory excesses and improving net profit margins.

“Fast fashion has to include the whole chain,” from design, to production, to shipping, to demand response, as well as employment of smart-technology and smart management, Bustamante explained.

“This is not a volume business. It’s about having the ideal product, in the ideal place, at the ideal time. And mass production can’t account for all markets. You also have to account for seasons, climates and the [socio-economic demographics] of each shop. This requires [investment in] more data analysis, but it also means better profitability.”

For the Colombian domestic market, Creytex has its own, proprietary leisure-wear and children’s-wear brands (“Belife” and “Baby Planet”), whereas its principal international buyers (mainly for leisure, performance and life-style wear) include Columbia, Concepts Sport, Gear for Sport, Little Me, Camp David, Pelo and Ripley, she said.

Beyond employment of high technology for “fast fashion,” Creytex also meets strict international standards for responsible social and environmental practices, as measured by buyers’ own periodic audits – such as the “Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production” (“WRAP”) protocol, she said.

Visitors to the Creytex facilities see more than just compliance with standards. They have been surprised by the clean, quiet, friendly, well-organized worker environment -- something not always seen in certain Asian or Middle-Eastern clothing factories, where conditions can almost resemble Medieval despair.

About which Bustamante remarked: “I’ve had clients tell me, ‘your employees look happy!”

However, continuous motivation and retention of skilled workers isn’t easy – especially in an age when many younger people would rather seek employment in (for example) call-centers rather than clothing factories, Bustamante told us.

While Medellin has a more-than-100-years-long history of industry leadership in textiles, clothing and fashion – and can boast of now having several generations of highly skilled textile/clothing workers – being successful in clothing manufacture today also requires exceptionally intelligent, inspiring leadership.

That’s why Creytex employs a “coach” at each sewing station to encourage and teach workers, and also includes a bonus system for exceptionally productive employees.

Bottom line: Competing successfully in international and domestic clothing markets with fast response, precision quality, close attention to profitability, market intelligence and socially responsible operations is an evolving process.

Creytex first began exporting 15 years ago – at a time when many industry experts told Bustamante that achieving success from Medellin in such foreign markets was dubious.

But clients visiting Creytex today will be greeted by Bustamante’s winning smile, warm intelligence, the voice of experience, and see impressive operations. Likely as not, they'll probably come away with proof that after more than 100 years of major textile/clothing/fashion experience, leading Medellin entrepreneurs still can compete successfully in one of the world’s toughest businesses.


Cemex Colombia fourth quarter (4Q) 2017 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) fell 20% year-on-year, to US$30 million, Cemex Latam Holdings (CLH) announced February 8.

Net sales for the CLH-Colombia division also fell 12% year-on-year, to US$134 million, according to the company.

For CLH's regional operations, “during the fourth quarter [2017] our working capital investment remained in negative territory for seventh consecutive quarter, with minus-14 average working capital days. During this period, we achieved negative trade working capital in our operations in Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador,” the company explained.

CLH’s net sales in the region for full-year 2017 declined 6% year-on-year, “mostly explained by lower cement volumes and prices in Colombia. As a result, operating EBITDA declined by 15% and 27% during the fourth quarter and the full year, respectively, compared to those of the same periods in 2016,” according to the company.

“Despite the positive traction of our value-before-volume strategy in Colombia, where our cement prices in December were about 3.5% higher than they were in June of 2017, as well as the positive results in Costa Rica and our rest-of-CLH region, during the [fourth] quarter not only cement price levels in Colombia continued well below those of last year, but also national cement consumption in Colombia and Panama remained subdued,” added Cemex Latam CEO Jaime Muguiro.

According to CLH, EBITDA “was negatively affected as our cement prices in Colombia declined by 12% and 19%, in local-currency terms, during the fourth quarter and full year, respectively, compared to those of the same periods in 2016.”

However, “in Colombia, after four consecutive quarters of declines in our cement prices, in local currency terms, they increased by 2% during the fourth quarter, on a sequential basis. Our successful cost containment efforts in Colombia helped us partially offset the negative effect of lower demand for our products in the country,” CLH added.

Maceo, Antioquia Plant Awaits License OK

Meanwhile, Cemex’s US$420 million cement plant in Maceo, Antioquia, continues to lack a crucial operating permit that would enable start-up at its rated capacity of 1.3 million tonnes per year. The company has expressed hopes that the permit snag could be overcome by year-end 2018.


Colombia’s national economic statistics agency (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadistica, DANE) revealed February 5 that full-year 2017 exports jumped 19% year-on-year, to US$37.8 billion, up from US$31.7 billion in 2016 -- a year that saw exports drop 11.8% year-on-year.

By dollar value, petroleum and mining exports led the field, up 32.4% year-on-year, mainly from coal, petroleum coke and briquettes, DANE found.

Agricultural, food and beverage exports rose 7.2% -- mainly thanks to a rise in palm-oil export -- while manufacturing exports rose 2.4%, up from a 10% net decline in 2016, according to DANE.

By department, Antioquia once again led the nation in 2017, accounting for 18.1% of total national exports (excluding petroleum).

Exports in the broad “other” category in 2017 rose 15.7%, mainly from a rise in gold exports (dominated by Antioquia).

The USA once again led all nations in share of receipt of Colombia exports, at 29.7% of the total, followed by (in order) Panamá, China, Netherlands, México, Ecuador and Turkey, according to DANE.


Page 11 of 35

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About Medellin Herald

Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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