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Medellin-based insurance and investment giant Grupo Sura revealed in a May 15 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that it suffered a COP$75.9 billion (US$19 million) net loss for first quarter (1Q) 2020, down from a COP$560 billion (US$143 million) net profit in 1Q 2019.

The company cited a “challenging environment that has forced companies to adapt many of their operating models to be able to continue serving their customers and fulfilling their goal of creating added value” in the face of the Coronavirus crisis.

Operating earnings fell 71% year-on-year, to COP$244 billion (US$62 million), mainly due to “lower investment income as a result of a widespread depreciation of financial assets on a global level, which had a greater impact on the income obtained from the legal reserves of our pension fund management firms” as well as “lower revenues obtained via the equity method from [part-owned] Bancolombia mainly due to higher provisions, as well as from [retirement-fund specialist] Proteccion given lower returns obtained from its legal reserves,” according to the company.

These negative factors undercut “sustained growth in operating income from insurance premiums, health care services and asset management fees and commissions,” according to Sura.

The company’s financial-segment losses hit COP$324 billion (US$82.8 million) -- down 161% year-on-year – “mainly due to the accounting effect of the depreciation of the Colombian peso on the exchange difference, related to the unhedged portion of the dollar-denominated debt maturing in 2026,” according to Sura.

“All of this produced a net loss of COP$75.9 billion (US$19 million), which is mainly due to the aforementioned negative effects that do not constitute any cash outflow,” the company added.

“The negative effect of exchange-rate differences and hedging appraisals [are tied to] the depreciation of the exchange rate during the first quarter of this year. The company has hedged its U.S. dollar-denominated debt, but a portion of the principal due in 2026 still shows a total exposure to the dollar."

The “Suramericana” insurance division posted a 14.6% gain in premiums -- mainly in life, property, casualty and health insurance -- to COP$4.3 trillion (US$1.1 billion). But net income nevertheless fell 9.89% year-on-year, to COP$106.7 billion (US$27 million).

“In spite of a positive level of operating performance, net income was affected by a decline with investment income, mainly due to the loss of marked-to-market investment portfolios in some geographies,” the company added.

The “Sura Asset Management” investment division posted a net loss of COP$129.8 billion (US$33 million), mainly because of loss-making performance of the company’s legal reserves “as well as revenues obtained from [retirement-fund specialist] Proteccion via equity method, all of which produced a negative contribution given lower returns from the aforementioned portfolios,” according to the company.

“These losses mainly correspond to the negative returns posted on the pension funds' own investment portfolios (legal reserves) which were negatively impacted by losses in value with the large majority of financial assets on a global level, which nevertheless managed to partially recover in April and May,” according to Sura.

Results also were hurt by a drop in investment income “given falling prices of fixed-income securities in Argentina” as well as a “26.1% drop in retained premiums in Chile” and “increased administrative expense on the part of our Uruguayan subsidiary.”

Sura’s health care segment showed a drop in net income “mainly due to the IPS [Colombia hospital and clinic] and diagnostic-aid providers, since these health care subsidiaries invested in expanding their capacities for providing the support and services required in preparation for the Covid-19 crisis,” according to the company.

“This entailed increasing the number of health professionals, which today number approximately 10,000, as well as deploying the required technology for providing on-line attention as well as defraying the cost of [Coronavirus] sample taking.”

On the other hand, Sura’s EPS health-insurance network in Colombia “performed much better than in 1Q 2019, thereby confirming the current trend toward obtaining better results during the second half of 2019 and first quarter of 2020," according to the company.

“At the end of 1Q 2020, the technical results posted by Suramericana did not present any significant impact due to the Covid-19 pandemic, since the infection curve, as well as the corresponding government actions and the measures taken by the company in the different countries where present, were still at a very early stage,” according to Sura.

“At this juncture, and given the situation that Covid-19 poses for our different businesses, the estimates drawn up by the company show that corresponding impacts shall place pressure on sustaining our operating results in the short term, particularly with regard to the life and health care insurance segments as a result of the increase in claims that this pandemic represents, as well as the non-life insurance segment, given the economic and social consequences that the current lockdown measures may cause mainly in 2020,” the company cautioned.


Colombia’s economic statistics agency (Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística, DANE) announced May 15 that the Covid-19 crisis -- bursting on the scene in the latter part of first quarter (1Q) 2020 -- took a big bite out of gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials).

As a result, Colombia PIB grew by just 1.1% in 1Q 2020, down from 2.9% growth in 1Q 2019, according to DANE.

The best-performing economic activities in 1Q 2020 were agriculture, livestock, forestry and fishing (up 6.8%); followed by public administration, defense, compulsory contributions to social security plans, education and health care (up 3.4%); and finally real-estate activites (up 2.6%), according to DANE.

However, the worst-performing sectors were construction (down 11.4%); manufacturing industries (down 4.5%); and home-based businesses (down 3.9%), according to DANE.

During 1Q 2020, consumption expenditures rose 3.7% year-on-year, but gross capital formation declined by 6.7%; exports fell 6.1%; and imports declined 2.5%, according to DANE.


Stung by the Coronavirus crisis, Medellin-based electric power, cement and airport/highways concessionaire Grupo Argos announced May 14 that its first quarter (1Q) 2020 net income plunged to COP$26 billion (US$6.6 million), down from COP$953 billion (US$243 million) in 1Q 2019.

Consolidated revenues for 1Q 2020 dipped 3% year-on-year, to COP$3.6 trillion (US$919 million).

Consolidated earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) closed at COP$819 billion (US$209 million), down from COP$953 billion (US$243 million) in 1Q 2019.

“The strategic businesses -- Cementos Argos, Celsia, Odinsa and the real estate business -- made positive contributions to both revenue and EBITDA, confirming the benefits and strength of the infrastructure portfolio diversification strategy,” according to Grupo Argos.

The company closed 1Q 2020 with consolidated reserves and credit lines totaling COP$1.2 trillion (US$306 million), “providing it with the financial flexibility and liquidity required for this moment in time,” according to Grupo Argos.

In addition to its reserves and credit lines, Grupo Argos also touted a COP$520 billion (US$133 million) cost-reduction plan and postponement of COP$870 billion (US$222 million) in investments.

“These efforts, which will continue expanding, initially represent close to COP$2.5 trillion [US$638 million] in essential resources that provide the company with greater maneuvering space at this time,” according to the company.

Meanwhile, “in the areas of philanthropy and corporate citizenship, Grupo Argos has contributed over COP$16.5 billion [US$4.2 million] to strengthen the healthcare system and support the country’s most vulnerable families,” according to the company.

“Grupo Argos has defined the health and well-being of its collaborators and families as its top priority, together with protecting the employment of close to 14,000 people. Along these lines, it has implemented a strategy that includes ongoing medical, social, physical and emotional assistance for all its employees, including those that are working from home.

“Simultaneously, the organization has set aside over COP$3.5 billion [US$898,000] for supporting vulnerable populations that depend on informal work with food assistance that is reaching over 110,000 families with assistance and support from other allies,” the company added.


Wall Street bond rater Fitch Ratings on May 14 unveiled a report finding that Colombia will struggle to fill a fiscal hole next year because of economic damage and revenue losses in the Coronavirus crisis -- along with continuing pressures to boost social spending.

In the current crisis, the Colombian government has been spending billions of dollars in subsidies for hospitals and poorer patients, for health-care workers, for millions of private-sector workers, for indigent families -- and simultaneously helping to restore liquidity for micro-, small, medium and larger businesses during the Covid-19 quarantine shutdowns.

“Further reductions to our growth forecasts for Colombia (BBB-/Negative rating) due to the Coronavirus pandemic will mean faster increases in budget deficits and public debt this year,” the Fitch report warns.

“For Colombia, we forecast a [2020 GDP] contraction of 4.5%, compared with negative 2% previously. [These] revisions reflect the extension of domestic lockdown measures with a large impact on consumption and investment as well as the Coronavirus pandemic’s broader effects on lower commodity prices, higher funding costs and capital outflows . . .

“In Colombia, the likely fall in oil production will also hit growth [while] deep recession magnifies fiscal deterioration. We forecast Colombia’s central government deficit to rise to 7% compared with our previous forecast of 5.5%.

“Colombia’s debt-to-GDP ratio will rise to 55%, up more than and 10 percentage points from 2019.

“The Colombian government recently announced further support measures including wage subsidies for some companies and deferring income tax payments until December, as well as increasing fiscal stimulus spending to 2.4% of GDP, from 1.4%,” Fitch noted.

In addition, Colombia’s central bank has “lowered policy rates and provided liquidity to credit markets through bond-buying programs among other measures. Lack of fiscal consolidation that allows government debt to continue rising is a negative rating sensitivity for sovereign [debt],” the rating agency added.

“Colombia’s finance minister has mentioned possible tax reform next year . . .However, continuing deterioration in near-term economic and fiscal prospects increases the importance of formulating credible medium-term plans, including fiscal reforms on the revenue or expenditure sides, to sustainably restore growth and stabilize debt.

“Failure to address the risk of lasting economic damage stemming from the current crisis would intensify pressure on the rating.

“Weaker growth prospects would adversely affect debt dynamics and could exacerbate social tensions, in Fitch’s view.

“Colombia faces challenges raising tax revenues over the medium term, especially given the expected loss of oil-related revenues worth over 1% of GDP in 2021 and reduced tax revenues due to the 2019 Economic Growth Law.”

What’s more, Colombia faces “social and political pressures to increase pension, healthcare and education spending, highlighted by protests between October and November 2019.

“Elections in May 2022 in Colombia may narrow the window of opportunity for reforms,” the company added.

Bancolombia Analysis

On a parallel front, Medellin-based banking giant Bancolombia issued a new report analyzing the impact of the gradual reopening of the Colombian economy during the Covid-19 crisis.

“In the first phase of compulsory isolation, between March 20 and April 26, the Colombian productive apparatus had an effective operating percentage of 65%,” the report found.

“This [productive-sector operational] figure increased to 77% in the second phase, from April 27 to May 10.

“In the first phase and second phase of quarantine, the economy would have stopped producing around COP$900 billion [US$230 million] and COP$600 billion [US$153 million] per day.

“Since May 11, the operating percentage would have risen to 82% and the new daily cost would drop to COP$460 billion [US$117 million].

“The gradual reopening of some productive sectors can reduce the economic cost of quarantine by about COP$10 trillion [US$2.55 billion],” Bancolombia found.

“The aforementioned [analysis] led to the estimated annual variation in productive activity [GDP growth] going from 2.7% in the quarter ending in March to almost -10% towards mid-April, when it bottomed out.

“In the second half of April and the first days of May, the decrease has moderated to -7.6%. As a result, we calculate that the total cost of mandatory quarantine [through May 11] can be COP$48 trillion [US$12.2 billion].

“Therefore, it is shown that the safe operation of more productive sectors can mitigate the significant economic effect that the Covid-19 [quarantine] brings,” Bancolombia concluded.


Medellin-based XM – operator of Colombia’s national electric power dispatch-and-trading market – on May 14 announced that relatively low rainfall this year might require Colombians to take steps to conserve water and power consumption.

“Although it is true that the country's [hydropower dam] reservoirs are at historic minimum levels, the Colombian energy matrix has 17.5-gigawatts [GW] of installed capacity, of which 11-GW is hydraulic [hydropower], 5.1 GW-thermal [natural gas, oil and coal-fired], and the rest, approximately 1-GW, corresponds to smaller plants,” stated Jaime Alejandro Zapata Uribe, XM’s national dispatch center manager.

“This means that our matrix has a hydro and thermal [compensatory] composition that is complemented by low hydrological events.

“For the summer season of 2020-2021, it is necessary to carry out a permanent review of the evolution of contributions to the system, an adequate management of resources, monitor the evolution of demand and the different variables that allow us to attend in a reliable way the summer season. It also seems important to us to invite Colombians to make efficient use of energy and water consumption in their homes,” he said

According to XM, “in the short term, there are no risks in meeting demand. The reservoirs of the National Interconnected System [SIN] are at historic lows, due to the unusual reduction in rainfall.

“According to IDEAM [the national weather bureau] predictions, it is possible that in June and July 2020 there will be a deficit in water contributions to the system. There is uncertainty regarding the climatic conditions for the second semester and the summer 2020-2021.”

In the medium term – over the next two years -- “there are no evident difficulties, under normal conditions, in the provision of [power] service,” according to XM.

“However, extreme conditions of dry hydrologies or other unexpected situations could lead the system to a risky condition for the provision of the service in the following summer of 2020-2021,” the company added.

“Thermal generation above last-year’s average could be required for prolonged periods, which would require adequate resource management and sector coordination to respond to situations of water supply deficits,” XM concluded.


The Medellin Mayor’s Office on May 13 hailed Medellin’s national leadership in the annual “Global Big Day” survey of bird species in Colombia and world-wide on May 9..


Medellin-based highway construction giant Construcciones El Condor revealed in a May 13 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that its first quarter (1Q) 2020 net income dropped 76.7% year-on-year, to COP$7.3 billion (US$1.86 million) because of the Coronavirus-crisis shutdowns.

Revenues likewise fell by 19.7% year-on-year, to COP$186 billion (US$47.5 million) -- almost entirely caused by the “interruption in the execution of works due to the Covid-19 pandemic as of March 17 of this year,” according to El Condor.

Operating costs were COP$164 billion (US$41.8 million), 88% of revenue from ordinary activities, while administrative expenses accounted for 3.43% of revenue. Operating margin was 9.21% of revenues.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) came-in at COP$26 billion (US$6.6 million), while EBITDA margin fell to 14.14%, compared to 21.7% in 1Q 2019.

Total assets for 1Q 2020 finished at COP$2.2 trillion (US$560 million), of which 47% are current assets and 53% are non-current assets.

Cash and cash equivalents closed at COP$56.5 billion (US$14 million), up 80% compared to the end of December 2019. “This allows the company to have sufficient liquidity to face the interruption in the execution of works caused by the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to El Condor.

Liabilities closed at COP$1.16 trillion (US$295 million). 52% of which are current and 48% are non-current. “This demonstrates the company's strategy to continue maintaining the average duration of debt in the long term,” according to El Condor.

Construction backlog -- the balance of works contracted and to-be-executed -- totaled COP$931 billion (US$237 million) at the end of 1Q 2020.

“This calculation takes into account COP$186 billion (US$47 million) of the invoicing executed during the [latest] quarter, discounting dividends and income not associated with said services,” according to El Condor.


Medellin-based multinational electric-power transmission, highways concessions and telecom-services operator ISA announced May 12 that its first quarter (1Q) 2020 net income rose 7.2% year-on-year, to COP$378 billion (US$97 million).

The profitability improvement “was mainly due to higher revenues from the initiation of new project operations in Peru, Colombia, and Chile; higher revenues from the December [power-transmission tariff] inflation adjustment in Brazil; and positive macroeconomic variables effects in Colombia,” according to ISA.

Operating revenues rose 14%, to COP$2.1 trillion (US$538 million), while earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 7.5%, to COP$1.3 trillion (US$333 million).

“These results reflect a rigorous and efficient administration, operation and maintenance (AOM) [system] for costs and expenses,” according to ISA. “Net margin closed at 18.3% and return-on-equity reached 13.1%, as evidence of the company's financial efficiency and focus on profitability.”

Corporate-wide assets rose 5.2%, to COP$51.3 trillion (US$13.1 billion), while liabilities rose 11.6%, to COP$30.9 trillion (US$7.9 billion), “explained by COP$2 trillion [US$512 million] of debt in Peru and Chile due to the devaluation of the COP with respect to the dollar and to the Chilean peso,” according to ISA.

Net debt-to-EBITDA and EBITDA-to-financial-expenses ratios closed at 3.01x and 6.14x, “complying with the levels needed in order to maintain the current credit rating,” according to ISA.

Investments in 1Q 2020 totaled COP$986 billion (US$252 million), mainly on construction projects.

Among highlights from 1Q 2020:

1. ISA Perú inked a deal to acquire 100% of the shares of Orazul Energy Perú S.A. and Orazul Energy (UK) Holdings. “The latter is owner of ETENORTE and ETESELVA, which operate six transmission lines, totaling 746 kilometers, with an approximate annual revenues of US$13 million,” according to ISA.

2. In Colombia, ISA won a bid for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of the La Loma-Sogamoso 500-kV transmission line and related works. “This project will reinforce service to the northern part of the country, facilitating the connection of unconventional renewable energy sources. It represents annual revenues of US$9.4 million,” the company added.

3. Corporate-wide construction revenues totaled COP$315 billion (US$80 million), up 41.9% year-on-year. “This change was explained by greater construction works in the road concessions business unit and by improvements, reinforcements, and new energy transmission projects,” according to ISA.

4. Corporate-wide power-transmission revenues rose 14%, to COP$175 billion (US$45 million). This improvement came from “entry-into-operation of projects in Colombia, Chile, and Peru between 2019 and 2020 (COP$34 billion/US$8.7 million)” along with “higher revenues in ISA CTEEP [Brazil power transmission] and its companies as a result of the net inflation adjustments [to transmission tariffs] and higher returns from accounts receivable coming from the increase in construction activity (COP$11 billion/US$2.8 million),” according to ISA.

5. Corporate-wide road concessions revenues dipped 8.7% year-on-year, to COP$22 billion (US$5.6 million) “as a result of the revaluation of the Colombian peso versus the Chilean peso and lower financial returns from concessions, given the decrease in the accounts receivables due to the concession time elapsed.”

6. Corporate-wide telecommunications revenues rose 9.2%, to COP$7.6 billion (US$1.9 million) “mainly due to the increase in the sale of capacities in Colombia, Peru, and Chile,” according to ISA.

 


Medellin-based supermarket giant Grupo Éxito announced May 12 that its first-quarter (1Q) 2020 operating income jumped 12% year-on-year to COP$4.05 trillion (US$1.04 billion), not including peso/dollar exchange rate effects.

Recurring earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 4% year-on-year, to COP$262.8 billion (US$67.7 million) with an EBITDA margin of 6.5%.

Net profits also rose to COP$22 billion (US$5.67 million), up from a COP$13.6 billion (US$3.5 million) net loss in 1Q 2019 – but not comparable because of the sale of Brazil operations last year.

“Since the beginning of the Covid-19 health emergency, Grupo Éxito has made investments and activities framed in three areas: care and protection of employees and clients, preservation of employment and the promotion of solidarity to build [Colombia] together, as a way of strengthen the sustainability of the company in the medium and long term,” according to Éxito.

“We have also promoted sales on virtual channels and home deliveries with great dynamism -- trends that are reinforced in the [quarantined] market," the company added.

Colombia sales rose 10.4% year-on-year, to COP$3 trillion (US$773 million), while “sales excluding the Covid-19 effect grew by 6.3%,” according to the company.

“The result in Colombia was mainly leveraged by the positive results of the innovative formats and the omnichannel strategy that together contributed more than 50% to sales growth in the first quarter of the year, isolating the impact of Covid-19.

“Electronic commerce channels and direct home delivery in Colombia had an important performance and represented 5.2% of the company’s total sales, compared to 4.5% at the end of 2019, growing by 44.6%.

“Commercial efforts focused on expanding logistics and technological capacity to meet the growth of virtual channels and home deliveries, which increased the number of shipments by 36%,” the company added.

“Innovative formats such as ‘Éxito Wow,’ whose sales grew by 14.6% in the first quarter -- more than twice what the rest of the brand’s stores grew -- already represent 17.8% of total sales. Carulla ‘FreshMarket’ saw an increase of 24.7%, 11 percentage points above the rest of the stores, and represented 26.7% of the brand’s sales.

“Finally, sales at the ‘Surtimayorista’ cash- and-carry format stores grew by 13.3% and represent 4% of Grupo Éxito’s totals in Colombia,” according to the company.

Coronavirus Initiatives

During 1Q 2020, Exito installed thousands of acrylic shields in supermarkets and at its wholesale warehouses to avoid cross-infections between customers, checkout clerks, truck drivers, home-delivery transporters and others.

The company also installed “deep disinfection with manual spray equipment in 524 warehouses,” provided 1,300 thermometers at all stores for taking temperatures of employees, provided basic hygiene kits for employees including gloves, face masks, acrylic glasses and safe hydration, and installed antibacterial gel dispensers and disinfection processes for all supermarket carts and baskets.

The company also implemented a new “buy and collect” service at 366 wholesale warehouses “so that customers can make virtual or telephone market orders and receive merchandise at no [extra] cost,” with goods loaded directly into their vehicles.

The company also made advance payments totaling nearly COP$60 billion (US$15 million) to help some 867 small and medium-size vendors deal with liquidity issues during this crisis.

Besides producing more than 20 million cloth face masks in 50 of its private-label workshops, the company also relocated some 270 of its nearly 40,000 employees from “areas of the company that have restrictions to operate” to other stores.

In addition, Exito subsidized more than 600,000 bags of 12 basic food items – sold at cost -- to poorer customers, while donating another COP$5.3 billion (US$1.37 million) of free foods for the Fundación Éxito early-childhood protection program.

Uruguay, Argentina Results

In Uruguay, Éxito saw a 12.8% growth in sales in local currency, “driven by better performance in the summer season, the omnichannel strategy and the ‘fresh market’ model, which represented 43.5% of total sales,” according to Éxito.

In Argentina, sales rose 48.7% in local currency terms while EBITDA soared to COP$4.9 billion (US$1.26 million), up from COP$1.5 billion (US$387,000) in 1Q 2019.


Medellin-based banking giant Bancolombia announced May 11 that 634 of its 684 branches nationwide are now open -- all with Covid-19-avoidance biosafety protocols, with many locations operating from 9:00 am at 4:00 pm daily, but closed Saturdays.

“The curfew decrees and other measures adopted in municipalities and localities of the country will be respected,” according to Bancolombia.

“We will continue with the policy of not allowing more than 50 people to enter a branch at one time” and “the use of face masks is mandatory,” according to the company, Colombia’s biggest bank.

“In all the branches that will be opened, we have installed acrylic shields in the cashier and advisory areas in order to create physical distance between employees and customers.

“We will deliver customer service [queuing] cards up to 15 minutes before the closure of each branch in order to be able to comply with biosafety standards and protocols. We reinforce all hygiene measures and cleaning cycles inside the offices.

“From this date [May 11] we will activate 80% of our commercial team, which has all the protection measures already mentioned. The remaining 20% of the human team of branches will continue in preventive isolation, including people at high risk, such as adults over 60, pregnant women and lactating mothers,” the company added.

“Bogotá will open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. continuously, and a pilot program with these same hours is already operating in Medellín at 23 of the 90 offices in the metropolitan area, in order to test the volume of traffic of employees and customers at times of greater concentration and mobility.”

However, Bancolombia has eliminated Saturday and extended-hours services -- at least for now, the company added.

 


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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.

Medellin Herald welcomes your editorial contributions, comments and story-idea suggestions. Send us a message using the "contact" section.

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