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Colombia-based cement/concrete producer Cemex LatAm Holdings revealed in a February 12 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that its full-year 2019 net profits plummeted to US$4 million, from US$63 million in 2018.

For fourth quarter (4Q) 2019, the company posted a net loss of US$3 million, compared to a 4Q 2018 net profit of US$10 million.

Sales for full-year 2019 likewise declined 11% year-on-year and 9% quarter-on-quarter, according to Cemex LatAm.

Results in Colombia generally improved, compared to company operations elsewhere in Latin America.

“In Colombia, our net sales and operating [cash] flow improved by 7% and 3%, respectively, in terms of local currency throughout the year 2019,” according to Cemex.

Cement prices in Colombia rose by 11% from December 2018 to December 2019 in terms of Colombian pesos, while sales volumes improved by 9% during 2019.

As for the current outlook on expected sales volumes in Colombia, Cemex estimates that 2020 cement volumes will decline by 4% to 6%, but concrete volumes should rise by 3% to 5%.

In the Colombia residential sector, “we estimate that national cement shipments to this sector increased by a low digits during 4Q 2019 and the full year, compared to the same periods last year,” according to Cemex.

“Cement volumes for the self-construction segment [in Colombia] improved during 2019, driven by economic recovery and remittances [of U.S. dollars from Colombians working overseas].

“In [Colombia’s] social housing segment, indicators such as permits, launches and sales improved in double digits during the last six months.”

As for Colombia’s infrastructure sector, “this was the sector with the best performance during 2019, increasing in double digits. We expect the national cement/concrete demand for the fourth generation ['4G' highway construction program] to increase more than 50% in 2020.

“Our [2019] volumes for this sector were supported by 4G projects, as well as projects in Bogotá such as the Salitre water treatment plant and the CETIC Hospital, among other projects throughout the country,” Cemex added.

Commenting on the over-all results, Cemex LatAm general director Jesús González stated that the company is “satisfied with our results in Colombia.”

“However, our consolidated results were affected by the depreciation of the Colombian peso against the U.S. dollar and much weaker markets in Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. To respond to this challenge -- and as part of our ‘stronger Cemex’ plan in 2019 -- we achieved recurring savings of US$20 million and dedicated our free cash flow to reduce financial debt.

“During 2019, our free cash flow improved by 68%, reaching US$93 million and reducing our net debt by US$92 million dollars, or 11%.

"Additionally, during December we refinanced loans with maturity in 2020. Now, our debt maturity profile is more manageable, and we have no significant debt maturities until December 2022."

Beyond Colombia, Cemex LatAm’s corporate-wide 4Q 2019 volumes of gray cement, concrete and aggregates decreased by 3%, 13% and 10%, respectively, compared to 4Q 2018.

In Panama, 4Q 2019 cash flow dropped by 23%, to US$10 million. Net 4Q sales likewise fell 27%, to US$38 million, according to the company.

In Costa Rica, 4Q 2019 cash flow fell 27%, to US$7 million, while net sales fell 20%, to US$22 million.

In the rest of its operating areas (Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala), cash flow fell 25% year-on- year in 4Q 2019, to US$14 million, while 4Q 2019 net sales declined 11% year-on-year, to US$52 million.

Spain-based Air Europa announced February 10 that it’s expanding its Medellin-Madrid-Medellin nonstop service to four times per week (up from three currently) starting in April 2020.

“This new operation, which responds to the good [market-demand] behavior shown by the route since its launch [last June], will mean an average increase of 30.7% in the number of seats,” according to the company.

The Medellin-Madrid-Medellin service attracted 44,000 passengers last year, with plane occupancy rates “close to 90%,” according to the company, a division of the Globalia tourism conglomerate.

The expansion means that Air Europa nonstop service on Boeing 787-8 “Dreamliners” will include Fridays in addition to Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

The new-generation, fuel-efficient planes carry 274 passengers in economy class and 22 in business, “generating less [greenhouse gas] emissions than any other aircraft of similar size,” according to Air Europa.

Via its hub operations in Madrid, “Air Europa will consolidate other destinations on its international map with an increase in frequencies and the progressive arrival of the new Boeing 787-9” aircraft, according to the company.

“The Air Europa fleet is one of the most modern on the [European] continent. It consists of more than 50 aircraft whose average age does not exceed four years,” according to the company.

Air Europa is a member of the SkyTeam alliance, formed by 19 airlines that collectively transport more than 630 million passengers annually through 15,400 daily flights to more than 1,000 destinations in more than 170 countries.

A report claiming ties between former President Alvaro Uribe and imprisoned Mexican drug kingpin “El Chapo” Guzman has now prompted even President Uribe’s longest-running, harshest media critic to trash the report as unsubstantiated.

The apparent fake-news report – first broadcast by fired former Colombian Attorney General’s Office investigator and convicted criminal Richard Maok, and subsequently repeated in UK-based newspaper Daily Mail --also prompted President Uribe’s lawyers to issue an unusual February 10 news release contradicting the report.

The biggest surprise, however, came from fierce Uribe critic, former Semana magazine columnist and now Univision editorial director Daniel Coronell, who trashed the apparent fake-news story, pulling it from Univision broadcasts “because I consider that this report hasn’t been verified by independent [rather than the usual anti-Uribe, left-wing-biased] journalists,” Coronell stated.

In addition, President Uribe’s Bogota-based attorneys Jaime Granados and Jaime Lombana issued the following press release (obtained by Medellin Herald) denouncing the Maok report as a fantastical fabrication:

“Responding to new calumnies proffered against President Alvaro Uribe Velez, we state the following:

“Richard Maok is a fugitive from Colombian justice, condemned [by the Colombian Supreme Court] for grave crimes against the administration of national justice.

“Aided by political sectors adverse to President Uribe [including left-wing Senator and former M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro], Maok fled to Canada where he enjoys immunity from his crimes.

“Since years ago, this shadowy person has proffered a series of infamies against various public persons including Luis Camilo Osorio, former Attorney General [of Colombia]. These ‘denunciations’ [by Maok], lacking any seriousness, have been debunked.

“Now, [Maok] has chosen President Uribe as victim of his absurd calumnies, trying to link [Uribe] to the Sinaloa cartel. Lamentably, international news media have echoed these fantastical tales, staining the good name of President Uribe.

“President Uribe has been recognized globally and regionally as one of the most important leaders in the struggle against narcotrafficking. Statistics [during Uribe’s two terms as President] are unprecedented: Reduction [of coca plantation areas] from 180,000 hectares during Plan Colombia to 62,000; more than 1,150 [cocaine traffickers] extradited [to the United States]; seizures of cocaine rising from 95 tonnes in 2002 to more than 1,330 tonnes at the end of his term – achievements that were key in the transformation of Colombia and our democracy. Because of that he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest decoration given by the U.S. government to any civilian,” the bulletin from Uribe’s lawyers concludes.

Medellin-based real-estate developer Valores Simesa on February 7 reported an after-tax profit of COP$21.1 billion (US$6.1 million) for full-year 2019 -- and simultaneously revealed in a filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera agency a proposed COP$20 billion (US$5.8 million) stock buyback.

Simesa is the developer of the giant “Ciudad del Rio” residential, commercial and office-building project on the site of the former Siderurgica Simesa iron/steel mill in Medellin.

According to the company’s most recent annual report, two-thirds of Simesa’s stock is held by the investment banking division of Medellin-based Bancolombia.

Simesa’s board of directors wil put the stock-buyback proposal to a vote at the anual stockholders meeting March 11 in the Medellin Museum of Modern Art (MAMM), located in Ciudad del Rio.

Medellin-based textiles and waste-plastics recycling specialist Enka Colombia revealed in a February 6 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that its full-year 2019 net profits jumped 253% year-on-year, to COP$15 billion (US$4.4 million).

“In addition to good operating results, the net result was favored by lower financial expense due to the reduction in indebtedness, the better impact due to exchange differences and a lower tax burden as a result of the [2019 Colombia tax-reform] financing law,” according to Enka.

Operating revenues came-in at COP$402 billion (US$118 million), with exports accounting for 45% of sales.

“Brazil, the United States and Canada stand out as the main destinations because of our focus on added value and growth potential,” according to Enka.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) rose 13% year-on-year, to COP$35.8 billion (US$10.5 million), while EBITDA margin on sales improved from 7.7% in 2018 to 8.9% in 2019 – “the best result in the company's recent history,” according to Enka.

“The main factors for the good operational result were the devaluation of the peso [against the U.S. dollar], the greater collection of plastic bottles [which Enka converts into synthetic fibers] and the diversification of markets.”

Meanwhile, Enka’s board of directors will propose to its March 12 shareholders meeting that 2019 profits would be redirected to absorb losses from previous years.

Foreign investment promotion agency ProColombia announced February 6 the upcoming launch of its annual “Business Matchmaking Forum” at Medellin’s Plaza Mayor convention center -- expected to attract more than 3,000 entrepreneurs along with hundreds of international corporate buyers.

The event (see:, “is one of ProColombia’ s most relevant promotional activities,” said ProColombia President Flavia Santoro.

“International buyers from all over the world will have the opportunity to see a great sampling of Colombia’s export offerings in the agribusiness, technology, manufacture and apparel sectors. North American companies, which can take advantage of the free trade agreement with Colombia, will find a competitive offer of goods and services in our country,” Santoro added.

Five industrial/commercial sectors are represented.

For the ag sector, offerings include aquaculture and fisheries, beef and pork, fruits and vegetables, and flowers.

The apparel sector will feature leather goods, footwear, bathing suits, undergarments and other types of clothing.

For the “industry 4.0” (high-tech) sector, there will be digital and information tech services as well as software development services.

The chemical, industrial and consumer-goods sector will feature cosmetics, packaging and containers, pharmaceutical products and hospital equipment.

Finally, the manufacturing sector will include construction materials, auto parts, furniture, wood and more.

As for buyers, “among those expected to attend are large retail chains, supermarkets, department stores, state companies and distributors, as well as recognized international marketers who sell directly to the final consumer,” including e-commerce vendors, according to ProColombia.

Last year’s version of the Matchmaking Forum generated more than 10,000 business meetings, “which led to tangible business contacts worth US$400 million, 28% more than in 2018,” according to ProColombia

During the 2019 event, 937 buyers from 52 countries “had the opportunity to meet Colombian talent, represented by 2,097 entrepreneurs from 25 Colombian departments,” according to the agency.

Colombia’s giant national technical/technological training institute SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje) announced February 4 a COP$20 billion (US$6 million) investment in a new training-center campus in La Ceja, Antioquia -- serving multiple municipalities in Medellin’s “oriente” region.

According to the joint announcement by La Ceja Mayor Nelson Carmona Lopera and SENA director Carlos Mario Estrada, the new training center will debut in 2021, following construction work that begins in mid-2020, on a 13,200-square-meters lot donated by SENA.

The new center will provide “free, innovative and quality higher education,” focusing upon technical and technological training, according to SENA’s Estrada.

The investment “fulfills the dream of generating projects for the benefit of higher education as the transforming engine of society, while contributing to expand employment and development alternatives for the locality and region,” according to the Mayor’s press statement.

“Our [training center] headquarters will offer the opportunity to access free technical and technological education of relevance to the region and is very close to the [public bus] transport terminal,” Mayor Carmona said.

The center “will have programs that will contribute to the ‘orange’ [creative, higher-tech] economy, and will offer development [courses] for entrepreneurship, science and innovation,” he added.

During 2019, SENA trained more than 8.8 million apprentices through the 117 training centers in all 33 regional departments and 1,100 municipalities in Colombia.

In order to boost chances for post-training employment, SENA has established alliances with world-leading technology companies including Amazon Web Services, Siemens, Mnemo Colombia SAS, Bosch Rexroth, Festo, Huawei, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, LG, Samsung and others, focusing upon “cybersecurity, cloud computing, big data, block chain, internet of things, application development and software,” according to the institute.

In addition, the SENA-administered Public Employment Agency (PEA) last year enrolled another 25,546 companies posting job vacancies, generating 452,531 placements, helping to reduce Colombia’s national unemployment rates -- currently more than 10% thanks in part to more than 2 million impoverished Venezuelans that have fled that socialist dictatorship in the last four years.

The record-breaking job placements came about thanks in part to 266 job-fair events by PEA mobile offices in 134 municipalities of the country, the development of 401 employment micro-apprenticeships, and 159 international job-posting campaigns offering 1,269 vacancies for "Colombians interested in working in countries such as Canada, Spain, the United States, France, Mexico, Ecuador, Malta and Romania,” according to SENA.

Meanwhile, through its “Entrepreneurship Fund,” SENA last year loaned COP$100 billion (US$29 million) in seed capital for 801 new small-business initiatives, generating 4,600 new jobs in the “formal” (tax-paying, benefits-generating) sector.

On another notable front, the University of Texas at San Antonio has just certified the 33 SENA regional educational institutes as meeting U.S. Small Business Development Center (SBDC) standards – the first such certification in all Latin America.

Medellin-based textile giant Coltejer on January 29 revealed in a filing with Colombia’s corporate oversight agency Superfinanciera that it suffered a full-year 2019 net loss of COP$24.9 billion (US$7.2 million), a small improvement over the COP$28.9 billion (US$8.5 million) net loss in 2018.

Sales also dipped slightly, to COP$141.9 billion (US$41.7 million ) in 2019 versus COP$144 billion (US$42 million) in 2018, while total corporate-wide income dipped to COP$172 billion (US$50 million) versus COP$176 billion (US$51.7 million) in 2018.

However, operating income improved to COP$13 billion (US$3.8 million) compared to COP$6.8 billion (US$2 million ) in 2018.

Coltejer and other major textile producers in Colombia have been suffering losses mainly because of contraband textile and clothing imports, which Colombian police recently estimated at US$3 billion last year.

In a related note, Coltejer stated that its annual shareholders meeting will be held February 20, 2020, at company headquarters.

Switzerland-based global cement/concrete giant LafargeHolcim announced January 28 that it aims to invest US$10 million in a new information-technology research center next year for all the Americas at the Ruta N technology incubation center in Medellin.

According to the official press bulletin from the Medellin Mayor’s office, the new research center will employ 250 people initially and eventually expand to more than 1,000.

“This is the way forward for Medellín to become a valley of software,” boasted Mayor Daniel Quintero Calle.

Holcim already employs 864 people in Medellin at its shared services center. Company technology development here in recent years has enabled Holcim “to automate some processes and launch around 10 software robots,” according to the press bulletin.

The new “Americas Digital Center” at Ruta N will serve “the entire American continent,” according to the bulletin, replacing research centers in Brazil and Canada.

LafargeHolcim operates in 80 countries worldwide and employs more than 75,000.

Medellin-based Inexmoda – the international trade group for textiles and clothing – announced January 23 at the conclusion of the 32nd annual “Colombiatex” trade show here that anticipated sales deals soared to US$753 million -- up drastically from US$480 million last year.

The huge jump came even despite an anti-government protest march in Medellin (and also in Bogota), which blocked a few streets -- but otherwise had no impact on traffic through the vast Plaza Mayor convention center here.

In total, 546 exhibitors from 21 countries showed off their technologies, products and environmental sustainability efforts -- 328 of which came from Colombia. Of those, 46% were from Antioquia , 44% from Cundinamarca and 6% from Valle del Cauca, according to Inexmoda.

“The commercial exhibition was visited by 13,682 buyers, of which 12,587 were Colombians from regions including Antioquia (48%), Cundinamarca (20%) and Valle del Cauca (5%). In addition, 1,542 international buyers visited the event from countries including Ecuador (21%), Peru (17%) and Mexico (13%), among others,” according to the trade group.

The show also featured 114 brands touting “100% Colombian” products and services, including 18 innovative graphic designers in a special “Graphic Market” section.

Businesses in the city of Medellin nabbed another US$9.4 million in hotel, transport and restaurant sales, while hotel occupancy soared to 91% during the three-day show.

“According to studies by the research firm Invamer, business expectations are US$753 million, of which 56% materialized during the event and 44% could be achieved during the year following the event. The categories that activated these business deal were textiles (43%), machinery (12%), chemical inputs (11%), complete package (8%) and textile fibers (6%),” according to Inexmoda.

“There was an increase in the average [sales deal] ticket of 71%, which means an increase in the intention to purchase at Colombiatex 2020," the group added.

The exhibitors jammed every available corner of the 11,000 square meters available at Plaza Mayor, with India, Brazil, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Turkey, Pakistan and the USA predominating among the internationals.

Environmental sustainability was a key theme at this year’s edition, with many companies touting initiatives to slash water consumption, reduce waste, recycle fabrics, convert waste plastics to fabrics, and to employ biodegradable chemicals.

“Environmental sustainability is not an option for organizations, it is an obligation,” as Inexmoda CEO Carlos Eduardo Botero stated at the closing press conference. “We are entering an era where the economic sustainability of companies will depend on their environmental sustainability,” Botero added.

A related “trends forum” series of lectures here focused on spring-summer 2020 fashions, attracting some 2,000 attendees.

Beyond the trade-show and “trends-forum” stages, Colombiatex also featured 29 speakers on longer-term fashion, cultural, market and trading tendencies affecting the textile and clothing industries, in collaboration with Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB). An estimated 7,000 persons attended those lectures either in-person at the adjacent Teatro Metropolitano or via internet streaming, according to Inexmoda.

In one such presentation, Coronel Oscar Cortes, sub-director of Colombia’s National Tax and Customs Police, revealed that an estimated US$3 billion worth of contraband textiles, clothes and footwear entered Colombia last year -- with a huge negative impact on domestic textile producers.

“Corruption is always involved in contraband,” Cortes explained, adding that National Police have arrested many corrupt customs officials involved in such scams.

Despite a discouraging amount of illegal imports, Colombia’s National Tax and Customs Police are nevertheless making headway against contraband, seizing 11.9 million clothing items last year, up 12% year-on-year, he revealed.

Customs Police also intercepted 1.8 million square meters of textiles -- a 353% increase year-on-year. Another 933,000 pairs of contraband shoes were seized, up 28% year-on-year, he said.

Nearly all of this contraband arrives in shipping containers. Although Colombia inspects about 10% of these containers -- and has arrested many members of criminal groups involved in such trafficking -- more efforts are required to slash contraband volume, he conceded.

Narcotraffickers are often involved in such contraband, by laundering  U.S. dollars and Euros (which they obtain from cocaine exports) through China in exchange for contraband clothing, which then turns into “laundered” Colombian pesos upon sales in Colombia, he explained.

One effort to cut such contraband is the recent creation of “legal commercial zones” (or “ZCLs” in Spanish initials), mainly in Medellin, Bogota and Cali, where 551 clothing retailers are already registered and certified for the program, he 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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