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Colombia President Ivan Duque announced last night (November 25) that the current national regulations aiming to limit Covid-19 infections here will continue through at least February 28, 2021.

The regulations include mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and strict health protocols at all businesses, agencies, in public transport and in public spaces.

While citizens must cooperate in efforts to limit infections, “progress has been made in the multilateral environment in the Covax vaccine program and we are also making progress in the bilateral negotiation processes with pharmaceutical companies,” Duque stated in a nationally televised address.

“We have to avoid at all costs severe outbreaks such as those seen in Europe and some places in North America,” he added.

“We will continue to epidemiologically monitor all behavior in our country, following all the indicators and of course making all the necessary prevention decisions and alerting where cases of increases are seen.

“We are also advancing in the development of vaccination programs, since Colombia also participates as a member of the directing council of the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization.,” he added.

Free Vaccinations

Meanwhile, Colombia’s Health Minister Fernando Ruiz added during the same nationally televised program that the first Covid-19 vaccines will become available in Colombia during the first half of 2021.

The initial vaccination campaign would take “three months, initially covering health workers, those over 60 years of age and the population with co-morbidities,” Ruiz stated.

Population groups that are less-likely to suffer mortality from Covid-19 “could have access to the vaccine in 2022,” according to the Minister.

Once the first groups of higher-risk persons are vaccinated, “then the second phase would come, which seeks to generate herd immunity by vaccinating between 50% and 60% of the rest of the population,” according to the Minister.

Colombia doesn’t have any plan to charge anyone -- even including higher-income groups (strata five and six) -- for vaccinations, he added.

To date, negotiations with pharmaceutical companies have generated commitments to enable initial vaccinations of 15 million people here, he said.

“We have previously signed a confidentiality agreement with Pfizer and with other companies,” he added. The Ministry also has confidentiality agreements with vaccine developers in China and India, he revealed.

Second-Half 2021 Expansion

Meanwhile, Gina Tambini, Colombia’s official delegate to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), explained that various drug developers world-wide have to date created more than 200 candidate vaccines.

Of those 200, 77 are in early-stage trials, while another 10 are already in “phase three” clinical trials, she said.

Colombia is part of the “Covax” cooperative-development and distribution program, which aims to produce and distribute some 2 billion doses of vaccines world-wide, she noted.

Through that program, “it is expected and projected that in the middle of the year 2021 -- between the third and fourth trimesters -- vaccines will be available to apply to the [global] population,” she said.

The Covax program already includes a portfolio of nine vaccines, three of which are already in “phase three” trials, including the AstraZeneca laboratory vaccine (University of Oxford); a vaccine from the Moderna laboratory; and another from the Novavax laboratory, she added.

Five Israeli high-tech companies in the agriculture sector, the Antioquia departmental government and Medellin’s Agency for Cooperation and Investment (ACI) just launched a new initiative to boost investment and productivity in Antioquia’s booming agricultural-exports sector.

According to a joint announcement from ACI, the Antioquia government and Israeli Ambassador to Colombia Christian Cantor, the initiative aims to further Israel’s world-leading ag-industry technologies and investments in Antioquia, while simultaneously boosting Colombia’s growing and profitable agricultural exports.

The five Israeli companies participating in the launch here in Medellin include:

1. TapKit, “specializing in large-scale hydroponic systems for fresh culinary herbs, micro-greens and vegetables based on its own advanced growing methods;”
2. Agritask, “which offers a platform designed to unite precision agronomy and business intelligence;"
3. ClariFruit, “provider of optimization software solutions for the fresh fruit and vegetable industry;"
4. LR Group, “which operates in the initiation, development, financing, construction and management of medium and large-scale projects in high-growth economies;" and
5. Bean & Co, “a global cocoa company that grows sustainable large-scale cocoa plantations around the world,” according to the joint announcement.

The initiative represents a “fundamental step to further strengthen the competitiveness of the [Antioquia] region in the agro-industrial sector in the lines of precision agriculture, irrigation systems and greenhouses,” according to the parties.

Colombia’s recently approved free-trade agreement with Israel is one of the key reasons for the new initiative -- although numerous Israeli companies have aggressively pioneered investments here in Antioquia and Colombia especially in the last five years.

Commenting on the new initiative, Antioquia Governor Aníbal Gaviria Correa stated: “In these coming years, major transformations of our department’s competitive platform will be consolidated thanks to the construction of fourth-generation [high-speed, high-capacity] highways, the completion of Hidroituango [Colombia’s biggest hydroelectric dam] and the new ports of Urabá [on the Atlantic coast], among others. These works, added to the security and institutional stability here are key elements that allow us to invite investment from Israel and the world to our department and our country.”

Antioquia’s Secretary of Agriculture Rodolfo Correa added that “it is inspiring what Israel does in the modernization of the agricultural sector in areas of organizational models, technology transfer, efficiency and other advances and developments.”

Christian Cantor, Israeli Ambassador to Colombia, added that “agriculture is and will continue to be a main axis of relations between the government of Israel and Colombia. The companies that are presented at this event are among the best companies that Israel has to offer to Antioquia”.

According to the parties, “Antioquia has key products in the agro industry favoring exports and investment including Hass avocados, cocoa, citrus fruits and beef, among other products. In the case of Hass avocados, exports have grown by 40% in just the last four years.”

Managro Hails New Initiative

Asked to comment on the latest initiative, Israeli expat Chagai Stern -- executive director of Medellin-based agricultural investment firm Managro -- added that “we realize and promote the important partnership between Colombia and Israel. We have been doing so since we were established here in Medellin five years ago.

“Colombia has all the natural resources and scale that any country could wish for and Israel has the technology and know-how especially in the agriculture sector. That’s why we believe that the free-trade agreement between Israel and Colombia will only enhance the partnership and collaboration.”

Earlier this year, Managro bought Colombia’s giant “Pacific Fruits” packing and export company near Cali -- boosting capacity for export of ag products including Haas avocados and mangoes.

Pacific Fruits boasts that last year alone, it shipped 250 ocean export containers of Colombian farm products to Europe, Saudi Arabia, Japan, United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong, tapping proprietary production in Antioquia and Valle del Cauca as well as contracts with ag producers in 14 Colombian departments.

As a result, Managro now administers more than 1,000 proprietary hectares of agricultural production including avocados, milk, mangos, lemons, oranges, guanabana, pineapples and corn.

Colombia’s national economic statistics agency (Departamento Administrativo Nacional Estadistica, DANE) announced November 17 that third quarter (3Q) gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials) rebounded by 8.7% over second quarter (2Q) 2020.

While the sharp increase in GDP in the latest quarter is an encouraging sign, 3Q 2020 GDP is nevertheless down by 9% compared to 3Q 2019 -- all because of the drastic shutdowns and cutbacks this year resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Comparing 3Q 2020 with 3Q 2019, wholesale and retail sectors including motor vehicles, transport, tourism and food services collectively fell by 20% year-on-year, while construction dropped 26%, DANE noted. Mining and quarrying also fell by 19% year-on-year, the agency noted.

Expenditure on final consumption fell 7% year-on-year, while gross capital formation declined 18.3%, exports fell 24.1% and imports declined 21.1%, according to DANE.

On the upside, “compared to the immediately previous quarter, the [3Q 2020] Gross Domestic Product in its series adjusted for seasonal and calendar effects grew 8.7%,” according to DANE.

The big improvements in 3Q 2020 versus 2Q 2020 include the following changes, according to DANE:

• Manufacturing industries grew 23.4%.
• Wholesale and retail; repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles; transportation and storage; accommodation and food services grew by a collective 22.3%.
• Artistic, entertainment and recreational activities and other service activities, together with activities of individual households as employers collectively grew 12.3%.

In addition, 3Q 2020 gains over 2Q 2020 include these bright spots:

• Final consumption expenditure grew by 7.3%.
• Gross capital formation grew by 21.6%.
• Exports grew by 1.9%.
• Imports grew by 13.5%, according to DANE.

Medellin-based multinational banking giant Bancolombia on November 12 reported a 68% decline year-on-year in third quarter (3Q) 2020 profits, to COP$73 billion (US$20 million).

For nine-months 2020, net income so far this year is down 79.5%, to COP$542 billion (US$149 million), according to the company.

Despite the pandemic-caused decline in earnings, “Bancolombia continues to strengthen its digital strategy with a robust growth in its mobile platforms,” now totaling 8.2 million digital accounts including 4.2 million users of ‘Bancolombia a la Mano’ and 4 million users of the electronic ‘Nequi’ platform, according to the company

As a result, “85% of total transactions are carried out through digital channels” rather than higher-cost, in-person banking, according to Bancolombia.

Gross loans in 3Q 2020 grew 8% year-on-year, to COP$199 trillion (US$54 billion), while loan provision charges soared 133% year-on-year, to COP$1.7 trillion (US$467 million). The coverage ratio for 90-day past due loans was 232%, according to Bancolombia

“This level of provisions was largely explained by the deterioration of the consumer portfolio, Covid-19 and the update of macroeconomic variables in our expected losses models,” according to Bancolombia.

As of September 30, 2020, Bancolombia’s assets totaled COP$265 trillion (US$72 billion), up 12% year-on-year, while liabilities grew 13%, to COP$239 trillion (US$65 billion).

“The increase in total assets during the year is largely explained by the growth in the loan book, interbank borrowings and financial assets investment,” according to Bancolombia.

Total reserves for loan losses increased by 9.7% during 3Q 2020, totaling COP$15 trillion (US$4.1 billion), equivalent to 7.6% of gross loans.

Medellin-based highway construction giant Construcciones El Condor on November 12 reported a 415% year-on-year plunge in third quarter (3Q) 2020 net income, to COP$16 billion (US$4.4 million).

Gross income for 3Q 2020 was down 11%, to COP$565 billion (US$155 million), “explained by the paralysis in the execution of the works on the occasion of the Covid-19 pandemic,” according to the company.

The crisis “implied the non-invoicing during this time and the decrease in the invoicing in the months of May, June and July,” but “as of July [we] had high levels of execution in projects,” according to the company.

Operating costs for the latest quarter hit COP$517 billion (US142$ million), “representing 91.55% of income from ordinary activities, while administrative expenses reached 3.2% of said income,” according to the company.

“Operating costs include idle costs, machinery and equipment stand-by costs and personnel costs assumed by the company 100% during the suspension . . . Once these costs have been recognized in the contractual agreements, the respective recognitions will be made to the executors to bill them for each concession,” the company added.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) hit COP$68 billion (US$18.6 million), with an EBITDA margin of 12%, down from 15.75% in 3Q 2019, according to the company.

“Said decrease in EBITDA margin is due again to idle costs due to [Covid-19 shutdown] paralysis. By the end of the year, we expect the EPCs [engineering, procurement and construction contractors] to be able to bill the concessionaires for these costs, which will allow the recovery of the EBITDA margin,” according to the company

As of September 2020, total assets totaled COP$2.29 trillion (US$628 million), while liabilities totaled COP$1.21 trillion (US$332 million), according to El Condor.

As of September 2020, the construction backlog -- the balance of works contracted and to be executed --totaled COP$552 billion (US$151 million), including COP$227 billion (US$62 million) of invoicing executed during the latest quarter, the company added.

Sura 3Q 2020 Net Profits Fall 72% Year-on-Year

Friday, 13 November 2020 17:02 Written by

Medellin-based insurance and investment giant Grupo Sura announced November 13 that its third quarter (3Q) net profit fell 72% year-on-year, to COP$23.9 billion (US$6.56 million).

Nine-months 2020 net profit likewise fell 73% year-on-year, to COP$397 billion (US$109 million), according to the company.

“The insurance business continued to show resilience, even at a time when the pandemic increased its impact in Colombia, while the asset management business continued to improve the performance of the reserve requirement and the operating trends of the businesses recovered,” according to Sura.

Operating income so far this year has declined 3.3% year-on-year, to COP$15.4 trillion (US$4.22 billion), while 3Q 2020 operating income is down 2% year-on-year, according to the company.

“The growth in written premiums, income from the provision of health services and asset management fees are highlighted. On the other hand, income from investments and by the equity method decreased 28.3% and 67.5% so far this year, but a partial recovery was evident in the third quarter,” the company added.

Operating expenses grew 2.9% as of September and 4.5% in the third quarter, “driven by a normalization of the dynamics of the insurance business, a slight increase in claims, constitution of reserves and costs, and investments made to accompany clients,” according to Sura

The “Suramericana” insurance division recorded a net profit of COP$302 billion (US$83 million) in the first nine months of 2020 and COP$9.4 billion (US$2.6 million) in 3Q 2020 “in one of the most critical moments of the pandemic and facing reopening of economies,” according to Sura.

The health-care portion of Suramericana “offset the impact on claims and expenses associated with the pandemic in the ‘life’ segment,” according to the company.

The Sura Asset Management investment division “continues on a recovery trend and contributed to Grupo Sura’s consolidated results with a net profit of COP$137 billion [US$37.6 million] in the latest quarter and COP$257 billion [US$70 million] so far this year,” according to Sura.

“Positive dynamics can also be seen in the yield on legal reserve and in the income from the equity method of [pension-investment division] ‘Protection,’ which continued the recovery that began in the second quarter.

“Finally, in Grupo Sura (holding company), income from the equity method decreased 69% so far this year, but the positive contribution in the third quarter is highlighted, supported by the results of [equity holdings in] Grupo Nutresa and the partial recovery in the profit of [equity holdings in] Bancolombia,” the company added.

Medellin-based multinational cement producer, electric power generator and airport/highways concessions giant Grupo Argos announced November 12 that its third quarter (3Q) 2020 profits plunged 85% year-on-year, to COP$77.8 billion (US$21 million).

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for 3Q 2020 likewise fell 39% year-on-year, to COP$857 billion (US$235 million). 

Company divisions include Cementos Argos, Celsia and Odinsa.

As for nine-months 2020, profits are down 83% year-on-year, to COP$166 billion (US$45 million), while nine-months 2020 EBITDA is down 25%, to COP$2.56 trillion (US$702 million), according to the company.

Consolidated revenues so far this year total COP$10.4 trillion (US$2.85 billion) “and grew 16% in September compared to April [2020] , the month most affected by the impacts of the pandemic,” according to Grupo Argos.

“The shock and austerity plan allowed it to achieve consolidated savings in operating expenses of more than COP$500 billion [US$137 million] at the end of the third quarter and to close with COP$1.6 trillion [US$439 million] in cash to face the challenges of the situation,” according to the company.

“During the [latest] quarter, there were non-recurring situations such as extraordinary contributions from the energy business to the Superintendency of Public Services and maintenance in the cement business that together amounted to more than COP$40 billion [US$10.9 million].

“It is also important to highlight that in third quarter of the previous year, Grupo Argos at a consolidated level recorded non-recurring income from the divestment of the Termoflores plant for COP$1.1 trillion (US$302 million),” the company added.

Colombia operations improved in 3Q 2020 versus 2Q 2020 “with the growth of 79% in the volume of cement shipped, the 18% increase in Celsia's power generation and 61% increase in vehicular traffic in Odinsa’s [airport/highway] concessions in the country,” according to Grupo Argos.

“Added to this performance is the robust liquidity position and the timely and solid financial management of the company, which have allowed it to maintain the confidence of the market and execute at the end of October a new transaction to exchange ordinary bonds for a total amount of COP$136 billion (US$37 million).

“This transaction was constituted as the first private debt exchange carried out in the country, representing a milestone in the Colombian capital market.

“So far this year, Grupo Empresarial Argos has issued debt for close to COP$600 billion (US$165 million) and expects to close the year adding debt totaling COP$1 trillion (US$274 million), remaining as one of the agents that enjoy the greatest confidence in the market and as a catalyst relevant to the country's economy,” the company added.

Medellin-based textile and plastics recycling giant Enka Colombia announced November 12 that its nine-months 2020 net profits have dropped by two-thirds, to COP$2.2 billion (US$604,000).

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) dipped modestly, to COP$23.8 billion (US$6.5 million), from COP$26 billion (US$7.1 million) in nine-months 2019.

Gross revenues likewise have fallen sharply in this Covid-19 year, to COP$254 billion (US$70 million), from COP$306 billion (US$84 million) in nine-months 2019.

Meanwhile, Mexico-based Grupo Petrotemex revealed in a November 13 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency that it is seeking to buy from 15% to 25% of the outstanding shares of Enka Colombia, assuming that Superfinanciera approves the proposed transaction.

While Enka has had a rough year this year because of the Covid-19 crisis, third quarter (3Q) volumes and EBITDA “show a strong recovery, with volumes similar to 3Q 2019 and an EBITDA higher by 4%,” according to the company.

The modest profit and EBITDA results this year “manage to offset a negative accounting effect due to [Colombia peso to U.S. dollar] exchange differences” that cost the company COP$6.8 billion (US$1.86 million) in the latest quarter.

“Strengthening of the operating cash flow made it possible to pay in advance all the short-term financial obligations contracted to face the [Covid-19] pandemic, reducing the debt ratio to 0.2-times EBITDA, lower than the end of 2019 (1.3-times),” according to Enka.

In 3Q 2020, “sales volume reached a level similar to that of the same period in 2019 (-1.0%), highlighting the good performance of green [recycled plastics] business sales, which offset the lower sales of filaments, while the industrial threads line reached similar levels,” according to the company.

EBITDA in 3Q 2020 “recovered from a practically balanced level in 2Q 2020” thanks to “recovery in volume, the highest exchange rate and the commercial, operational and administrative efforts to face the pandemic,” according to Enka.

“These results allow us to be optimistic about the recovery prospects for our markets, without losing sight of the risks associated with Covid-19 and the measures to contain it. We continue to closely monitor the recovery of beverage consumption, a fundamental factor to increase again the volumes of [plastic] bottle recycling in the country,” the feedstock for its “green” synthetic fibers.

To date, exports represent 44% of operating income, down from 46% last year. “Abroad, the North American market has been the one that has presented a better performance due to less restrictive measures on its economy,” according to Enka.

“For their part, Latin American markets, particularly Brazil and Argentina, although they took longer to reactivate, already show positive signs in demand and their recovery is expected to continue in the coming months.”

As for the Colombian domestic market, “we highlight the good performance in sales of ‘EKO-PET’ and ‘EKO-Polyolefins,’ despite the lower consumption due to Covid-19, which has partially offset the lower sales of textile filaments,” according to Enka.

Medellin-based multinational gold mining giant Mineros SA announced November 12 that its third quarter (3Q) 2020 net profit rose 25% year-on-year, to US$24.8 million.

Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) likewise rose 39% year-on-year, to US$51.9 million, while revenues rose 14%, to US$121 million, according to the company.

Costs also rose by 4% year-on-year, to US$78.5 million, “explained by higher cost of artisanal mining in Nicaragua,” according to the company.

Higher revenues came from the 28% jump in world gold prices, plus a US$1.1 million gain from an insurance claim in alluvial mining in Colombia.

As for nine-months 2020 results, net profit jumped 74% year-on-year, to US$50.2 million, while EBITDA jumped 54%, to US$146.8 million.

In Colombia, 3Q 2020 gold production rose 2.7% year-on-year, while EBITDA margin jumped 82% and cash flow more-than-tripled, according to the company.

Because Soma Gold took control of Mineros’ relatively higher-cost rock-mining operation in June, the remaining, lower-cost alluvial mining operation cut over-all costs of operations in Colombia, year-on-year, the company noted.\

In Nicaragua, production dipped 2.7% year-on-year, while costs rose 9%. In Argentina, gold production fell 30% year-on-year as the remaining gold deposit in an open-pit mine neared its end-of-life.

As for the full-year 2020 outlook, Mineros foresees corporate-wide gold production of 270,000 ounces. The company also aims to complete an economic analysis for the La Pepa mine in Chile, and continue in a joint-venture with Royal Road in Nicaragua and Colombia, the company added.

Toronto-based Gran Colombia Gold – whose principal mining operations are in Antioquia – announced November 11 that its third quarter (3Q) adjusted net income rose to U.S$29.5 million, up from US$16 million in 3Q 2019.

As for the first nine months of 2020, adjusted net income rose to US$68.2 million, from US$43 million in the first nine months of 2019.

“The year-over-year improvement in adjusted net income for the third quarter and first nine months of 2020 largely reflects the positive impact of higher gold prices in 2020, partially offset by the Covid-19 impact on gold sales volumes in the second quarter of 2020,” according to the company.

Gross revenues jumped 36% in 3Q 2020 versus 3Q 2019, to a new quarterly record of US$113.1 million “as the 30% year-over-year improvement in spot gold prices increased the company’s realized gold price to an average of $1,875 per ounce sold,” according to the company

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for 3Q 2020 jumped 51% year-on-year, to US$56.7 million, while nine-months adjusted EBITDA rose 36% year-on-year, to US$144.7 million, according to the company.

Gold production in 3q 2020 was 58,454 ounces, up 4% year-on-year and up 21% over 2Q 2020 when the Covid-19 crisis hit, the company noted.

As for the cash situation, “the company’s balance sheet remained solid with total cash of US$138.2 million at the end of September 2020, including $43.0 million in Caldas Gold, of which $34.7 million represents the net proceeds of Caldas Gold’s special warrant financing completed in the third quarter of 2020 that will be used as part of the funding for its Marmato Deep Zone (“MDZ”) project,” the company stated.

“The 53.5%-owned Caldas Gold continues to advance its plan to build Colombia’s next major gold mine. Following the release of its preliminary feasibility study for its Marmato Project in early July, Caldas Gold completed a CA$50 million [US$38 million] bought deal private placement of special warrants in late July, of which Gran Colombia acquired CA$20 million [US$15 million] to maintain its equity ownership above 50%,” 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.

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