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Colombian economy 58

ANDI -- Colombia’s biggest industrial-commercial trade association -- announced July 8 that its most recent survey of 200 major companies shows that business liquidity is starting to improve thanks to the gradual reopening of various economic sectors during the current Covid-19 crisis.

During the height of the national quarantine and business shutdowns in April, surveyed companies had (on average) only 11 days of cash-on-hand to cover salaries, benefits, suppliers, taxes, overhead and outstanding loans, ANDI noted.

But thanks to subsequent, government-authorized exemptions to quarantines – paired with strict biosafety protocols – cash-on-hand doubled to 23 days in May and tripled to 35 days in June, the survey found.

“Government measures and the resumption of activities and operations have given companies oxygen,” said ANDI president Bruce MacMaster. “However, this liquidity survey shows that companies face a difficult situation. There are companies in big problems that require great support and even rescue plans,” he added.

The big improvements in liquidity seen in the latest survey “can be explained by several factors: a greater number of productive activities in operation, the reactivation of production chains and not only in isolated sectors, the rationalization of costs within companies, aid provided by the financial sector (grace periods, extensions, among others), national government measures such as the day without VAT [sales tax] and aid such as the payroll and ‘prima’ [mid-year worker bonus] subsidy, among others,” according to ANDI.

“As we have noted in previous versions of the survey, the situation in the business sector is not homogeneous. On the one hand, we find companies with a situation of marked illiquidity. This is the case of 20.6% of the companies surveyed, where cash-on-hand only covers between one and eight days to operate.

“Then there are another 10.8% of companies with between nine and 15 days [liquidity] and 26.3% between 16 and 30 days. Thus, 57.7% have cash to operate for a month or less.”

The survey also found that operating income declined for 72.8% of companies in May 2020 versus May 2019, while 20.4% of companies saw a year-on-year increase and 6.8% reported no change, according to ANDI.


Colombia’s national economic statistics agency (DANE) announced June 30 that the Covid-19 crisis -- now starting its fifth month -- predictably has caused massive unemployment nationally as well as locally as a result of quarantines and strict biosafety controls.

According to the latest DANE bulletin, the Colombia national unemployment rate skyrocketed to 21.4% in May 2020 -- more than double the 10.5% unemployment rate in May 2019.

Medellin similarly saw its unemployment rate soar to 21.6% in May 2020, versus 12.4% in May 2019, DANE found.

The worst-hit city is Neiva at 32.8% unemployment, followed by Ibague (31.7%); Armenia (30.4%); Popayan (29.7%); Riohacha (29.3%); Cucuta (29.2%); and Florencia (27%).

Cali unemployment hit 23%; Bogota 19.2% and Cartagena 16% in May 2020, according to DANE.

In total, 4.9 million Colombians lost their jobs in May 2020, while the 13 biggest cities saw employment numbers drop by 2.4 million year-on-year, according to DANE.

Commercial trades and vehicle repair sectors were worst hit, followed by manufacturing, according to DANE.

Recent gradual reopenings of many economic sectors are likely to stem further losses in 2020. However, major employers including restaurants, airlines/airports, inter-city buses, hotels and tourism continue to suffer massive employment losses, with future reopenings still uncertain.

While the Medellin metro area has begun a few “pilot” restaurant reopenings this week, airport/airline restarts at both Olaya Herrera (downtown, national flights) and Rionegro (international and national flights) are still banned as mayors in the metro area have NOT unanimously agreed-upon any reopenings -- not even “pilot” test routes.

IMF Sees Colombia GDP Growing 4% in 2021

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) just updated its latest gross domestic product (PIB in Spanish initials) outlook for Colombia, seeing a 7.8% net decline in PIB this year but a 4% positive growth in PIB in 2021 -- a significant rebound.


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.


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.


In yet another effort to shore-up Coronavirus-crisis business liquidity, President Ivan Duque and Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla unveiled May 6 two new programs for payroll subsidies as well as income-tax-payment deadline delays.

Under the latest “declaration of economic emergency,” all employees of micro, small, medium and large companies here that have suffered sales declines of at least 20% in April 2020 (versus April 2019) will each get a COP$350,000 (US$90) direct transfer from the government for the next three months.

That payment – estimated to benefit some 6 million Colombia workers -- is equivalent to 40% of the current Colombia minimum wage, President Duque explained.

In addition, the government will postpone the second regular payment of corporate income tax (normally at end-May) to end-2020, helping companies conserve cash to meet payroll and other expenses.

Finance Minister Carrasquilla added that the new worker/business subsidies -- totaling about COP$6 trillion/US$1.5 billion) -- come on top of other Coronavirus-crisis programs that have already enabled companies to restructure on more-favorable terms outstanding loans equivalent to nearly COP$150 trillion (US$38 billion), helping to save millions of jobs.

“Of course, we would like to finance the entirety of payroll [of Cornavirus-slammed companies], but we don’t have enough money for that,” Carrasquilla explained, citing fiscal limits.

Nevertheless, the new program will cover “a very significant percentage of payrolls for the next three months,” especially for micro, small and medium-sized businesses, he added.

To qualify for these grants, companies will have to document through an auditor or accountant their actual payrolls -- and prove payment to workers each month via the mandatory “PILA” employee-benefits platform here, he added.

As for the income-tax payment delays, “companies that do not have cash can hardly pay those taxes, and if they fall into default they generate [bigger] problems later, which we want to avoid,” Carrasquilla added.

Medellin Chamber of Commerce Proposals

Meanwhile, in a new presentation to a Medellin Chamber of Commerce for Antioquia (MCCA) economic-outlook forum, former Inter-American Development Bank chief economist Eduardo Lora explained that a huge challenge facing not just Medellin but also Colombia is to generate more formal, tax-paying and benefits-generating employment -- in the wake of Coranavirus crisis.

Colombia needs to generate at least 4 million more formal-sector jobs quickly, MCCA quoted Lora as saying. Such a development not only would improve living conditions for workers but also would shore-up Colombia’s tenuous fiscal situation by generating tax revenues.

However, the Coronavirus crisis instead is causing just the opposite, as millions of people lose income -- and temporarily lose jobs -- while about 10 million more people here are working fewer hours. “These are huge numbers like never before,” Lora said.

To get Colombia back on track, Lora proposed that the government temporarily subsidize formal employment via a mix of policies that would reduce unemployment and stimulate demand.

Beyond that, tax reform is needed to “define how the debts we have today are paid in the future,” he said. What’s more, cities need to think more profoundly about the total impact of promoting telecommuting and teleworking -- as is now mandated during the current crisis for office employees.

While Lora added that Colombia is unlikey to see a return to the growth rates of 2019 before 2023 or 2024, former Commerce Minister Jorge Humberto Botero added in a separate presentation here that the Colombian economy could contract by 5.5% this year -- worse than the 4.5% contraction in the 1999 economic crisis.

In another presentation, Universidad de los Andes professor Sergio Clavijo predicted that Colombia GDP growth in the first quarter of 2020 might be around 2%, but would fall into negative territory for full-year 2020.

Beyond coping with the current crisis, government also needs a longer-term refocus on converting some 9 million Colombians in the informal sector to the formal jobs sector, Clavijo added.

At the same forum, former Colombia Agriculture Minister Juan Camilo Restrepo added that the Coronavirus crisis currently is estimated as costing Colombia at least COP$53 trillion (US$13.5 billion).

To recoup fiscal losses that accompany such economic crises, government can’t just raise taxes, since that would kill even more tax-paying business and hence kill more tax-paying jobs, he said.

Instead, “everything points to the fact that the government is going to have to [recoup losses] by borrowing more and raising the public debt,” hence postponing fiscal balance recovery into future years.


Colombia’s Treasury Ministry revealed May 4 that its own “Fiscal Rule Advisory Committee” of economic analysts now fears that the Colombian economy could shrink by 5.5% this year because of the Coronavirus crisis.

The “CCRF” Committee (“Comité Consultivo de la Regla Fiscal”) just undertook a new sensitivity analysis of the behavior of fiscal variables under different scenarios of economic growth, according to the Ministry announcement.

Rationale: “Unusual uncertainty that prevails in the world macroeconomic outlook,” according to the official CCRF report (see: http://www.urf.gov.co/webcenter/ShowProperty?nodeId=%2FConexionContent%2FWCC_CLUSTER-129797%2F%2FidcPrimaryFile&revision=latestreleased).

“According to the most likely economic growth scenario estimated by the government, productive activity would contract 5.5% in 2020. This figure is consistent with a fiscal deficit target of 6.1% of GDP, given the Committee's decision to support the activation of the countercyclical spending clause . . .

“The deterioration of the fiscal balance [in 2020] compared to 2019 is due both to the extraordinary spending needs derived from the health crisis and economic emergency, and to the significant reduction projected in the tax collection.

“The difficult liquidity situation facing the business sector today is expected to deepen the negative effect that low economic growth usually generates on government revenues.

“Likewise, the Committee emphasizes the importance of the government presenting a path of fiscal adjustment for the coming years, which guarantees the sustainability of public finances.

“The strategy must integrate elements of rationalization and targeting of subsidies, the dismantling of countercyclical spending and measures aimed at increasing government revenues,” the report concludes.


The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on April 14 issued an updated forecast concluding that the Coronavirus crisis likely will slash 2020 global gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials) to a net-negative 3% -- compared to 2.9% net-positive PIB growth in 2019.

Colombia likewise probably will suffer a net-negative 2.4% PIB in 2020, IMF's report concludes.

But Colombia's PIB contraction in 2020 looks far better than Latin America as a whole, which is expected to suffer a net-negative 5.2% PIB in 2020 -- more-than twice-as-bad as Colombia's situation, according to IMF.

Fortunately -- assuming the Coronavirus crisis eventually dissipates – Colombia is likely to see a PIB-growth rebound in 2021 to a net-positive 3.7%, better than the 3.4% PIB growth seen for Latin America as a whole in 2021, according to IMF’s latest World Economic Growth projections.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is inflicting high and rising human costs worldwide, and the necessary protection measures are severely impacting economic activity,” according to IMF's report.

“As a result of the pandemic, the global economy is projected to contract sharply by –3% in 2020, much worse than during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

“In a baseline scenario -- which assumes that the pandemic fades in the second half of 2020 and containment efforts can be gradually unwound -- the global economy is projected to grow by 5.8% percent in 2021 as economic activity normalizes, helped by policy support.

“The risks for even more severe outcomes, however, are substantial. Effective policies are essential to forestall the possibility of worse outcomes, and the necessary measures to reduce contagion and protect lives are an important investment in long-term human and economic health.

“Because the economic fallout is acute in specific sectors, policymakers will need to implement substantial targeted fiscal, monetary, and financial market measures to support affected households and businesses domestically,” the IMF report concludes.

In a related report on global government policy responses to the crisis, IMF noted that “to date, central banks have announced plans to expand their provision of liquidity -- including through loans and asset purchases -- by at least US$6 trillion and have indicated a readiness to do more if conditions warrant.

“As a result of these actions aimed at containing the fallout from the pandemic, investor sentiment has stabilized in recent weeks. Strains in some markets have abated somewhat and risk asset prices have recovered a portion of their earlier declines. Sentiment continues to be fragile, however, and global financial conditions remain much tighter compared to the beginning of the year,” IMF warned.


Colombia President Ivan Duque on March 29 hailed the move by the Ministry of Finance to extend COP$70 trillion (US$17 billion) in favorable credits to banks and their commercial, industrial and consumer customers -- in order to enable broader debt refinancing, maintain employment and keep paying wages to workers during the Coronavirus crisis.

With this program and other new measures, “I have no doubt that Colombia will succeed” in meeting the longer-term economic challenges of the Coronavirus crisis and the current quarantine, Duque said.

Apart from quarantine-exempt grocery and pharmacy buying today, much of consumer spending -- the biggest driver of the Colombian economy -- has been crushed.

What’s more, some restrictions on movement and gatherings are likely to continue past the presumptive April 13 end of the current quarantine, according to President Duque.

With millions of people no longer reporting to work -- and certain industries such as shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, airlines, real estate, entertainment, schools, colleges, museums, gymnasiums and parks shut down – the Colombian economy isn’t generating enough cash velocity to cover many current debts under existing repayment terms.

If this situation continues for months, then (ultimately) banks, industries, retailers and consumers would face a devastating financial crisis. Unless people get back to work, return to spending, and currently shut-down commercial/industrial ventures get back to production, the future looks bleak, as noted in a penetrating new investigation by Colombia-based financial giant Corficolombiana (see: https://investigaciones.corficolombiana.com/documents/38211/0/200316%20-%20Informe%20especial%20coronavirus%20en%20Colombia-2.pdf/b1178cd1-f4f2-73fb-2838-cd54db7d43b4).

On the brighter side, the COP$70 trillion(US$17 billion) newly-extended credits via the “Fondo Nacional de Garantías” (FNG) include COP$20 trillion (US$4.9 billion) for micro-, small- and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs), which account for the vast majority of employment in Colombia. This new government credit line for MSMEs includes a 50% payback guarantee, cutting lender risk in half.

Because of the new credit lines made available to banks, Duque urged lenders to “speed up the credit lines and facilities that allow small entrepreneurs and other entrepreneurs to attend to the situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

“This is a moment where [creditors] have to contribute with solidarity, and I know that the Financial Superintendent [Colombia’s ‘Superfinanciera’ regulatory agency] has been having dialogues with many providers of banking services. The call is to effectively streamline their [processes] to deal with this storm,” Duque added.

Colombia faced a similar financial crisis in 1999/2000, Duque recalled.

“Twenty years ago, our country made a great effort to save the financial system at a time of crisis. Today, at this time, we need a financial system that is also contributing in solidarity to overcome these difficult moments,” Duque said.

Besides the new FNG credit fund, the Colombian government also is now waiving certain taxes and mandatory payments of certain less-critical worker subsidies to help many small and medium-sized companies, he said.

In addition, Colombia’s Bancóldex agency just boosted its credit facilities to COPR$650 billion (US$160 million) for affected export sectors as well as second-tier backstop funding for lenders, he noted.

Meanwhile, in a separate but related March 27 announcement, the Finance Ministry confirmed that Colombia’s poorest people (“estratos uno y dos”) won’t have their utility connections cut during the crisis -- and the national government will help local utilities recover these losses.

“Here we give guarantees to all companies that provide public services so that they have the capacity to continue providing them and they will not be in difficulties,” Finance Ministry vice-minister Juan Alberto Londoño stated.

“This [assurance] is not only for utilities but also for the health sector,” Londoño added. “Companies in the health sector -- hospitals, laboratories that need credits to continue providing their services and that need aid -- will have guarantees from the state,” he said.

In addition, “universities and other sectors that we have been identifying -- and that we ask everyone to help us identify -- will be extended credit,” he added.

ANDI President Urges One-Year Debt Holiday

Meanwhile, in a March 29 opinion column published in Bogota daily newspaper El Tiempo, Bruce MacMaster, president of ANDI -- Colombia’s main industrial/commercial trade association -- stated that the Colombian government should start to consider even-more-radical credit measures.

“Three months ago, no one would have imagined that countries closed their borders, hotels and restaurants no longer are working, much less that 90% of the population would remain locked up in their homes, with society threatened by an illness that we are not capable of controlling, and with an economy totally at risk,” MacMaster wrote.

“If this situation continues, a good part of the economic achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries can be lost, unemployment levels will increase, the capacity of institutions to finance universal health and education could be compromised, and the business fabric that has played a major role in building development and generating massive employment could be seriously affected.”

Today’s private-sector solidarity measures and new government-aid initiatives are helping to alleviate the current crisis – including the new COP$70 trillion FNG credits, he noted.

But these alone wouldn't be enough to head-off a longer-term disaster if current the crisis continues, MacMaster warned.

Besides cash liquidity-crunches for consumers, “there is the liquidity of companies, which are the vehicles to generate employment and income for millions of families,” he said.

“A good part of the [industrial/commercial] financial commitment today has to do with debt service,” MacMaster explained.

As a result, the Colombia government “ought to think of doing a massive program -- hopefully automatic -- that would allow companies that require [financial relief] to postpone all debt service payments for a year.

“By allowing the [Superfinanciera financial regulator] to waive current repayment terms, the Bank of the Republic could [step in] to provide liquidity to the financial sector,” which in turn would pass-through this aid to the industrial/commercial sectors, he explained.

“For the financial sector, it is better to leave [debt] resources with good clients than to put them into receivership [bankruptcy]. This [one-year debt holiday] would free up resources necessary to meet the primary need – that is, people -- by supporting the viability of the productive sector, which will ultimately will have to pay back the credits,” MacMaster concluded.


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced March 27 that the Coronavirus crisis and the resulting quarantine of most of the population is likely to cut Colombia’s gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials) this year.

While late-2019 and early-2020 forecasts had indicated that Colombia seemed on track for around 3.5% PIB growth this year, Duque stated that “we are going from, perhaps, in the first quarter of this year -- one of the best first quarters of the last 10 years -- to a tough second quarter, painful.”

In the face of the current economic downturn, both government and the private sector must “prepare to see how we are going to make an economic recovery that is sustainable and that also allows us to live with this virus while a vaccine appears,” he added.

Employers in both the private and public sectors are going to have to adopt “best practices in terms of control in labor scenarios,” he said.

“I believe that this is going to change many policies within companies where we are going to need [body] temperature mediators [to detect fevers]; where do we go, if someone has symptoms, to know how to say to that person: look, stay at home while you get better,” he said.

Meanwhile, the global oil-price crash triggered by falling global demand and a market-share war between Russia and Saudi Arabia will hurt Colombian government oil-revenues temporarily.

“It’s natural for the price to fall due to lower demand, but deliberately trying to generate an oversupply [from the market-share war] leads to negatively impacting the world economy [and] seems to me an act of extreme irresponsibility,” he said.

Fedesarrollo Cuts 2020 PIB Outlook

Meanwhile, Fedesarrollo -- Colombia’s leading economic think-tank – on March 27 cut its full-year 2020 PIB outlook for Colombia to 1.2%, down from its 3.5% 2020 growth forecast last December.

The “optimistic” scenario for Colombian PIB growth is 2.3% while the “pessimistic” scenario is a negative 0.4%, according to Fedesarrollo.

Colombian exports are likely to fall by 8.8% while imports would declined by an even steeper 15.8%, according to the forecast. Meanwhile, domestic consumer spending likely will dip by 2.2% and capital formation would fall by 11%, according to the latest forecast.

 

 


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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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