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Colombian economy 67

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.

 

 


 Colombia’s Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Tourism (“MinCIT”) announced March 3 that Colombia’s exports of goods and services in 2019 hit a record US$25.29 billion, while foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia soared 25.6% year-on-year, to US$14.49 billion.

FDI in the commerce, restaurants and hotels sector jumped by 85.7% year-on-year, according to Banco de la Republica statistics cited by MinCIT.

In all, 68.1% of FDI to Colombia (US$9.87 billion) went to non-mining, non-energy sectors, up 30% year-on-year, according to MinCIT.

“The Colombian economy is one of the fastest growing in the region and is one of the most stable,” stated MinCIT Minister José Manuel Restrepo.

“We have instruments on the fiscal, regulatory and institutional fronts to attract foreign capital efficiently. These [policies] are those with the greatest potential to generate benefits in terms of productivity, employment, human capital, insertion into global value chains, knowledge transfer, technology and production standards,” Minister Restrepo added.

An especially notable FDI growth area was in financial services, up 26.7%, to US$2.98 billion – the largest single recipient of non-mining FDI in 2019, at 20% of the total, according to MinCIT.

In manufacturing, FDI rose 18.7% year-on-year, to US$1.55 billion, or 15.7% of total FDI, while export of services hit US$9.98 billion, or 39.5% of all exports when excluding mining and energy.

According to MinCIT forecasts, Colombia now expects to see its exports of goods and services to hit US$27 billion by 2022.

The strong results in 2019 came despite global trade wars -- mainly between China and the USA -- which led to “contraction of international demand, lower growth in different economies and a decrease in the prices of basic goods,” Restrepo added.

While mining and oil-and-gas sectors captured 31.9% of total FDI last year, the financial and business services nabbed 20.6% of the total. Commerce and hotels took another 14.7%; manufacturing industry got 10.7%; transportation and communications at 8.6%; electric power at 2.1% and “other” sectors, 11.4%.

Taking note of the favorable economic news during a Washington, DC press conference, Colombian President Ivan Duque highlighted record exports of services and the highest exports of Colombian agricultural products in years.

Meeting with President Duque afterward, top business leaders from the United States showed even more interest in investing in Colombia in different sectors of the national economy.

“We had a meeting in which business leaders, presidents, vice presidents or members of their boards of directors participated, from about 40 companies in the United States, all with a great interest in investing in Colombia in the energy sector, in the infrastructure sector, in the technology sector, in the aviation sector, in the logistics sector, ” Duque added.


A just-released December 2019 study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL in Spanish initials) finds that Colombia not only outstripped nearly all of Latin America in 2019 economic growth but also is likely to continue the trend in 2020.

According to the study, “Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2019,” Colombia likely will end-up 2019 at about 3.2% growth in gross domestic product (“PIB” in Spanish initials) -- more than triple that of Latin America as a whole and outstripping every South American country as well.

Only a handful of mainly tourism-dependent Caribbean islands outstripped Colombia in 2019, although mainland Panama also bested Colombia at 3.5% PIB growth, the study shows.

For 2020, CEPAL foresees Colombia once again leap-frogging over nearly all of Latin America and tying Panama at an estimated 3.5% PIB growth, the study shows.

By contrast, neighboring Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship not only delivered a disastrous 25% net decline in PIB in 2019, but also is expected to continue a horrendous trend in 2020, at a net 14% decline, the study shows. The socialist government’s catastrophic, anti-free-market policies explain a growing tidal wave of millions of Venezuelan refugees fleeing to Colombia and elsewhere.

On a related front, Wall Street bond rater S&P this month announced that it foresees a 3.2% PIB growth for Colombia in 2020 -- easily outstripping all other major Latin American economies.

S&P meanwhile slashed its economic outlook for Chile, Mexico and Peru, and likewise foresees relatively weak growth in Brazil and Argentina.

 


Colombia President Ivan Duque announced July 31 on his state visit to China that Chinese President Xi Jinping signed protocol deals that eventually will boost exports of Colombian bananas, avocados, coffee, meats and shellfish to China.

Initial deals enable export of 4 million boxes of bananas (mainly produced in Antioquia) and 960 tons of Haas avocados to China this year, according to the announcement.

Further initial agreements “open up the possibility for us to have greater exports of Colombian coffee,” according to President Duque.

In addition, the Chinese government announced that it will grant 100 full academic scholarships so that more young Colombians can study in the best Chinese universities.

On another front, a new communications deal will enable exporters “to use the electronic commerce platforms of the People's Republic of China to offer Colombian products,” according to the announcement.

As for the possibility of expanding Chinese tourism to Colombia, President Duque said he talked to President Xi about a project that eventually would open a direct flight between China and Colombia.

“Chinese tourism in Colombia barely represents 0.5% of our visitors,” according to President Duque. “Last year [2018], we had only about 15,000 Chinese visitors to the country, and that figure can be multiplied,” he added.


Wall Street bond rater Fitch on November 14 issued a “stable” outlook for Colombian sovereign debt and simultaneously upgraded its GDP forecast to 3.3% growth in 2019 and 3.5% in 2020.

“Ivan Duque’s 2018 presidential election victory is expected to lead to continuity in the government’s monetary and fiscal policies, including abiding by its fiscal rule,” according to Fitch. “The new president also has pledged to enhance the business climate in Colombia.

“Growth prospects are consolidating towards Colombia’s medium-term growth potential of 3.5% after three years of underperformance (with average growth of 2.1% in 2016-2018). Higher exports, supportive consumption and higher investment are expected to underpin higher growth."

On the other hand, “infrastructure projects related to the 4G [fourth-generation highways] rollout have witnessed several bottlenecks that have slowed their progress, representing downside risks to the growth outlook,” Fitch added.

Meanwhile, a proposed tax reform in Congress “is key to achieving the [government revenue] target as well as meeting spending pressures such as from the immigration crisis stemming from Venezuela, although higher expected oil revenues from Ecopetrol dividends will help,” according to Fitch.

However, “if the tax reform does not pass or is heavily watered-down, [then] we think the government would revise the 2019 budget passed by the Congress in October 2018 with significant cuts in budgeted capital expenditure,” Fitch concluded.

DANE: 3Q 2018 Rebound

On a related front, Colombia’s national economic statistics agency -- Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadística (DANE) – on November 15 released its latest study on national economic indicators.

For the third quarter (3Q) of 2018, Colombia’s GDP (“PIB” in Spanish initials) grew at a 2.7% rate, up sharply from the 1.7% rate in 3Q 2017, DANE found.

Sectors showing relatively strong GDP growth (4.5%) in 3Q 2018 were public administration, defense, social security, voluntary pensions, health services and education, according to DANE.

Wholesale and retail commerce, vehicle repair, transport and warehousing, and hotel-and-restaurant services grew at a 2.6% rate, according to DANE. Industrial manufacturers meanwhile saw a 2.9% GDP growth in the latest quarter, the agency added.

In the mining sector, metals extraction grew by 14.3%, while oil-and-gas extraction rose 1.3%. However, carbon and lignite extraction declined by 4.1%, according to the agency.


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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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