Thursday, July 9, 2020

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Medellin-based PharmaCielo Colombia and its Toronto-based parent company announced July 8 that it won Colombian government authorization to cultivate 10 tonnes of marijuana with high content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of pot) and export of medicinal extracts.

The authorization “enables PharmaCielo to produce and deliver psychoactive extracts as part of the three-year extracts agreement the company announced in January [2020], intended for the German market,” according to the company.

“The government’s approval for PharmaCielo to grow, extract and export high-THC medicinal products is a significant milestone that significantly expands our product portfolio and complements our medicinal offerings of CBD oil and isolate,” added company CEO David Attard.

Henning von Koss, president of parent company PharmaCielo Ltd., added that “the truly successful medicinal use of cannabis depends to a great extent on managing its psychoactive and non-psychoactive properties. As we broaden our portfolio through 2020, we will be working concurrently with our customer base and the medicinal community to identify the appropriate formulations and concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes to meet a variety of market-specific medicinal regulatory needs, and which are sourced from our proprietary strains that provide unique profiles.”

To date, PharmaCielo has developed and registered “30 proprietary strains in the national cultivar, including unique high-THC strains, enabling future production of a variety of psychoactive dominant extracts for medicinal purposes,” according to the company.

So far, PharmaCielo has developed 139 hectares of cultivation capacity in Colombia -- part of which is located in Rionegro, Antioquia, east of Medellin.

According to the company, its strategy is “focused on becoming a large-scale value-added supplier to large consumer packaged goods companies, pharmaceutical/wellness companies and other limited partnerships.

Its “phase one” processing and extraction center here can produce 24 metric tonnes/year of refined cannabis oil at a cultivation cost of Cdn$0.04 cents [US$0.03] per gram, thanks to a “natural and consistent 12-hour light cycle and temperate climate” as well as a “highly educated and skilled agricultural workforce” with “generations of experience working in the cut-flower industry,” a major employer in the “Oriente” region east of Medellin.

“Phase two” production facilities would enable extraction capacity to expand to 80-to-100 metric tonnes/year of refined cannabis oil, according to the company.

In its latest financial report, PharmaCielo posted a Cdn$6.8 million (US$5 million) net loss for first quarter (1Q) 2020, an improvement over the Cdn$7.7 million (US$5.7 million) net loss in 1Q 2019. The improvement came from a Cdn$494,000 (US$366,000) boost in gross revenues from sale of cannabis-derived products in early 2020, according to the company.


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.


Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero and EPM General Manager Alvaro Rendon revealed in a July 2 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera oversight agency an eye-popping proposal that would dramatically expand EPM’s product-and-service offerings nationwide and internationally.

Already Colombia’s biggest single energy producer and Medellin’s single-biggest financial contributor, EPM and the city of Medellin now jointly propose that EPM enter into a mind-boggling array of businesses, according to “Proyecto de Acuerdo Numero 19 de 2020,” presented to the Medellin City Council and published by Superfinanciera.

According to the Superfinanciera filing, potential new EPM business lines include:

1. Participation in highway and subway infrastructure development. “EPM will seek to enter the infrastructure market for the construction of public service networks, highways and underground metro lines . . . taking advantage of an opportunity to participate in a market that will grow exponentially in coming years,” according to the document.
2. Commercialization of biosolids from wastewater treatment, including fertilizers.
3. Data marketing -- tapping its vast information-collection activities from all sorts of customers.
4. Production and/or sale of solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal power systems, energy storage devices, and customer energy-to-grid schemes (as from local solar- or wind-power generation).
5. Construction consulting on sewage-treatment plants; sanitary landfills, waste transfer stations and utility service networks.
6. Supply, installation and maintenance of home appliances; energy-saving lighting systems; water-saving kits; and energy-management systems.
7. Business-to-business and business-to-customer services such as installing, cleaning, repair and maintaining appliances; used equipment disposal; and advice on use of new technologies.
8. Tourist services at its numerous forest reserves and water reservoirs, including environmental education services.
9. Treatment and renovation of specialty oils used in electric-power equipment and transformers.
10. Maximization and monetization of EPM-owned lands that are no longer used for EPM operations. Intelligent repurposing of such lands not only could prevent illegal squatting and subsequent ill-use, but also generate new income for EPM.
11. Development of new lines of business via strategic alliances, investments in other companies, and creation of new companies -- in initiatives such as land management, construction of energy projects and water projects.
12. Use drones to deliver customer bills or other mail, as well as to monitor the status of electricity infrastructure.
13. Offer new products and services to third parties for any type of energy.
14. Offer different qualities of water for various uses.
15. Offer all types of combustible gases, different biofuels, electric recharge stations and home recharge installations for electric vehicles.
16. Expand offerings of information and communication technologies.
17. Offer shared services to companies, such as billing, hiring and payroll.
18. Offer technical services for upgrade of lands for irrigation, drainage and inundation protection.
19. Develop financing and insurance-related services for various projects.
20. Produce, commercialize, install, rent and/or operate solar panels or other types of distributed generation.
21. Market self-generation products and energy-storage systems.
22. Develop and supply energy-production systems for rural zones not connected to power grids.
23. Bring consultation services for energy efficiency (Energy Service Companies).
24. Offer advice and installations for district heating and cooling, as well as public-lighting services.

According to the Superfinanciera filing, entry into any of these new lines of business or partnerships mustn’t violate any existing debt/bond obligations that EPM has with Colombian or international financiers.

The filing warns that if EPM were to fail to comply with any of these provisions, then its debt contracts could go into “cross default,” which could harm all its other debt contracts and potentially trigger mandatory prepayment of debts that currently total some COP$13 trillion (US$3.56 billion).

In addition, failure to comply with existing debt covenants -- potentially arising from participation and investment in new lines of business -- could lead to prepayment penalties, loss of credibility with creditors, higher future interest-rate payments and stiffer future debt provisions, the filing warns.

None of the faculties conferred to EPM and the Mayor of Medellin through the proposed accord “can be interpreted or extended to decisions related to the sale of company activities, privatizations, mergers, spin-offs or operations different than modification of [EPM’s main public-utility] social object, nor for administrative restructurings that would suppose an elimination of administrative authority or loss of employees,” according to the filing.

“In development of these [new business-line] faculties, the Mayor can exclude activities that are incompatible or inconvenient to the commitments that EPM has subscribed with its financial creditors,” the document adds.

While the “Acuerdo Numero 19” document would indeed enable dramatic expansion of EPM business activities into new areas, the document also warns that corporate failure-to-evolve with changing markets could be disastrous.

“With the emergence of new technologies, the evolution of new tendencies in domestic public services, the pressures of markets and the greater demands of interest groups, public service companies [such as EPM] are obliged to widen their fields of action, or else lose their place and put at risk their sustainability,” according to the document.

Risks include “loss of competitiveness against other agents that are authorized to offer new products and services” as well as “possible obsolescence due to the lack of new products and services” and “possible deterioration in the value of the company and as a consequence, possible declines in profit transfers to the city of Medellin,” the document concludes.


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.


The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Semana Sustainability magazine and project-development consultant Jaime Arteaga & Asociados jointly announced June 25 results of a prestigious nationwide competition to determine Colombia’s top social-investment leaders.

Medellin-based companies took nine of the top-25 spots in the “Indice de Inversion Social Privada 2020” (Private Social Investment Index) competition, including electric-power transmission giant ISA; cement-production giant Argos; power producer Celsia; insurance giant Grupo Sura; banking giant Bancolombia; foods manufacturer Grupo Nutresa; gold-mining powerhouse Mineros SA; motorcycle assembler Incolmotos Yamaha; and higher-education leader EAFIT University.

Bancolombia noted that its 12th-place ranking among the top 25 was best among all financial institutions in Colombia -- and an advancement of 11 places over its 2019 ranking.

Actions promoting “sustainability and corporate responsibility” as measured by indices such as the Global Reporting Initiative were among the keys to the 2020 ranking, according to Bancolombia.

“In gender equality and inclusion, 56% of employees linked to our organization are women; 58% of our management team is female; and since March 2020 the first woman has joined the Bancolombia board of directors: Sylvia Escovar, President of [fuels-retailing giant] Terpel and the business-woman leader with the best reputation in Colombia, according to Merco,” according to Bancolombia.

The company added that its Bancolombia Foundation organization benefited more than 45,000 people with “projects of social, environmental or cultural interest,” while its participation in initiatives such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, Climate Action 100+, Global Investors for Sustainable Development (GISD) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index also boosted its ranking.

USAID, AmCham, KPMG Contributors

For this year’s competition, USAID got additional advice from the Colombian American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham),  the Council of American Companies (CEA) as well as global corporate-practices consultant KPMG.

In total, 102 companies participated in this year’s competition, including 26 U.S.-based companies, according to USAID.

In Colombia, those 102 companies collectively made social investments last year totaling more than COP$1.3 trillion (US$348 million), “equivalent to the entire budget of Bogotá’s social-integration sector,” according to USAID.

“Every day there are a greater number of companies interested in allocating resources for the development of social projects that benefit a significant number of communities,”  the agency added.

Among U.S. companies participating in this year's competition: coal-mining giant Drummond; bottled-beverages behemoth PepsiCo; paper manufacturer Kimberly-Clark; pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer; and satellite-TV pioneer DirecTV.


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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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