President Santos expects GDP growth of 5% for 2014
President Santos announced that Colombia’s expected GDP growth for 2014 will be at least 5 percent. This strong growth forecast is due in part to greater activity in the construction and infrastructure sectors. During the first quarter of this year, construction was the sector with the highest growth rate (over 17 percent, compared to the overall growth rate of 6.4 percent). Minister of Finance Cardenas said that the government will maintain its official target growth rate of 4.7 percent until the results of the second quarter are available on September 18.
Unemployment in July reached 9.3%
According to the National Statistics Department, DANE, the registered unemployment rate in July 2014 was 9.3 percent, the lowest July rate in the last 14 years. Notably, the unemployment rate fell in 15 cities; eight cities had single-digit rates; and the differential between the cities with the most and least unemployment was eight percent.
Concern about Falling Oil Revenues
The Colombian government expressed deep concern with falling revenues from the mining and oil sectors. The decrease is mainly due to attacks on oil and mining infrastructure, which caused a reduction in the country’s oil production capacity. According to the economic think tank ANIF, the best case production scenario is now about 900,000 barrels per day for 2014, 100,000 less than originally forecasted by the National Development Plan (NDP). The NDP forecast for coal, 120 million tons per year, will also not be met and will have to be revised. Reduced oil and coal production volumes increase fiscal strain on the government. ANIF estimates that without other income streams, Colombia’s public sector will lose two points (of GDP) of income by 2019.
Colombian Imports Rose 6.1% in the First Half of 2014
According to the Colombian Statistics Department, DANE, Colombian imports grew 6.1 percent in the first half of 2014. Colombian foreign purchases between January and June totaled USD 30.5 billion compared to USD 28.8 billion during the same period in 2013. Colombia also registered a trade deficit of USD 1.1 billion in the first half of 2014, including major trading partners such as the United States (USD 1.9 billion), Mexico (USD 1.8 billion), and China (USD 1.5 billon). Meanwhile, Colombia’s highest trade surpluses were with Panama (USD 2 billion) and Spain (1.2 billion).
Colombia Awarded Contract to Develop Magdalena River’s Navigability
The Colombian government awarded a contract to develop the Magdalena River to become navigable after two decades of discussions. The Regional Autonomous Corporation of the Rio Grande de la Magdalena (Cormagdalena) awarded the contract on August 15 to the consortium Navelena, composed of the Brazilian multinational, Odebrecht, and Valorcon from Colombia. The consortium will be responsible for ensuring continuous year-round navigability of the river on a stretch of 908 kilometers between Puerto Salgar (Cundinamarca Department) and Bocas de Ceniza (Atlantico Department). By the end of 2015, dredging of more than 600 kilometers will be completed. The contract will last 13.5 years for a total investment of USD 1.3 billion.
Coal Production Totaled 47.3 Million Tons in the First Semester of 2014
National coal production during the first half of 2014 amounted to 47.3 million tons, representing an increase of 14 percent when compared to 40.5 million tons during the same period last year. La Guajira and Cesar Departments produce 92.4 percent of Colombia’s coal. Almost 91 percent of Colombia’s coal was exported and the rest was sold domestically, primarily for cement industries and metallurgical and thermal generation. The Colombian government expects to produce 85 million tons of coal in 2014.
In August 2014, the Colombian government published Law 1715, integrating non-conventional renewable energy into Colombia’s National Energy Grid. The law’s biggest challenge in the short and medium term will be the promotion and advancement of non-conventional energy within existing national energy plans, goals and policies of the Ministry of Mines and Energy. In addition to encouraging the use of non-conventional renewable energy and minimizing coal- and oil-related environmental conflicts, the law will also generate tariffs, accounting, and tax incentives to facilitate new technologies and promote research. This is a crucial step towards making the integration of solar, wind, and biomass energy competitive. The law can be found at: http://bit.ly/1pR8Lcm .
Isagén Sale Postponed by Stakeholder Concerns
The Colombian government announced it will postpone selling ISAGEN, the third largest power-generating company in Colombia, for at least another year. According to Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas, the delay of the sale was at the request of stakeholders/buyers to give them more time to study the sale. The Minister also noted it would give more clarity on the operation of the company’s new and biggest hydropower plant, Hidro Sogamoso, whose reservoir is still being filled. The government was hoping to sell its majority stake in ISAGEN (USD 2.6 billion) to fund much-needed highway construction, but is now analyzing other sources of financing for the 4G infrastructure program, including a partial sale of the government’s stake in Ecopetrol.
July Shows Foreign Direct Investment Is Down
Preliminary figures from the Central Bank show foreign direct investment (FDI) in Colombia is down 6.7 percent for the first seven months of 2014, approximately USD 9.3 billion. However, the Colombian government projects FDI will reach USD 17 billion this year, a four percent increase over 2013. Analysts don’t believe Colombia will reach this goal despite increases in portfolio investment that reached USD 8.2 billion dollars in the first seven months of 2014, a 148 percent increase over the same period in 2013.
Juan Manuel Santos Inaugurated as President of Colombia
On Thursday August 7, President Juan Manuel Santos was inaugurated for a second four-year term. Overall the economy has fared better than expected, with an average GDP growth of 4.8 percent between 2010 and 2013. The outlook this year looks even better with projections around 5 percent. However, Santos’ new presidential term starts with several economic challenges, including educational and health system reforms, poverty and unemployment reductions, infrastructure development, as well as agricultural sector and security improvements. During his inauguration speech, President Santos expressed his goal to make Colombia “… a country in total peace by 2025, a country with more equity and the most educated in Latin America.”
Colombia Attracts Record Foreign Direct Portfolio Investment
According to the Colombian Central Bank, during the first semester of 2014, Colombia received a total foreign direct portfolio investment of USD 7.9 billion, more than double the same period for 2013. The inflow of funds to the capital market has set record levels this year. For example, the bond market experienced high flows of funds from abroad after the JPMorgan decided to include Colombian assets in their sovereign debt indexes. Colombia’s attractive investment culture is in large part due the perception of Colombia as a much less risky place to invest than other countries in the region. At the same time, foreign direct investment to the hydrocarbon sector dropped 5.4 percent to USD 7.6 billion. This reflects operational difficulties faced by new exploration in the oil sector and in executing budgets due to road blocks/protests and security issues.
U.S. Trade Surplus with Colombia in the First Semester of 2014
According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, in the first six months of 2014, the U.S. trade surplus with Colombia reached USD 659 million, a reversal in trends from the USD 2.6 billion trade deficit recorded for the same period in 2013. This is an interesting contrast to the USD 10.1 billion in trade deficits the United States had with Latin America and the Caribbean for the same time period. During the first semester of 2014, the United States had deficits with Mexico (USD 25.6 billion) and Venezuela (USD 11.1 billion) and trade surpluses with Argentina (USD 3.4 billion) and Brazil (USD 7.4 billion).
On July 28 the rating agency Moody’s upgraded Colombia’s long-term foreign currency rating from Baa3 to Baa2 and its short-term rating from P-3 to P-2. According to Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas, this was the first time in history that Moody’s assigned Colombia a rating this high. According to Moody’s a strong factor in changing the rating was Colombia’s 4.7 percent growth rate in 2013, up from 4 percent in 2012, a dramatic contrast with the downward trend in GDP growth for countries in the region. The change in rating from Moody’s joins two major rating agencies in the world, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, which rate Colombia two levels above investment grade at BBB/Baa2, respectively.
The Colombian Government Defined the National Budget for 2015
On July 29, Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas confirmed that the Santos government’s proposing general budget for 2015 will be approximately USD 90 billion with USD 24 billion for investment.The proposed budget for 2015 would rise 6.4 percent overall compared to 2014, but increase by only 4.1 percent if the debt-service is considered. Proposed budgets for education (USD 14.4 billion), defense and police (USD 14.1 billion), and labor (USD 13.5 billion) all received increases. The Colombian government intends to put more emphasis on social issues, including increasing the coverage of programs like Colombia Mayor (elder population assistance), Familias en Acción (lower income families – cash transfers), and Cero a Siempre (early childhood assistance). The proposed budget must be approved in the Congress before the end of October to take effect the following year.
Colombia and the U.S. Signed Agreement on Technology and Innovation
On July 31 Colombian Information Technologies and Communications Minister Diego Molano and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda participated in the first bilateral meeting on information and communication technology issues. The meeting took place in Bogota and included participation from companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple, as well as Colombian universities. During the event Colombia and the United States signed an agreement to strengthen the training of Colombian software developers. Under the agreement, the Ministry of Information Technologies and Communications, with the support of the multinational companies, will fund a USD 8.5 million program to promote the international certification of Colombian developers and engineering schools.
The Colombian government received 26 offers from 19 national and international companies for exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the Ronda Colombia 2014. Offers were received on 27 percent of the 95 blocks offered, below the Ministry of Mines and Energy target of 30 percent.Of the 16 unconventional blocks that were up for auction, just one received bids.Four offers were submitted for five offshore blocks.Projected investment in the awarded areas is estimated at USD 1.4 billion.
1.3 million Visitors to Colombia in the First Quarter of 2014
According to Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Santiago Rojas, Colombia is becoming one of the top tourist destinations in the region. In the first quarter of 2014, the number of visitors to Colombia increased 6.4 percent year-on-year, representing the highest growth rate in South America. Within Colombia, the largest increases included to San Andrés Island (28 percent) and Cartagena (15.5 percent). Vice Minister of Tourism Sandra Howard Taylor said that the tourism industry in Colombia has grown on average 5.5 percent over the last three years.
Industrial Production Grew 3.6 Percent in May
According to the Colombian Industry Association, ANDI, manufacturing output grew 3.6 percent between January and May 2014. The following sectors showed the most improvement: printing activities (17 percent); textiles (almost 17 percent); and non-metallic minerals (13 percent).According to a poll conducted by ANDI, the main challenges for industry include exchange rate volatility, poor infrastructure, high logistics and input costs, and smuggling.
According to Colombia’s National Statistics Department (DANE), the country’s poverty levels dropped two percentage points in 2013. At the end of 2013, 30.6 percent of Colombians were considered living in poverty, while in 2012 that number had reached 32.7 percent. The five departments with the highest poverty rates in 2013 were Chocó (63.1percent), Cauca (58.4 percent), La Guajira (55.8 percent), Cordoba (51.8 percent), and Magdalena (50.5 percent). Colombia’s 2013 GINI coefficient – which measures income inequality – measured 0.539, the same as for 2012.
Foreign Portfolio Investment Soars in Colombia
According to the Colombian Central Bank, between January-June 2014, foreign direct portfolio investment increased by 127.6 percent to USD 6.2 billion compared to the same period in 2013. Net foreign investment inflows to Colombia in the first half of the year rose 29 percent to USD 13.7 billion compared to the same period in 2013. The investment flow increase can be explained in part by the increased weight of Colombian public domestic debt bonds in JPMorgan indexes.
Starbucks Opens First Store in Colombia
Starbucks opened its first store in Colombia on July 16 in Bogota. The company plans to open over 50 stores in the country within the next five years at an investment of over USD 30 million and will generate about 20 direct jobs per store. Starbucks purchases about 90 million pounds of Colombian coffee per year, a figure that could increase with the start of its Colombian operation. The multinational has a Support Center for coffee growers in Manizales, a program developed by the National Federation of Coffee Growers to promote research in the sector.
Colombia the Most Dynamic Economy in Latin America
Latin American countries had mixed economic results during the first quarter of 2014. Colombia, with a 6.4 percent GDP growth, was the most dynamic country, while Argentina fell into recession. Peru, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico had declining economic growth rates. Brazil and Colombia’s Central Banks are raising interest rates to try to contain rising prices.
Source: Central Banks for each country.
Colombia’s June Inflation Rate 0.09%
Colombia’s June inflation rate reached 0.09 percent, down 0.14 percent from the June 2013 inflation of 0.23 percent. The sectors with the greatest price increases were housing (0.41 percent) and meat and meat derivatives (1.22 percent), according to Colombia’s National Statistics Department (DANE). The accumulated Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the first half of the year had a 2.57 percent increase, up 0.84 percent from the same period of 2013 (1.73 percent).
Puerto Rico’s New Trade Promotion Office in Colombia
The government of Puerto Rico opened a trade promotion office in Bogotá this week aimed at increasing commercial ties between Colombia and Puerto Rico. According to Puerto Rico’s Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC), the trade promotion office will seek to attract investment and promote exports from the island. The opening of the Bogotá commercial office follows the start last year of Avianca’s direct route between the Colombian capital and San Juan. Avianca also recently announced it will increase its direct flights between Bogota and San Juan to three to four times weekly.
Colombia has the Fifth Largest Economic Growth Outlook in the World for 2014
According to The Economist, Colombia has the fifth largest economic growth prospects for 2014 out of 43 countries, and is highest in the region. In addition, Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas revealed that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shares this view. Colombia’s economic growth projection for 2014 is 4.6 percent, behind China (7.3 percent), India (6.0 percent), Indonesia (5.4 percent), and Malaysia (5.1 percent).
Colombian Economy Could Grow 8% Annually With Peace
The United Nations Program for Development (UNDP) and the Center of Resources for Conflict Analysis revealed a study this week on the impact that peace would have on the Colombian economy.According to Fabrizio Hochschild, the UN Coordinator and UNDP representative in Colombia, the end of Colombia’s internal conflict would significantly accelerate economic growth. The study reviewed the conflict from1988 to 2013 and found that it has cost four percent of Colombia’s GDP annually. Researchers estimate that with peace, GDP growth in 2013 could have reached 8.7 percent instead of the actual 4.3 percent. The report can be accessed at http://bit.ly/UzxoQ2 .
Expansion at Bogota’s International Airport Continues
Opain, the company that operates El Dorado airport, presented a proposal this month to expand further Bogota’s international airport.The project would include eight new access bridges to increase the boarding/terminal area by 20 to 33 percent. The project would cost USD $200 million, and Opain would recoup all costs by leasing the airport’s commercial concessions. The National Infrastructure Agency will announce the final schedule for this project during the third quarter of 2014.
Coffee Production Increased 30% to 11.5 Million Bags
Colombia’s coffee production grew 30 percent in the last 12 months (June 2013-May 2014) and reached 11.5 million bags compared to 8.8 million bags harvested in the same 2012-2013 period. Exports of Colombian coffee exceeded 10.5 million bags, up 31 percent from 8.1 million bags exported in the same period last year.
Colombian Exports to Venezuela Decreased
Colombia’s exports to Venezuela fell 36.2 percent between May 2013 and March 2014, according to figures from Colombia’s Tax and Customs Authority (DIAN). During this period, sales of goods from Colombia to Venezuela decreased from USD 150.8 million to USD 96.2 million.A drop in the sale of cattle and frozen bone-in meat was the main cause of the decline. Venezuela received the second largest quantity of Colombian exports from January-March 2014 with 4 percent of the total, behind the United States, which received 26.7 percent of total Colombian exports.
May Inflation 0.48%
According to Colombia’s National Statistics Department (DANE), inflation for May 2014 reached 0.48 percent. Accumulated inflation for the first five months of the year totaled 2.48 percent, 0.99 percent higher than the rate during the same period in 2013. In response to the upward trend in inflation, the board of Colombia’s Central Bank increased the intervention interest rate to 3.75 percent from 3.5 percent.