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Cablegate: Weathering the Storm: Colombia's Exposure to The

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INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 8408
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RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 6594
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RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC

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SENSITIVE

EEB/OMA FOR ASIROTIC; WHA/EPSC FOR MROONEY; WHA/AND FOR
RMERRIN; TREASURY FOR MEWENS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EFIN ECON PGOV CO
SUBJECT: WEATHERING THE STORM: COLOMBIA'S EXPOSURE TO THE
GLOBAL MARKET TURMOIL

REF: BOGOTA 3076

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Amid ongoing turmoil in U.S. and global
financial markets, Colombia's financial sector appears at low
susceptibility to a contagion and its macro-economic
foundation significantly more stable than during the 1998
international financial crisis. Nevertheless, local experts
predict that Colombia's already slowing growth rate could
downshift further as demand for Colombia exports, investment
inflows, and sources of international financing dry up.
Consequent reductions in GOC tax revenues may also force a
round fiscal tightening even while the GOC struggles to fund
its social and security priorities. Finally, fewer foreign
capital inflows are likely to curb the peso's appreciation,
helping competitiveness of long-suffering Colombian
exporters, but risking an uptick in inflation. END SUMMARY.

The Strengths
-------------

2. (SBU) Despite nervousness regarding recent global economic
events, Colombian officials and private sector experts agree
that Colombia's exposure is limited and the economy remains
well-positioned to ride out the crisis. According to the
Office of the Financial Superintendent, the Colombian banking
sector's direct exposure to the international sub-prime
market is minimal. Of the financial sector's USD 15.6
billion in assets, only USD 36 million is invested in
international banking institutions. Likewise, Colombia's
pension funds have limited investment exposure in the U.S.
sub-prime mortgage market. According to the Superintendent,
only one-third of one percent of combined pension fund assets
are in structured investment vehicles. Nevertheless,
Colombian bankers recognize that they cannot completely
escape the pressure on global financial industry, pointing
out that the American Depository Receipts (ADRs) of
Colombia's largest bank, Bancolombia, have lost almost 12
percent of their value in New York trading since the
beginning of the year.

3. (SBU) Beyond asset exposure, experts insist that
Colombia's financial sector and economy are on a much more
solid footing than during the last economic crisis of the
late 1990s. National Association of Financial Institutions
(ANIF) President Sergio Clavijo cited to us Colombia's record
high international reserves (USD 24 billion), lower public
and private debt levels (as a percentage of GDP), lower
current and fiscal account deficits (as a percentage of GDP)
and the local financial sector's strong profitability as key
insulators from the crisis. Juan Pablo Cordoba, President of
the Colombian Stock Exchange (BVC), echoed the sentiment that
Colombia's exposure is limited, even while the BVC market
index (IGBC) remains down 14 percent for the year.

The Weaknesses
--------------

4. (SBU) Clavijo, Cordoba and other analysts, such as the
brokerage firm Correval, acknowledge that reduced global
growth in 2008 will translate into sluggish Colombian growth
in the medium term as demand for raw material exports such as
oil, nickel, and coal, falls. In particular, a slower U.S.
economy, which represents Colombia's largest export market
(36 percent of total exports in 2007) and source of foreign
direct investment (21 percent of total inflows in 2007), will
hurt Colombian export industries. Likewise, if oil prices
fall as a result of reduced global demand, the purchasing
power of Colombia's second most important trading partner,
Venezuela (14 percent of Colombian exports in 2007), could
drop in correlation and exacerbate the pressure on Colombian
exporters.

5. (SBU) On the fiscal and debt service side, lower raw
material prices would also trim Colombia's revenues from
state-owned hydrocarbons company Ecopetrol and the royalties
that international mining and hydrocarbons firms pay the GOC.
Any reduction in resource revenues would generate pressure
on the GOC to implement commensurate cuts in government
expenditures in order to stay within GOC fiscal targets.
Meanwhile, the international financial market turbulence
could raise Colombia's cost to finance public and private

debt on world markets.

End of the Good Times?
---------------------

6. (SBU) Concern has spread that the Colombian economy is
entering a prolonged period of slower growth. After averaging
over five percent annual GDP growth since 2002 and reaching
eight percent in 2007, the GOC reported that growth in the
first half of 2008 totaled only 4.1 percent. Taken together
with the international market turmoil, several local
financial institutions and analysts subsequently lowered 2008
growth estimates from five percent to as low as 3.8 percent,
and 2009 projections to below five percent. ANIF President
Clavijo told us he estimates the overall economy will grow
3.7 percent in 2008 (down from ANIF's estimate of 4.7 percent
three months ago) and only 3.5 percent in 2009 (down from the
previous ANIF estimate of 4.3 percent). Nevertheless,
Clavijo downplayed concerns of a Colombian recession and said
he considers this a "natural, soft landing" for the economy
after its rapid clip in 2006-07.

7. (SBU) Central Bank President Jose Dario Uribe and Finance
Minister Oscar Ivan Zuluaga have publicly acknowledged that
the international financial crisis could bleed growth from
the Colombian economy, but emphasize that Colombia remains
well-positioned to weather the storm. Zuluaga added that the
GOC must reinforce its position by adjusting public
expenditures in the 2009 budget, which was calculated based
on an expected GDP growth rate of 5 percent. The Ministry
estimates that every one percentage point reduction in annual
GDP costs the government USD 300 million in lost tax revenue.
Such a reduction in spending will significantly complicate
GOC efforts to fulfill its poverty reduction and democratic
security priorities.

One Silver Lining?
------------------

8. (U) On the bright side, several Colombian economists have
said that due to a slower U.S. and global economy they expect
fewer U.S. dollars and other foreign currency to enter the
Colombian economy, thereby reducing appreciation pressure on
the Colombian peso. The rise of the peso against foreign
currencies, especially the U.S. dollar, since the beginning
of 2007 significantly eroded the price competitiveness of
many non-mineral Colombian exports such as textiles, cut
flowers, and bananas (reftel). After appreciating 28 percent
against the U.S. dollar between January 2007 and June 2008,
the peso has now devalued 19 percent in the past three
months. Our contacts attribute this shift to the combination
of overall developing country jitters in currency markets
with the consensus that the peso's rise was excessive. They
caution, however, that a weaker peso would augment
inflationary pressures. Estimates for 2008 inflation
currently stand at 7.5-8 percent, double that of beginning of
year targets.
NICHOLS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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