May in Colombia: Juan Manuel Santos’ Most Difficult Month

What does a good month in Colombia look like? Well, the opposite of what we saw this past May. The Colombian government wanted ongoing investor confidence to remind everyone about the country’s progress, but an attack against a conservative former minister, and the capture of a French journalist by the leftwing FARC guerrillas revealed the contrary. In Colombia, security remains a weak spot. Colombia is on a positive path, but its government should not be too confident about the country’s success

Colombia has made progress on its security and economic fronts. A stronger police force, a better military, and more effective, yet still subpar government institutions have combined to wage an effective war against left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and drug-trafficking organizations. Although much still needs to be done, Colombia is no longer seen as a failed state. But, illegal groups still have a presence in remote and strategic areas of the country.

Improved security and a well-managed economy are the anchors of an average GDP growth rate of over 4 percent in the last decade, compared to a regional 3.4 percent. Foreign direct investment (FDI) has soared, reaching $13 billion in 2011. Close to 40% of these flows went to the oil industry as a result of improved control over the territory, a successful oil sector reform, and high commodity prices. Against this backdrop, throughout the month of May, Colombia wanted to celebrate ongoing investor confidence and the taking off of the long awaited U.S.-Colombia trade agreement.

Indeed, last month the Santos administration organized several events to celebrate the U.S.-Colombia trade agreement, the country’s economic stability, and Colombia’s security achievements. On May 15th, the day the trade agreement finally took effect, the port of Continue reading

Macro confidence and the scourge of corruption in Bogota and Colombia

Standard and Poor’s upgraded Colombia’s foreign denominated debt rating to investment grade last week. The rating agency’s decision boosts market confidence in Colombia amid responsible macroeconomic management. Good macro management should come hand in hand with eradicating corruption practices in public and private transactions, as the ongoing corruption scandals in Bogota and across the country belie. Otherwise, the continued pilfering of public monies threatens to become a fiscal burden and an obstacle for conducting business.

S&Ps’ decision, expected by Colombian policymakers and long-internalized by markets as a result of the agency’s 2010 upward outlook for Colombia, reflects the relative sound macroeconomic environment of the Andean country. Credit agencies downgraded Colombia’s rating twelve years ago after the country underwent a banking and mortgage crisis. Increased insecurity and alleged inability of the government to control its territory also contributed to the downgrade. But unlike ArgentinaEcuador, and Venezuela, Colombia has had a historical responsible macroeconomic management, a solid independent Central Bank, and a credible commitment to service its obligations.

The upgrade comes despite implementation of pending macroeconomic reforms. Although fiscal policy still is moderately inflexible thanks to numerous constitutionally mandated obligations, Continue reading