Colombia finance minister sticks to plan amid market shake-out

DAVOS, Switzerland Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:06pm EST

DAVOS, Switzerland Jan 24 (Reuters) - Colombian Finance Minister Mauricio Cardenas said on Friday he is confident a commitment to fiscal responsibility and low inflation will mean markets continue to treat the country differently from other emerging economies.

"I am very confident that what Colombia has is quite solid because it is based on fundamentals that are not going to change, for example fiscal responsibility is written into the constitution, it is part of the fiscal rule. Low inflation is part of the mandate of the independent central bank," he said.

Cardenas said he expects Colombia to have grown by between 4.3 and 4.5 percent in 2013, although fourth quarter data has not yet been released. Colombia's economy grew by a faster-than-expected 5.1 percent in the third quarter, compared with the same period of 2012.

GDP growth will be close to its potential rate of growth of 4.7 percent in 2014, Cardenas told Reuters on the fringes of the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that a road infrastructure programme would add a percentage point of growth.

"This year we are going to grow very closely to potential. Forecast is 4.7 and last year is between 4.3 and 4.5 percent. We haven't yet seen data for the fourth quarter," Cardenas said.

And strong demand for a bond issued by Colombia earlier in the week was evidence of investors making clear choices between emerging market countries.

"Markets are telling us that they are differentiating between countries," Cardenas said, "our exchange rate has not depreciated significantly".

The Colombian peso rose by 0.2 percent to 1,994 per dollar on Friday, after three consecutive days of losses.

Most emerging market currencies weakened for a second consecutive day on Friday as foreign investors become more averse to risk, scared by a looming forex crisis in Argentina and concerned about less monetary stimulus globally.

Cardenas said Colombia had decided to double the size of the recent bond issue to meet investor demand, and had sold the $2 billion 30-year bond earlier at a yield of 5.647 percent,

"It was a great transaction," he said, adding that this meant that Colombia had completed all of its overseas borrowing requirements for the year.

In addition to the road concessions programme, which involves 40 different projects, Cardenas said Colombia was also actively pursuing the sale of its 56.7 percent stake in the country's third largest power company Isagen and he had met with American and European power sector companies in Davos.

Cardenas said that when a sale was agreed, the buyer would have to make an offer to Isagen's other shareholders at the same price. Colombia has attached a base price of $2.5 billion to the government's stake in the company, meaning it will not sell for less, he added.

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