A new World Economic Forum white paper highlights the key obstacles that prevent the further development of deep and liquid capital markets in Colombia, and defines measures to help overcome these challenges and boost economic growth.
Recent gains in Colombia’s capital market development have come under significant pressure in the new macroeconomic environment. The size of the Colombian equity market as a share of GDP has declined by almost half in two years and liquidity in the local equity market has declined over time, placing Colombia’s turnover ratio among the lowest in emerging markets. Colombia has only 74 companies listed on the stock exchange and has a low free float at less than 30%.
“Colombia’s capital markets have developed significantly over the past decade, and we believe there remains great potential for further development,” said Michael Drexler, Head of Investors Industries, World Economic Forum. “However, given today’s challenging macroeconomic environment, the job is often easier said than done. This white paper reflects the views of all key stakeholder groups on how Colombia can further develop its equity market, helping create both the necessary conditions for sustained economic growth as well as providing a roadmap on how to unlock new pools of investment capital to finance economic development imperatives, such as the next generation of infrastructure.”
The white paper identifies four key areas of action – encouraging greater issuer participation, improving the investor value proposition, enhancing market efficiency and transparency, and attracting global interest – as key steps that must be taken to develop Colombia’s capital markets in the near term. Within these areas, the report specifically points to several areas that Colombia must tackle in the short term to develop its equity market:
Creating additional investment opportunities by encouraging increased issuer participation: the report points to the limited number of investment opportunities as a primary barrier to deepening and developing the Colombian equity market. As of December 2015, Colombia has only 74 companies listed on its stock exchange, which is dominated by only a few companies, including Ecopetrol, the state-run oil company that accounts for nearly 45% of the total market capitalization.Furthermore, compared to peer economies, the Colombian equity market has a very low level of free float, at only 29% as of 2014, which can threaten the market’s liquidity and discourage investor participation. In contrast, its closest peers in Latin America are ahead – Mexico has 159, Chile 230, and Peru 275. The average free float at the end of 2014 was 39% in Chile, Peru 43%, Brazil 53%, and Mexico 59%. Promoting greater issuer education, addressing the burden and cost of issuance versus bank funding, and improving corporate governance were the areas identified as short-term priorities to reverse this recent decline.
Broadening the investor base by improving the investor value proposition: Tax regimes that align with financial development objectives, robust regulatory and legal frameworks that protect investors, strong corporate governance standards, and regulatory changes that encourage greater risk-taking were identified to help attract investors across all segments. While Colombia has made significant progress in developing a local investor base – especially pension funds – the equity market could benefit from a larger and broader investment base and specifically, from additional shorter-term investors with more speculative strategy. Insurers, mutual funds, hedge funds and family offices were identified as key groups to lead to a more liquid market with a wider range of investors and a broader suite of professionally managed capital market products.
Improving market access and efficiency: Despite significant development over the past decade, some operational and regulatory challenges still constrain access and efficiency in the Colombian equity market. For the market to continue growing in the future, Colombia’s risk culture needs to evolve, recognizing that risk is inherent in capital market activities. Therefore, all market stakeholders need to strengthen risk management practices rather than create restrictions that can stymie further development. Further developing repurchase agreements, securities lending and derivative markets, increasing transparency and flexibility in the foreign exchange market, and encouraging access for foreign investors were the key areas identified that needed to be addressed.
Latin America’s capital markets grew rapidly in recent years. The total stock market capitalization more than quadrupled in the decade before 2012, with Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Colombia representing the largest markets for equities. Similarly, bond markets have grown steadily across the region, with government bonds making up the majority of the market. However, since the end of the commodities boom in 2012, all markets have faced headwinds, and Colombia has fallen behind its emerging market peers in several areas. Given the complexity of capital market development, this white paper reflects the views of multiple stakeholders that policies must continue to be put in place now that will allow capital markets to flourish far into the future. Additional measures could improve Colombia’s long-term economic growth prospects, particularly if key issues, such as the underdevelopment of the country’s infrastructure, are addressed.
This white paper also defines a set of recommendations in the context of further development of the corporate bond market in Indonesia.