CARTAGENA, Colombia -(Dow Jones)- Carlos Raul Yepes, the head of Colombia’s largest lending institution Bancolombia (CIB, BCOLOMBIA.BO), said the country’s business community needs to learn to live with a strong peso even as the government considers stronger intervention measures to curb the currency’s strength.
Yepes, who heads of one of the largest market makers in the Colombian foreign exchange market, said he doesn’t believe “much stronger measures” should be taken to limit the peso’s surge.
Colombia’s intervention in the foreign-exchange market has been limited to the central bank buying $20 million daily. The government also has decided to put a strict limit on the amount of dollar profits it repatriates from its oil sales abroad, which run in the billions of dollars.
Colombia Finance Minister Juan Carlos Echeverry has signaled that those measures aren’t enough, and is urging the central bank’s board, on which he sits, to act.
Colombia’s peso closed Friday at COP1,776.20 for a dollar, little changed from Thursday but 8% stronger since Jan. 1.
Yepes said the peso’s strength is being driven by forces such as a boom in foreign investment and a strong economy. “We need to learn to live with the peso trading at this range,” Yepes said in an interview during a business conference at the Summit of the Americas that will includes more than 30 heads of state.
Bancolombia has benefited over the last year from a surge in economic activity in Colombia. The country’s gross domestic product expanded 5.9% last year and the government expects that this year it will grow between 5% and 6%.
That growth is being driven by a boom in consumer borrowing, which triggered the central bank’s decision to begin increasing interest rates last year. The bank paused at its last monetary policy meeting and the rate now stands at 5.25%.
Yepes said that if inflation remains under control, the central bank was unlikely to hike its key rate beyond 5.75%. Twelve-month inflation through March stands at 3.4% compared with 3.55% in the 12 months through February, and is within the central bank’s target range of 2% to 4% for the year.
The central bank’s interest-rate hikes, however, have triggered a “moderation” in lending, Yepes said. He added that he expects the banks loan portfolio to expand between 18% and 20% this year.
Yepes said the bank is not planning any new stock or bond sales and that it will finance its operations with its own cash flow. He added that the bank, which has a strong presence in Central America, has been examining potential acquisitions overseas but has not yet found any suitable purchase targets.
“There are not a lot of options out there right now and the ones out there are too expensive,” Yepes said.
The bank, however, believes it has plenty of room to grow in Central America and is also looking at Mexico, Peru and Chile as countries to expand its operations.