Soluciones de Microfinanzas, S.A. (Microserfin) has a solid track record of more than 26 years of activity in Panama, consolidating the purpose for which it was founded of improving the standard of living of low-income entrepreneurs and their families. Using Responsible Productive Finance, over the course of 2015 it provided solutions to the most vulnerable groups in the country. A team of 224 professionals is the backbone of the organization, committed to transforming their clients’ development, reducing poverty and vulnerability levels and sowing the seeds of economic self-improvement among disadvantaged population groups.
The institution offers nationwide coverage, much of it in rural areas, in the east and west of Panama. Microserfin is committed to its promise to service rural entrepreneurs whom it advises at the start-up and growth stages of their farming enterprises, with its specialized officers offering personal advice.
In 2015 it released over USD 20 million in production credits through more than 13,000 loan operations for its products, demonstrating its commitment to supporting its clients’ development. Furthermore, the institution improved its client service network in 2015 for entrepreneurs with the opening of three new offices, bringing the total number of branch offices up to 11 offices and 9 user services centers.
In 2015 Microserfin retained its 5 Diamond qualification ranking from Mix Market, the highest rating that a microfinance institution can be awarded, given to those institutions that stand out for their transparency and the quality of their financial information.
Luis Germán Linares
Senior Administrative Manager
John Alexander Duque
Senior Distribution Manager
Client Management Manager
Senior Control Manager
Human Talent Manager
Senior Production Manager
José Antonio Colomer
Casafin is a pioneering program to improve entrepreneurs’ housing conditions so that they can conduct their productive activities successfully and safely. Around two thousand families have taken part in this initiative for the improvement of productive housing.
Access to credit, advice and training are the three areas covered by the “Ruralfin” program for helping rural communities and small farming producers in Panama.
Microserfin was honored in the Panamanian Credit Association (APC) Awards, winning 4 out of 5 prizes, achieving first place in the categories of information quality, updating, compliance and overall change. These awards recognize timely, accurate and thorough information reporting on the part of financial and commercial institutions that benefits of the system, national economy and their clients.
Clients won Micro-entrepreneur prizes in the “Micro-entrepreneurs for Development” awards. Microserfin’s entrepreneur Hilda Hernández took first place in the “Service” category. Another of Microserfin’s entrepreneurs received a special mention in the "Impact on the Community" category which honors the support and creation of jobs that have a positive impact on improving the community.
The Panamanian economy held to its 6% growth rate in 2015, although this is a slight slowdown from recent years, when it grew at an average rate of over 8%, essentially because of the healthy constitution of the construction sector, both in civil building projects linked to expansion work on the canal and the boost to residential building.
This slowdown is consistent with convergence towards the economy’s growth potential, together with the fact that some of the major investments that have been completed have not yet started production. The start of operations of the canal expansion in 2016 and of the Minera Panama copper mines in 2018 will help keep growth at around 6%-7% in the next few years.
This momentum held steady in 2015 with the construction sector growing by 6.5%, thanks mainly to the surge in residential projects which grew by 14%, although the lag in non-residential projects brought growth in this sub-sector to 3.2%, well below the rate of years past.
Growth in mining and quarry operations continued, linked to the sectors above, as well as electricity, gas and water supply, which increased by 7% and 12% respectively. The latter is a response to the increase in energy consumption on the part of commercial customers and, to a lesser degree, of residential customers. The transport, warehousing and telecoms sector grew by over 7% as a result of the 3% increase in tanker traffic through the Panama Canal and a rise of more than 6% in cargo movement. Tolls increased by 7% and services to ships passing through the canal grew by around 5%. Traffic through Tocumen International Airport also expanded by 6%.
Trade grew by 5.5% mainly thanks to the performance of domestic demand. The value of re-exports from the Colon Free Trade Zone fell by 13% to their lowest level since 2010 against lower demand from some of the country’s main trading partners, given the challenging economic situation facing some of these economies, especially Colombia and Venezuela, affected by a serious recession, factors affecting the companies operating out of Colon Free Trade Zone.
The restaurant sector enjoyed a 3.3% uptick and hotels one of 5.6% as a consequence of higher tourist numbers. The key manufacturing industry indicators reported a contraction in activities associated with the production of dairy products, alcoholic drinks, non-metal minerals and their exports.
The Panamanian economy is experiencing a similar scenario to that in the Dominican Republic, because of external sector impacts. Solid performance in the US economy, as well as the fall in oil price, both represent a positive shock on Panama. However, the appreciation of the US dollar introduces a delaying factor for investments.
Inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index was hovering around deflation at year end, with a rate of variation close to 0.2%, the lowest figure for a decade, due to the behavior of the energy price because of the fall in the oil price, as well as the drop in import costs because of the dollar appreciation. Price controls on 22 products, established in 2014 and extended in principle until December 2015, continued. If these distortions are corrected and the impacts of the energy price isolated, inflation will be closer to the 3-4% mark.
The 2015 fiscal deficit was 2.0% of GDP. The deficit reduction is the product of a real spending fall of 7%, while real income increased by the same amount. The main adjustment was made in capital expenditure, which shrank by 30% in real terms because of the new Administration’s review to its plans for a number of projects. Transfers in subsidies for energy also fell sharply because of the oil price trajectory.
The current administration proposed a five-year infrastructure investment and social welfare spending plan, with more emphasis on the latter. Key programs include: urban renewal of Colon, the Techos de Esperanza (Roofs of Hope) program, the metro extension and other building projects aimed at making an impact on wider society. Altogether this new five-year plan is approximately half the size of the previous one, in an attempt to achieve greater fiscal sustainability. Recurrent loss-making management has pushed the debt/GDP ratio up to nearly 50%, and grew at a real rate of 10% in 2015.
The external sector continued to support a weighty current account deficit equivalent to 6% of GDP, although this was half of the 2014 rate. The fall in imports because of the lower value of oil-derivative products was one of the main factors behind this reduction. Foreign direct investment increased by 18%.
In the labor market unemployment stood at 3.8%, close to full employment, when in Latin America the average is above 6%. Nevertheless the rate of urban unemployment came in at around 6%, a rise for the second year in a row. 2015 was notable for the adjustments resulting from the final phase of major projects, which historically cause temporary, or frictional unemployment, the result of a transition to new activities, particularly those based in the construction sector with completed projects and which can be absorbed by new building projects approved in the new five-year investment plan.
Adult participation in the labor force was 73%; the labor market has a high proportion of informal employment, at 42% of the labor force, while self-employed workers and/or micro-entrepreneurs make up 27% of the whole, one of the lowest ratios in the region after Chile.
According to official figures, poverty in Panama measured by income stands at 22.3%, a reduction from 2014 when it was 25.6%, while extreme poverty edged down from 10.8% in 2014 to 10.3% in 2015. The people covered by the latter figure are basically in the indigenous areas, where 90% of the population is extremely poor.