Has Spain Contracted The Artemio Cruz Syndrome?
So what is the problem? Well to get straight to the point, in good old basic Econ 101 direct fashion, at this moment in time everything about the Spanish economy is either going dramatically up, or coming dramatically down.
Of course this is now a complete horror story, and in macro economic terms the problem is grim. But this unfortunately isn’t the worst of it. It is all too apparent from the above graphs that the slowdown in the contruction sector has now spread, and extended across the “real economy” as a whole. Maybe the worst of part of all this is the state of the services sector, which has long been the mainstay of the Spanish economic expansion, and which is now, at least according to the purchasing managers index, contracting very sharply, and has been doing so since January.
But how did the problem start up in the construction sector? This is the real isue, since what sets the property slowdown in Spain (and of course in Ireland and the UK) apart from the normal, run of the mill, garden variety of property slowdown, is that it didn’t start with an interest rate tightening process from the central bank (this was taking place, and a more or less orderly correction did seem to be underway) but rather it was given a huge kick from the credit crunch shock which effectively followed the outbreak of the US sub prime crisis in mid August 2007. In particular the Spanish banks found themselves in a major quandry when they discovered that the wholesale money markets had become effectively closed to their leading financial product (the cedula hipotecaria) after September.
So this is a tale of two structural problems, one a bank financing one, and the other an external deficit one. Let’s look at them one at a time.
The Liquidity Straps Are On
Evidence of the difficulties that Spain’s banks are having is everywhere. Take bank lending for example. According to the most recent data we have from the Bank of Spain, lending to Spanish households was up by 4.245 billion euros in March when compared with February, and year on year lending to households was up by only 10.6%. I say “only” here since this rate of increase in lending is only about half what it was at the start of 2007, and as such it is only about half the rate of new mortgage generation that the extensive Spanish construction industry needs simply to keep turning over.
The reason for this decline in the rate of new lending creation is obvious: the liquidity crunch, which is now the principal reason why Spanish banks are steadily lending less and less extra money in new mortgages each month, although as seen above we are now steadily moving from a construction crisis fuelled by a lack of availability of funds for mortgages to one which will be increasingly driven by absence of demand for them as the “affordability” issue steadily locks-in on those who would like to buy their own home.
The fundamental problem is not that hard to understand, even for the non specialist: since the Spanish banks are now short of cash they are simply able to lend less, and it is this, and not the 4% repo rate set by the ECB (or the sudden rise in 1 year Euribor following the sub prime shock), which is the principal reason the value of mortgages created on urban buildings in Spain (at approximately 16,575 million euros) was down in March 2008 by 36.7% over March 2007. In housing, the capital loaned exceeded 9,975 million euros, 41.9% less than in March 2007. 105,608 properties were mortgaged in March 2008, a decrease of 37.77% over March 2007.
The Spanish banks are, of course, able to raise money, but much of this is on a short term basis, and not appropriate for long term lending on products such as mortgages. Moody’s recently suggested that Spanish savings banks are trying to attract foreign investors (especially German pension and investment funds) with private placements of tailor-made securities. But such issues are typically in the 30 to 300 million euro range – a long way from the earlier jumbo cedulas. In addition maturity on these securities is much shorter, typically three years. Another strategy the banks have been using has been to issue short term (typically three month) paper, and there was roughly 90 billion euros worth of it outstanding at the end of March. Banks are also trying frantically to attract more deposits, and since the end of last year some 20 billion euros have been transferred out of investment funds into long term deposits. The however do not come cheap, and the price the banks are paying for this money is prohibitively expensive – some of it even pays 7% – for it to be used as a basis for mortgage finance, for mortgage finance since mortagages are still widely on offer for around 0.5% over 1 year euribor (or 5.25% or so).
Thus the problem for the banks is really how to find a stable long term source of finance for their mortgage business given the fact that the wholesale money markets have been virtually closed in their faces. Since we have no idea at the present time at what level Spanish property prices will finally settle (and thus what the true market value of the mortgages pools which effectively back the cedulas actually is) then it would seem that the day the doors will once more open again (at least at prices the Spanish banks would be interested in) is far from being at hand.
The Madrid based consultancy Analystas Financeros Internacionales (AFI) estimate that during 2007 Spanish banks were raising approximately 40% of their funding requirements outside Spain, as compared with only 15% in 2000-2001.
According to AFI the Spanish banks and savings banks did continue to issue residential mortgage backed securities (cedulas) in the second half of 2007 (to the tune of an estimated 50 billion euros, although this number seems rather high to me), but none of these were placed with external investors (since there were effectively no takers). Rather they were kept on the books for later use in repo facilities with the ECB as and when required.
Data from the Bank of Spain show that Spanish banks have doubled their share of the ECB’s weekly funding auctions since August 2007 – up to 10% of the total from a previous 5% – and that in February Spanish banks borrowed 44 billion euro out of a total of 442 billion euro borrowed by European banks. Which means the Spanish banks may have “parked” an additional 22 billion euros or so of cedulas with the ECB over this period, not an enormous quantity given the scale of the problem, and this suggests that at the present time they are resolving most of their immediate needs via other channels.
One of the curious issues that arise from a little careful thought about this data is, if the Spanish banks – who are undoubtedly the worst affected in the eurozone – are in fact using such a small part of the ECB facility, what is all the rest of the money being used for? In otherwords it may well not be the Spanish banks who are “abusing” ECB facilities at all, but other banks who are “piggy-backing” on the facilities provided to help the Spanish banks to obtain money for their own purposes. The Economist last week had a useful article about the way some banks have been “dumping” (they call the ECB a litter bin) ABS’s on the ECB. Perhaps the most revealing data point they offer in the article is this one:
“Of €208 billion ($320 billion) of eligible securities created, only about €5.8 billion have been placed with investors, according to calculations by JPMorgan.”
So some European banks have been increasingly creating paper for explicit use with the ECB. My feeling is that following all the publicity this issue has now been receiving the rate of new paper creation may well have diplomatically slowed, since if there is one thing Spanish banks don’t like to do it is draw attention to themselves (unless of course the news is positive, which in this case it most decidedly isn’t). Of course, if bad moves on to worse we may well see the need for more “containment” activity from the ECB. Which makes it rather unfortunate that so much liquidity has already been soaked up, before the show has truly gotten under way as it were.
The big issue is of course that there is now no private market for the earlier jumbo bond offerings. Worse, many of the original jumbos were offered with maturities of between five and eight years. So these cedulas will effectively soon be coming up for rollover.
I would say that the greatest risk points for the Spanish economy from the banking sector at this stage come from:
1/ the potential liquidity crisis which may be provoked by the need to refinance the cedulas.
2/ the potential increase in the quantity of bad debt provision which the Spanish banks may need to set aside as and when the builders themselves start going bankrupt in serious style. With anything up to an estimated 1 million unsold properties on the books in Spain at the moment, and with the banks being de facto owners of these properties through their financing of the builders, this avenue is the most important short term threat of debt delinquency, and not unpaid mortgages (IMHO). And the sums involved are by no means chickenfeed, and could well be very similar in magnitude to the quantities owing on the cedulas. ie the whole problem is very large indeed.Of course later, as the financial problem ripples its way through the real economy, the ability of individual households to meet their mortgage obligations may well become a problem, but we are a long way from that at this point, and sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof is very much the case here I think.
AFI estimate that around 40 billion euros in cedulas and other bank debt come up for refinancing in the second half of 2008, that in 2009 this number will rise to around 80 billion euros, and that the number will remain high through 2010 and 2011. That is to say my rule of thumb guess that we may be facing around 300 billion euros in rollover issues (or somewhere in the region of 25% – 30% of Spanish annual GDP) in the coming years does not seem to be too far off the mark. And as I say, we may need to make similar provision for equivalent exposure to bankrupt builders etc.
The following chart which is simply for the Spanish bank BBVA should give some rough and ready indication of the rollover issues which are coming up, and their temporal distribution.
The Current Account
Spain had a current account deficit in March of 12,049.5 million euros, which was well up on the 7.3114 billion euros registered in March 2007. According to the Bank of Spain this deterioration in the current account is due to two factors, the increasing trade deficit, and a growing deficit in the income account. If we look at the trend in the current account deficit we will find that in the January to March period (Q1) the total deficit was 32.552 billion euros, while in Q1 2007 the total was 26.637 billion euros. This is a year on year increase of 26.3%. If we now consider the fact that last year’s “whole year” deficit was an estimated 105.8 billion euros (or 10.1% of GDP) then if this first quarter trend continues Spain could well be facing a whole year deficit of something in the region of 130.8 billion euros. (The current IMF WEO guesstimate is 171 billion dollars, or at todays prices roughly 110 billion euros).
Now, given that Spain also has a major economic (credit crunch driven) slowdown underway and that it is quite possible that GDP will be nearly stationary this year (let’s say a maximum and very optimistic 1% whole year growth), the value of the the deficit as a % of GDP is set to rise, and possibly very substantially, by between 1 and 2 percentage points. In fact given that Spanish GDP at current prices in Q1 was some 268.496 billion euros, the CA deficit was already running at a rate of 12.12% of GDP. And to give us some idea that this way of doing things isn’t entirely without foundation, we could note that the CA deficit during Q1 2007 was 24.89% of the whole year deficit. So where we go from here, it seems to me, depends on two things, the price of oil, and the rate of growth of the Spanish economy.
The Trade Deficit
To get some idea where we are here, it is perhaps worth mentioning that the goods trade deficit was up 4.5 billion euros in the January to March period over the same period in 2007 (or an increase of around 25% year on year), and since exports grew 2.4 billion euros while imports were up by 6.9 billion, then we can see that this story is virtually all about one thing: energy imports (since the rising income deficit – up 0.5 billion euros in Q1, or around 7.5% – while important for what it suggests about the future since Spain is having to borrow so much externally to keep afloat, is not determining over a short term horizon).
In fact exports were down in March, but since March was such an untypical month due to the calendar effect of Easter I think we are better staying with the Q1 data for the time being.
The Financial Account This large deficit in the Spanish current account – which resulted (after taking into account a small positive balance of 223 million euros in Spain’s favour on the capital account) in a net financing requirement of 11.8 billion euros (up from 7.6 billion in March 2007) was basically covered by some very large movements on the financial account.
Spain’s net external financial balance with the rest of the world was running to the tune of 17.87 billion euros in March (up from 5.7 billion euros in March 2007). This increase in the inflow of external funds is very large indeed (and we will look in detail at some of the ingredients shortly), but the end result was that net assets of the Bank of Spain vis-a-vis the rest of the world were up by 6.86 billion euros on the month (a very large change from the negative balance of 773.9 million euros in March 2007). Now since things are going so stupendously badly as far as Spain’s economy goes, we may well ask why things appear to be going so incredibly well on the flow of funds front. So let’s take a look, since the answer we find may well be interesting.
The large increase in the net flow of funds, was mainly the result of a significant increase in the category of “other investments” (which is basically made up by loans, deposits and repos) while there were net outflows on all the other instruments in the account.
Direct investments saw an outflow of 2.3 billion euros, which was down on the net outflows of 6.27 billion euros in March 2007. There were net outlows to the tune of 14.34 billion euros in portfolio investments (largely bonds and equities) which contrasted with the large inflow under this concept 18.14 billion euros in March 2007. If we look at the appetite of foreign investors for Spainish bonds and equities the situation gets even worse, since in March there was disinvestment in Spain to the tune of 12.662 billion euros which compares with an inbound investment of 23.829 billion euros in March 2007.
If we now come to repos, loans and deposits there were net inflows in March of 34.831 billion euros – while in March 2007 there were net outflows of 6.404billon euros. Now we don’t have a monthly breakdown of this data, since the Bank of Spain gives this on a quarterly basis, and the last quarter we have is Q4 2007, but as a rough rule of thumb we could say that flows in and out of deposits at banks and other financial instutions are far and away the most important item here (about two thirds of the total, while repos are pretty insignificant at this level).
The bottom line is that in March there was a massive disinvestment by Spanish financial institutions in deposits outside Spain – to the tune of 37.911 billone euros (bringing the money home?) which contrasts with net outflows in March 2007 of 18.846 billion euros. On the other hand foreign investors disinvested in Spanish loans and deposits by 3.080 billion euros which compares with inflows of 12.442 billlion euros in March 2007.
Something happened in March, but I’m not really sure yet what, and we need to see more data. The above chart contrasts the respective flows by the two agents – internal and external – since essentially the balance doesn’t tell you anything more than that it needs to be more or less maintained while it is who is moving what where which is really interesting (remember negative readings from Spanish agents mean positive inflows since they are disinvesting abroad). Looking at the chart we can see that lending and deposit transfers into Spain by external agents suddenly turned negative in March after two months of quite strong positive flows, and as a result Spanish financial institutions had themselves to transfer money into Spain, otherwise it seems to me the whole domestic liquidity situation would have been like it was in December (when something similar happened, but the banks didn’t move sufficient resources in and bank lending growth came to a virtual dead stop).
Essentially as I say we need to see what happens under this heading in the coming months, but the volatility that has crept into these flows, and which is evident at the right hand end of the chart, is fascinating, and obviously indicative of things we are yet to learn about. What is becoming most clear is just how rapidly Spanish financial agents need to react when external the appetite for lending to Spain slows. I think this may well be one of the clearest indicators we have of the impact of the current account deficit induced money drought.
In Brief Conclusion
In this post I have focused on two aspects of Spain’s current economic crisis, the growing current account funding problem and the structural financing problem in the banking sector. Of course, at the end of the day these problems both boil down to one: Spaniards need to start saving more and borrowing less for consumption. This is very easy to say, but will mean an enormous wrench and change in previous behavioural patterns. What I want to stress is that these factors are structural and not cyclical, and it would be fools gold to be playing around at this point in time with the idea that some sort of cyclical uptick will miraculously put things right. Since domestic demand is no longer going to drive the Spanish economy the undelying issue now is basically Spain’s lack of competitiveness in exports, and its very strong external energy dependence at a time when oil prices are rising substantially, and when the high price effect looks like it could be long term.
For some time the existence of this problem was hidden by the impact of the housing boom, and by the fact that this boom was increasingly financed by the issue of asset backed securities (ABS, cedulas hipotecarias). Thus during the boom Spain had no difficulty financing its deficit. But times have changed.
My general impression is that even the funding that the Spanish banks are currently getting from the ECB is far from being sufficient since it covers only a small part of their needs and hence bank lending is rising at around 5% per annum instead of the 20% year on year rises we were seeing a year ago. So the Spanish banks are really getting starved of cash (or cash at a price which is interesting to them for mortgage lending), and hence all the frantic tooing and frowing we are seeing on the financial account.
Nowhere is this situation more clearly illustrated than in the case of the portfolio investment flows into Spain from foreign investors (basically bonds and equities), and as can be seen in the chart below these underwent a sea change following August last year. This is what explains all the frantic moving around looking for funds we are seeing, since without the under other concepts Spain could soon become seriously short of money. At the end of the day, if you are sending money out every month to pay for your oil, where are you going to get the funds from for new lending? Desperate situations require desparate acts.
In my opinion the most serious property related issues here in Europe are to be found in Spain, Ireland and the UK. And Spain may well be in the worst state of the three of them due to the dependence on cedulas, and due to the fact that the term-mismatch issue means these need to be rolled-over in an none too distant future – starting with maybe 40 billion euros as early as this autumn. So the Spanish banks have to both refinance old lending and find the new money for future mortgages at one and the same time. Not funny.
But, as we have seen here, on top of the credit-crunch property issues Spain also has a huge CA deficit one, and the problem is only likely to get bigger if oil prices keep rising. Spain shares this CA problem with Greece (deficit 2007 13.9% GDP) and Portugal (deficit 2007 9.4% GDP) within the eurozone and these deficits have largely been masked by serving up “all eurozone” data where the large German surplus (surplus 2007 7.6% GDP) covers a multitude of sins. But German citizens are obviously NOT going to pay for Spanish oil (they may lend the money, but how long can this can continue to go up and up is anyones guess, it looks like an extermely exaggerated version of the US funding depence on Japan and China in some strange sort of way).
So the bottom line is that Spain is headed straight towards a crash on the two biggest global issues of the moment, the credit crunch and oil. The proverbial double whammy. Not pretty, which perhaps explains why the average Spanish citizen, just like Artemio Cruz, prefers to keep his or her eyes closed rather than gaze on what might be there to behold with the eyes wide open and a mirror held up to their face.
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14 Responses to “Has Spain Contracted The Artemio Cruz Syndrome?”
Thank you very much, Edward, for this clear and great post on Spain.I bookmarked your website. An interesting discovery thanks to REG.Best wishes
So will Spain begin a recession this year?
Hi there,"So will Spain begin a recession this year?"Well, that Spain is heading for a recession is a foregone conclusion at this point I think. My principal point would be that we should expect rather more than that, since the problem is deep structural and not simply cyclical.Whether the recession actually arrives this year is rather more of a moot point. Certainly the economy slowed down at a pretty dramatic rate between Q4 2007 and Q1 2008 (q-o-q 0.8 to q-o-q 0.3), but the evolution may not be entirely linear. My impression is that the Spanish economy *may* actually contract this quarter, but it isn’t impossible that it expands again slightly in Q3, only to contract again in Q4. Hard to say at this point because, as they say, it depends.The Spanish economy at the moment resembles a car cruising down the motorway at 70 mph with no oil in the engine sump, and the driver apparently unaware of what might happen. So at some point one part or another of the machinery will evidently break (I can’t tell you at this point which part) and then we will all be able to see much better what we are really into here.Apart from the issues raised in this post (which was already far too long, but I wanted to set the scene and focus on the major structural issues) it is important to think about how Spain actually got to this point, and what to do now that we are here (much harder this bit as I say at the start of the post). There is also the little question of what is going to happen to all the recent immigrants who were sucked in on the back of the construction boom (approx 5 million since the late 1990s, or one eighth of the population). These topics, and more of an in depth summary of the short term dynamics of the real economy will constitute material for future posts over the weeks and months ahead.
Thank you for this article. I appreciate this a lot.
Your analysis suggests that there is a real possibility of sudden stop, i.e. foreign countries pulling back of financing Spain’s large external deficit. However, this seems not (yet?) to be reflected in governement bond spreads which keep being lower than Italy and Greece relaive to German bunds. It is true that Spain’s fiscal position is relatively healthier in Spain but is the problem exclusively in the private sector? Any thoughts on this? Thanks for the great post!
Thx very much for that article, Edward. Wonderful. As you do, I’m still thinking about the one event that leads to a complete breakdown of the Spanish economy. My best guess is the breakdown of a major bank (there must be some awfully black black holes in some of their balance sheets). But different from you, I believe the downturn will last longer than just two or three years. All the casas, the pisos, the solares, i.e. all the real estate assets, residential or commercial, with or without mortgage, owned by households, developers or banks, are so dramatically overvalued, that a Japanese-style recession of at least five years is much more likely – and I wouldn’t bet on any of the Spanish banks to survive that recession.As one Spanish blogger put it: Spain doesn’t have a subprime problem – Spain IS a subprime problem.
Hi eparisi and Detlef,"However, this seems not (yet?) to be reflected in governement bond spreads which keep being lower than Italy and Greece relaive to German bunds."No, it wouldn’t be. Spain’s problem is the CA deficit and financing the private banks.As you say the fiscal side in Spain has been positive, with a surplus last year, and the debt to GDP is under 50%. So there is pretty little danger of an eventual Spanish government default, at least not as far ahead as the eye can see there isn’t. Greece and Italy are very different since they both have debt to GDP ratio’s of over 100%, and long term sustainability issues.So yes, you are right the problem is in the private sector, starting with construction, passing through banking, and ending… well at this point no one knows quite where."My best guess is the breakdown of a major bank (there must be some awfully black black holes in some of their balance sheets)."Not sure about this. The big 3 – Santander, BBVA and La Caixa – look solid enough at this point. My feeling is that the problems will start in the regional "cajas". They did one hell of a lot of business, way beyond the limits of their deposit base. They may well have problems rolling over their cedulas as we move forward."I’m still thinking about the one event that leads to a complete breakdown of the Spanish economy."Well the construction sector may be the best place to be looking. They are about to be entered in some enforced "downsizing", perhaps being cut in half as a share of GDP. At the moment everyone here seems to be in some sort of denial on this, but one day or another the banks are simply going to have to cut the funding. Then of course the constructor’s bad debts become a problem for the banks."But different from you, I believe the downturn will last longer than just two or three years."Oh, I don’t think I ever put a time limit on this. I don’t really think we can start doing that until we get to see how far the fire is actually going to spread. I don’t think it is simply a short term issue though, this is why I say it is structural and not cyclical. And it isn’t only Japan you can use as an example. Arguably Germany needed a decade after the 1995 boom collapsed to get its export sector into sufficient shape to really drive the economy, and still there are vulnerabilities, as we may be about to see. And of course the Spanish cedulas were a development from the Pfandebriefen the German banks started to issue to get out of that mess.The basic point is that since Spaniards will now have to start saving, domestic consumption won’t be a growth driver, and the economy will need to be lead by exports, and getting from where we are now to there is going to be quite a long haul I think.
Edward, great article. Do you know whether Spain is a net food importer and to what extent, i.e. how much of the trade deficit can be attributed to net food imports? Because rising food prices are also a key part of today’s global picture, along with rising energy prices.
Hi Real Think"Do you know whether Spain is a net food importer and to what extent, i.e. how much of the trade deficit can be attributed to net food imports?"Spain imports and exports food, but has quite a large export surplus with other EU countries. A significant number of the recent migrants have gone to work in agriculture. Basically, increasing food exports could be one of the ways forward for Spain, and one of the ways of soaking up other migrants displaced from construction. This wouldn’t have to be enormous, but if say 2% of GDP could be shifted from construction to agriculture this would help a lot, the problem is there is no agreement between the different autonomous communities about what to do about water, so this makes expanding agriculture hard work.I will get into all of this when I do something on possible solutions (this will be in some weeks time, so don’t hold your breath) but evidently – and someone did mention Japan as an example – one way forward is likely to be the government buying up buildable rural land and reclassifying it back for agricultural use, before selling back to the farmers who sold it in the first place.
Thank you for your article Edward.I have posted a Spanish translation of a good part of it in my bloghttp://gruizlegal.blogspot.com/and a link to your postFor sure, the issues you address need also to be comented in Spanish.Just to avoid the "Artemio Cruz syndrome" suffered by our politicians and "leaders".
Hi gruizlegal,"I have posted a Spanish translation of a good part of it in my blog"Thanks."the issues you address need also to be comented in Spanish"Obviously I agree.
Hello Edward,I live and run a business on the Costa Del Sol; and can tell you we are experiencing a slowdown so serious on all fronts connected to the national problem and of course to the problems related tothe burst of the property bubble – Widespread corruption in most local town halls is adding to the doom and gloom, not to mention daily bankruptcies and increasing unemployment….. thanks for your post –
Here’s a brief update on some of the more recent developments since I wrote this post.According to the most recent data from the Spanish Ministry of Housing house sales fell 30 per cent year on year in the first quarter. On the other hand the Finance Ministry have revealed that the budget surplus was down to €2.72bn at the end of May from €13.6bn a year ago. Buying by non-residents, which previously helped fuel Spain’s 10-year construction boom, also fell in the first quarter, by 26 per cent year on year, and by nearly 50 per cent from the previous quarter.According to a recent article in El Periodico – "The British Fall Out of Love with Spain" – “The British are starting to sweat in Spain, and not because of the heat….Mortgages payments for their properties on the Mediterranean coast have shot up…and the numbers no longer add up. Some are returning the keys to the bank, others are being evicted, and many are abandoning the dream of living in villas and apartments in Andalucia”.The appreciation of the Euro against the pound (15% in the last 9 months), and the rise in the one year euribor means that mortgage payments for Britons with mortgages in Spain are now 25% higher than they were in August last year.The web portal idealista.com are reporting that average asking prices for resale properties in Spain’s biggest cities fell by between 2% and 4% in the second quarter of the year over the previous quarter. We should note that these are asking and not selling prices. Selling prices are undoubtedly down rather more, although this is all really early days at this point. The cululative drop over the next 3 to 5 years is obviously going to be much larger, and the only real question is whether prices fall in one foul swoop, or drift steadily downwards.Also El Pais reported this week that the Spanish banking sector needs to raise 62 billion Euros before the end of the year just to rollover the accumulated cedulas debt due 2008. This is no mean sum, and as the Spanish banking association says the liquidity crunch is a much more serious problem than the rising rate of mortgage delinquencies at this point in time. Up to then end of May the banks had raised some 20 billion euros, with 17 billlion of that coming from May alone. Just how much they are having to pay for this funding is not clear however, and over half the 20 billion has come from the Spanish banks buying their own cedulas.El Pais scratches its head and asks just how the Spanish banks are going to "refinance" all the money which is coming due if the wholesale money markets remain closed to them. One interesting option they speculate on is offering better returns to lenders. But this would obviously mean Spanish banks and savings banks would need to raise the interest rates they charge their own clients. I find it interesting that people are already begining to speculate about the need for people to pay higher interest rates on their mortgages (remember we are talking about refunding the existing mortgages here, not new finance), since personally I imagine this is going to be an important ingredient in any longer term "rescue package". But redefining en-masse existing mortgage contracts would presumably need legislation (I am no expert on Spanish law), and would obviously be far from popular with voters. But then, precious little of what the Spanish government is going to be forced to do from here on in is likely to be popular with voters.Wealth EffectAccording to the latest estimate from the Bank of Spain, for every 10,000 Euros fall in property prices, there is a corresponding fall in average household spending of 300 Euros per year. When the head of the household is in the 35 to 44 years bracket, the fall in spending is 600 Euros per year.This is basically the well known transmission effect from property prices to private consumption known as the "wealth effect". Properties are the main form of collateral for household borrowing, so falling property prices reduce the ability of households to borrow and spend. The Bank estimates that for every 1% fall in property prices, household consumption is liable to fall by over 0.1%.Land PricesOne of the big problems here in Spain is likely to revolve about what happens to the price of land. According to the latest data from the Ministry of Housing, land for building fell to 251 Euros/m2 in March, a 7.7% drop when compared with March 2007. Land prices have now fallen for 3 consecutive months, and at least as far as the official statistics are concerned, are currently falling faster than house prices. The average cost of land in Spain is now back to where it was at the end of 2004. Along with falling prices, the market for land has also been shrinking. Thn number of land transactions in the first quarter of the year was down by 31% compared to Q1 2007.Spanish borrowing at the ECB Returning to the theme of borrowing by Spanish banks at the ECB for a moment, and that notorius €208 billion ($320 billion) of eligible securities which have been created by eurozone banks since last August largely (everything but 5.8 billion euros according to JP Morgan) for use at the ECB, I have been noting how the Spanish banks are not standing out especially for their use of this facility, and have mainly drawn according to the weight of their share in the eurozone itself. One explanation for this may be found in the contents of the most recent appearance of Bank of Spain governor, Miguel A. Fernandez Ordoñez, before the Economy and Taxation Commission of the Spanish Congress. There he stated (June 24, p9) that Spanish banks have increased their participation in eurosystem fundings, "without going far beyond the equivalent participation in the key of Bank of Spain in BCE´s capital".Las entidades españolas mantenían así una liquidez razonable y una amplia diversificación de plazos y segmentos de financiación cuando los mercados mayoristas en los que venían captando una parte notable de sus recursos colapsaron. Su capacidad de respuesta en este entorno de dificultad ha quedado patente en la adaptación que han llevado a cabo de sus fuentes de financiación, pugnando por captar pasivos tradicionales, desplazándose hacia plazos más cortos y, en el tramo final del pasado ejercicio, elevando su recurso al Eurosistema, aunque a partir de un nivel limitado y sin alejarse de la participación equivalente a la “clave” del Banco de España en el capital del BCE.The Spanish banks low (although increasing)share on the ECB’s weekly funding auctions (around 10%) may well be some kind of explicit or implicit limitation imposed by the ECB authorities themselves. Perhaps the rule is not to go much beyond the key suscription of the BdE to the ECB capital (it is 7.55%). This is the "clave" referred to by Ordoñez in the paragraph I quote in Spanish above.José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is finally due to appear before the Spanish parliament next week to offer his account of what is happening. It will be interesting to see just what exactly he has to say.
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