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In recent weeks Spain’s banking crisis has gone from bad to worse. Spain’s credit rating has recently been downgraded from an A to BBB+ by Standard & Poor’s because of the debt it will most likely take on from its banks and regional government failures. Spain is the fifth largest economy in the Eurozone, leaving many worrying about the ramifications of these recent developments on the rest of Europe.
Currently Spain’s deficit is too high for the Eurozone. The European Commission says that Spain can be given more time to reduce their deficit from the 8.9% of the GDP – as it stands currently – by 2013. However, the high deficit in Spain is causing fewer individuals and countries to risk investing in the country.
Bond yields in Spain are up to 6.7% meaning that they are high risk. Yields on bonds are higher when they are riskier because investors want a higher return if they are putting money into something that is unstable. In contrast the German and US bond yield is at 1.28% and 1.64% respectively. Therefore, instead of investing in Spain’s government bonds more people are investing in the US and Germany. However, this high bond yield also means that Spain will accumulate more debt and have to pay a higher interest when borrowing money.
Despite all recent efforts the Spanish economy is expected to shrink 1.8% this year alone and another 0.3% next year. However, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy insists that Spain will not require a bailout like Portugal, the Republic of Ireland, and Greece have needed; Spanish banks, on the other hand, have already asked for bailout money.
Bankia, a recently formed banking group of seven banks, asked for a 19 billion Euro bailout. Bankia originally reported a 309 million Euro profit for the year of 2011 when it actually had lost 2.98 billion euros. It is unknown as of yet how Spain will get the bailout money when it is already struggling under its own deficit.
The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, has suggested that they use the Eurozone’s new 500 billion euro stability mechanism to inject some capital into the banks, but Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has already rejected the plan. Another option is for Spain to give Bankia government bonds to then trade with the European Central Bank (ECB) for money.
Although it has been reported that the ECB has already rejected this plan a recent article by the BBC claims that these reports are false and that the solution is not yet off the table. The European Commission has also suggested creating a “banking union” to monitor all Eurozone banks in the future.
In addition to struggling with the mounting bank debts, Spain is also forced to rescue several regional governments who are no longer capable of borrowing money. Several regional governments have gone bankrupt and rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s, have put these regions at junk status. Most recently Catalonia, the wealthiest autonomous region in Spain, has asked for help from the central government; Catalonia accounts for one-fifth of the Spanish economy.
Spain is giving these regions government-backed bonds which they can then use to borrow money. However, as stated previously, these bonds are at a high yield which makes this solution temporary. A Spanish economy ministry spokesperson stated, “the goal is to reduce the pressure on the regions, which is often greater than the pressure on the state in general, with some regions not ale to borrow on the market.”
Regional banks have tried to strengthen each other through mergers. Ibercaja, Liberbank, and Caja3 merged in late May to become more resilient. This merger created the seventh biggest lender in Spain with 120 billion euros in assets. Liberbank and Caja3 were previously mergers of four and three regional banks respectively.
Spain’s unemployment as of April is at 24.3%, the worst in the Eurozone – even worse than Greece. It is expected to climb to 25.1% by 2013 even with the recent precautions taken by the newly elected center-right government. Prime Minister Rajoy has made several labor market cuts including cutting back on severance pay and restricting inflation-linked increases in salary; these decisions have been unpopular with unions and workers. Spain’s high unemployment also means that there are fewer people who are paying higher tax rates or even paying taxes.
Spain’s economy is heavily tied to the economy of Italy, the fourth largest economy in Europe. These close ties lead investors to worry that if there is a run on the Spanish banks there will also be a run on the Italian banks, throwing both countries into a deeper crisis. Italy is now borrowing at a rate over 5.66%; borrowing at a consistent 7% rate is considered unstable and has triggered the bailouts for Greece, Portugal, and the Republic of Ireland in the past.
The Spanish debt crisis was not caused by irresponsible government spending such as in Greece. Spain ran a balanced budget every year until the recession hit in 2008. The problems were planted when Spain joined the euro in 1999 and interest rates fell because Spain’s economy was good and other economies, such as the German economy, were not.
Investors wanted to invest in Spain which is what drove the interest rates lower. While the Spanish government resisted taking out more loans because of the cheaper interest rate the Spanish people did not. The country experienced a long housing boom that also affected the construction sector. When the recession hit, the housing and credit bubbles burst leaving many banks with toxic debt – debt that was unlikely to be repaid.
Image Courtesy of Alberto Carrasco Casado