• Given its size, the fate of the Spanish economy will also largely decide the fate of the euro. €80bn of €396bn (1/5) in loans that Spanish banks have made to the bust construction and real estate sectors are considered ‘doubtful’ and potentially toxic, meaning at serious risk of default, with the banks only holding €50bn in reserves to cover potential losses. Already dropping, house prices could potentially fall another 35%, meaning that Spanish banks will almost certainly face hefty losses as more households default on their mortgages.A Spanish bailout is far from a forgone conclusion, but more work needs to be done to avoid one. Open Europe recommends:
• In such a scenario, the Spanish state is unlikely to be able to afford to recapitalise its banks, meaning that the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund (the ESM) would have to step in, shifting the cost to eurozone taxpayers.
• As domestic banks are currently the main buyers of Spanish government debt, this could also lead to major funding problems for Spain. The chances of a self-fulfilling bond run on Spanish debt would increase massively in this scenario, threatening to push the whole country into a full bailout.
• Containing spending in the Spanish regions is also key to Spain rebalancing its books. The level of unpaid debt on the balance sheets of local and regional governments has risen by €10bn (38%) since the start of the crisis (now topping €36bn). This will likely be paid off by the central government, increasing the country’s debt and deficit.
• Spain’s various reforms, particularly to the labour market, are welcome, but are themselves not enough to stop a bond run, as it will take time before they bite. The country’s long- term unemployment has now reached 9% of the economically active population, and youth unemployment reached 50.5% last month. This is threatening the long term productivity of the economy and whether Spanish society can sustain this level is unknown.
• Spanish banks double their provisions against souring loans and commit to thorough stress tests.However, these reforms will only stand the test of time if they enjoy political buy-in across Spanish society and are seen as democratically legitimate, rather than being imposed from outside.
• Strengthen labour market reforms, particularly to relieve the welfare burden on state finances, including: end wage and pension indexation to inflation, reduce size and duration of benefits, limit collective bargaining, reduce redundancy costs and improve the business climate.
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