Spain Real Time Data Charts

Edward Hugh is only able to update this blog from time to time, but he does run a lively Twitter account with plenty of Spain related comment. He also maintains a collection of constantly updated Spain charts with short updates on a Storify dedicated page Spain's Economic Recovery - Glass Half Full or Glass Half Empty?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Spain Producer Prices Confirm Deflation Alert As New Mortgages Drop 31.5% In September

Spanish producer prices fell the most in over 20 years in October as domestic economic demand continued to evaporate and the declining cost of oil lowered costs. The price of goods leaving Spain’s factories, mines and refineries was down 1.2 percent on the previous month following a 0.7 percent decline in September, according to data from the National Statistics Institute.Prices rose 5.9 percent year on year, but the rate of annual deceleration is now evident in the chart.

The biggest drops were registered in areas like the manufacture of coke oven products and in the refinement of petroleum (-11.2%), Metallurgy ( -6.5%) and Food and beverage products industry (-1.1%). In contrast prices for electricity and gas continued to rise (4.4%). Consumer goods droppped by –0.4% on the month (a 0.1% rise for durable consumer goods and – 0.5% for non-durable consumer goods), while capital goods cost still rose (0.1%), while intermediate goods (-1.5%) and energy (-2.9%) both fell. If we look at the producer price index itself, we will see that (just as is the case with the consumer price index) the peak was hit in June and we are now coming down. It seems pretty clear to me at least the likelihood of Spain entering a price deflation dynamic in 2009 is now strong.

Mortgage Lending Drops An Annual 31.5%

According to the latest data from the INE, the number of new mortgages issued in Spain in September (100,868) was 31.5% down on September 2007. The value of new mortgages was down by 35.4%.

The average value of new mortgages was also down - by 5.7%.

Obviously September was a pretty key month in the evolution of the Spanish crisis, and construction activity itself was also down by an annual 24.1%.

The Repsol Saga Continues

The capacity of the Spanish means of communication to treat even the most important life and death issues for the Spanish economy as if they were just another "Dallas Style" soap opera, never ceases to amaze me. As I explain in this post at some considerable length, when you are effectively facing national bankruptcy you just can't afford to be that choosy about who you get into bed with. The basic facts of the case are that to get out from under the debt they have associated with their Repsol stake Sacyr need to receive something like the quantity they initially paid, and with shares at near half of that value it isn't too clear who apart from Lukoil (and maybe not even Lukoil now) would be prepared to pay anything like that prices. So I think people would do better to lock their emotions in the wardrobe and take a long cold look at the real alternatives facing Spain's government, corporates and banks, because basically none of them look especially attractive at this point.

Nonetheless the saga continues (some papers seem to have been even trying to involve the King in the affair - un poco de picante nunca va mal) and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Parliament yesterday that while he didn't intent to block the sale the Sacyr stake to OAO Lukoil, “the government will defend the Spanish nature of Repsol,” Zapatero said today. This would seem to mean to me that they would be willing to offer the Sacyr part, but that La Caixa may not sell, thus avoiding Lukoil being able to gain a 30% share and make a bid for the whole company, but in this case it isn't clear how they are going to sustain Lukoil's interest, and thus the show goes on. They better move pretty rapidly though, since the stricter terms on the Sacyr loan come into force at the end of December.

The stake in Repsol, the supplier of 42 percent of Spain’s oil, is up for sale because Sacyr Vallehermoso SA, the Spanish builder whose debt is six times its market value, must repay more than 2 billion euros in loans by 2010 as the nation’s housing slump deepens. Lukoil, which owns oil-producing assets in Siberia, is adding refining capacity in the Mediterranean to process its crude.

Metrovacesa in Talks With HSBC

Metrovacesa, which is Spain’s biggest property developer, is reportedly in talks to sell HSBC Holdings' headquarters in London back to the bank as its loan on the building comes due today (Thursday). Metrovacesa borrowed 800 million pounds ($1.2 billion) from HSBC last year for the 1.09 billion-pound purchase of the 45-story tower in the Canary Wharf financial district. The loan matures today, and the company hasn’t been able to refinance apparently. Negotiations on the price HSBC would pay in the event of a deal remain open at this point.

The acquisition of the 210-meter (689-foot) tower, at the peak of the U.K. property boom in April 2007, was the U.K. capital’s most-expensive single property transaction ever. Commercial property values in central London have fallen about 32 percent since then, according to Investment Property Databank Ltd.

Metrovacesa accumulated debt of 7.1 billion euros by acquiring properties across Europe. The Sanahuja family, who own more than 80 percent of Metrovacesa, was in talks with lenders including Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and may give them more than 50 percent of the company to cancel debt, according to a statement on Nov. 6. Alternatively or in addition, the family may offer assets as collateral for the next three years, the statement showed.

EU Confidence Index Hits 23 Year Low

Yet another measure of how EU consumers and businesses feel about the economic outlook fell to an all-time low this month. The EU economic sentiment indicator tumbled to 70.5 points in November from 77.2 in October, hitting the lowest level since the survey was created in January 1985.

Meanwhile, the EC's eurozone economic sentiment indicator fell to 74.9 points in November from 80.0 points in October, dropping to its lowest level since August 1993. 'Reflecting the widespread deterioration in economic sentiment, all EU countries reported weakening sentiment,' the commission said. The EC's separate monthly business climate indicator for the eurozone retreated to the lowest level since October 1993, dropping to a negative 2.14 points in November from a negative 1.34 in October.

Habitat Throws The Towel In

According to Barcelona newspaper L'Avanguardia this morning, property delevoper Habitat - who have an estimated 1.5 billion euros of net debt - has decided (according to reports) to enter some form of judicial administration (during the next two weeks according to the paper - those of you who understand Spanish see below). The developer had been unsuccessfully trying to get an agreement from creditors on a debt restructuring following the rejection of a 900 million euro capital increase proposal by shareholders at a meeting held at the end of last month.

Habitat ha decidido presentar concurso de acreedores, una medida que se formalizará en las próximas semanas, confirmaron ayer fuentes financieras y jurídicas. La compañía inmobiliaria no quiso efectuar ningún comentario. La demanda para pedir al juez que declare la insolvencia ya está preparada por el despacho Uría Menéndez y, salvo un improbable cambio de parecer, se llevará a los juzgados durante la primera quincena del próximo mes de diciembre. La deuda de Habitat supera los 1.500 millones. La decisión de la inmobiliaria se produce justo un mes después de la celebración de la junta de accionistas, en la que no salió adelante la propuesta del consejo de ampliar capital para restablecer el equilibrio patrimonial del grupo, dañado por las elevadas pérdidas. Desde esa junta, el consejo de administración de Habitat tenía dos meses para encontrar nuevos fondos, presentar concurso o liquidar directamente la empresa. ...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Repsol, Lukoil and Sacyr Vallhermosa Also Try Their Hand At Happy Families

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

Well this is an interesting little fable of modern family life, even if all the families involved may not be ones which many of my readers would normally wish to belong to.

As is now reasonably well know Russian private oil company Lukoil is currently making a bid for the shares in Spanish energy company Repsol which are owned by the deeply indebted Spanish property company Sacyr Vallhermosa.

Shares in what is Spain's fifth biggest builder, and which currently occupies the somewhat ignominious position of being Spain's worst-performing stock this year, jumped the most in two years last Thursday (20 November) on reports they were about to sell their 20 percent stake in Repsol YPF to the Russian oil company OAO Lukoil. Sacyr, which said last week it was in talks over the possible sale of the stake, rose as much as 14 percent after EFE newswire identified Lukoil as a possible bidder. Lukoil is also reportedly willing to buy a further 9% of Respol stock owned by Criteria Caixacorp, the investment company established by Catalan savings bank La Caixa.

In fact Sacyr spent 6.5 billion euros building up their the Repsol holding, between October and December 2006, paying an average of 26.71 euros a share for the stake. It is estimated that the proposed sale of the shares may fetch 20 percent to 30 percent more than their current market value of 4.9 billion euros. To give an idea of what this means, we might bear in mind that Repsol shares closed in Madrid on Thursday at 13.61 euros, and rose 2.3% on Friday, while the Spanish newspaper El Economista reported that Lukoil was offering Criteria and the other shareholders 28 euros a share for the combined stake which constitues just under 30 percent of Repsol. An offer at this price would value the combined stake at about 10.2 billion euros, and would mean that Sacyr would walk away covering their initial investment almost completely, which in these hard times must seem almost incredible. I mean, you might like to ask yourself just why it is that Lukoil is able and willing to pay so much. Certainly Russian investors were asking just this very question since Lukoil shares dropped on the news - falling 4.6 percent to 778.74 rubles on the Micex stock exchange in Moscow on Friday (for my explanation of the apparent analogy more on this topic below).

But before going further there is perhaps one other little detail which is worth including at this point, and that is that since the combined stake of Sacyr and Criteria falls just short of the 30% mark which would give Lukoil effective control of the energy company (and make it obligatory to make a takeover offer to the other shareholders I think) it should not surprise us to find that the midewives of the deal are busy trying to identify those extra few shares which would push Lukoil over the 30% stake mark, and various names are being bandied around - like Mutua Madrileña (who have a two percent stake) or even La Caixa itself, since they effectively control another 6.1% of Repsol through their subsidiary company Repinves.

It's The Income Balance That Matters, Silly!

Now before we go into all the gory little details as to why exactly it is that Sacyr Vallehermosa find themselves so pressed to sell, perhaps a little of the background macroeconomics would not go amiss here.

Basically, as I explain in more detail in this post, the principal problem facing Spain's economy at the present time is financing the large external deficit, which has been running at around 8-9,000 million euros a month (8 to 9 billion in anglo saxon language, or around 10% of GDP) for most of this year. This deficit was previously financed by an inflow of mortgage funding when external investors were willing to supply this, but since these investors became increasingly nervous following the US sub prime turmoil in August 2007, Spanish banks have had problems funding the deficit (and funding mortgages) as we have been seeing via the dramatic slowdown in the Spanish economy that this reluctance to lend has produced.


The principal way to resolve this external deficit is to have a major macroeconomic correction such that exports start once more to be larger than imports, but this process is a huge and painful one, and it is not surprising that the patient, lead by the country's government, and the prime minister, is extremely reluctant to enter the operating theatre. So we struggle on, month by month, but the monthly deficit still has to be paid. And this is where the sale of Repsol to Lukoil comes in. The issue is not that Lukoil being a non-Spanish company is a disadvantage (which is why the sort of criticism of the proposed deal which is coming from the PP is also completely out of touch with reality), but rather that it is absolutely essential to find an external buyer to raise more liquidity for the Spanish banking system, and if no other bidder is in a position to pay Sacyr what they need to make the sale viable for them, then Lukoil it is, "por las buenas o por las malas", as they say in Spanish. When you are up against the wall, and the only question is "do I shoot you today or tomorrow", the answers you give are not always coherent and well-thought-out ones.

However, just how dangerous trying to handle the Spanish problem in this way actually is, can be seen from the fact that one of the country's flagship companies is effectively being sold off for less than two monthly installments on the current account deficit (the August deficit was 6 billion euros). The problem really is that Sacyr has to sell (see more details below) but there is no ship left among what used to be called the "new Spanish armada" who still has the creditworthiness needed to be able to buy. Gas Natural (who were one of the last stalwarts) had their Long-term Issuer Default rating of 'A' and Short-term IDR of 'F1' placed on Rating Watch Negative by Fitch last July after they announced they would need a new 19 billion euro syndicated loan to finance their acquisition of a sizeable chunk of energy company Fenosa from another debt laden Spanish construction giant ACS.

Essentially going about things in this way eventually becomes totally unsustainable. Let me explain a little more. It is important to understand that the external accounts of a country are divided into two parts - a current account and a financial account - rather like the finances of a houshold can be divided into long term and a short term components like the acquisition of a property and the monthly mortgage installments which finance it. Well basically the structure of national financing isn't that different. Spain Incorporated can raise funds on the capital account by selling the shares of Repsol to an external purchaser, but we should never forget that these shares will then pay dividends, and these dividends will subsequently show up on the current account under the monthly income balance heading.

Now normally, in a developed economy, the income balance should hover around the neutral zone, as external investments attract income, while FDI etc from abroad carry associated outflows. Indeed I would say that the normal difference between a developed and a developing economy is in the underlying dynamics of the income section of the current account.


It is precisely when we come to examine this aspect of the Spanish case that we see the extent of the hole that has just been blown in the flagship's main bulkhead, since the income balance (which was never perfect) has been turning steadily negative (which was only to be expected with all those loans coming in) since the early years of this century, and now runs at a monthly outflow of 3 billion euros, or thereabouts. That is to say, the first 3 billion of any goods and services surplus which Spain eventually does manage to generate will be earmarked to pay interest and dividends on loans and shares previously sold to finance the property and merger boom. So roll your sleeves up lads and lasses, since there is a lot of sweating to be done to work off all this accumulated excess fat. Or maybe you would prefer to try liposuction?

And of course, the more we go down the road of selling off the country's underlying assets (and, of course there is plenty more to come here, see below on Acciona, Endesa and Enel, or think of the recent agreement to sell Iberia to British Airways due to Caja Madrid's urgent need for liquidity - Caja Madrid is Iberia's largest single shareholder) to pay for petrol for all the SUVs we have been buying with the loans we sold, the worse the long term position becomes.

Sacyr In Danger Of Having To Make Firesales

Rumours have been growing in investor circles of late that Sacyr Vallehermoso could be in such a tight financialcorner that it may forced into fire sales as time passes, if it fails to find buyers for assets it has put on offer to try to cover the massive debts it has hanging over it. Sacyr's share price has lost 69 percent of its value since the beginning of the year - as compared to a 39-percent slump in Spain's main IBEX stock index.

Like many Spanish builders, Sacyr borrowed heavily during the final years of the boom in an attempt to diversify out of residential property as the nine-year-long domestic housing boom clearly started to wind down. But as in so many other cases, those who buy near the end of a wave buy dear, and risk, if things don't go right, having to sell cheap, very cheap, unless of course a gleaming white knight in shining armour like Lukoil gallantly comes to your rescue (or is it so gallant, see below). Sacyr had net debt of 18.3 billion euros at end-June, or eight times market value. The ratio of net debt to net equity was 5.3, outweighing peers like Ferrovial at 3.9 and ACS at 1.2.

Sacyr thus announced on September 12 that it was putting assets up for sale, including its toll road unit Itinere and the 20 percent stake it has in Repsol YPF, all part of a major effort to pay down some of the debts. However, outside Lukoil no firm expressions of interest have materialized, and analysts are suggesting that this is because the prices being asked are far too high, as evidently it is hard to get good prices for assets in a bear market accompanied by a credit crunch. But this raises of course, the not simply incidental issue of why exactly it is that Lukoil is willing to pay so much over the going market rate, but we will get to that part later.

Sacyr did have around 347 million euros of debt maturing in the second half of 2008, but they have so far managed to refinance this, although there are somewhere in the region of another 2 billion euros worth set to expire in 2009, and worries about the difficulties which are likely to be associated with this process during the deep recession which Spain is now entering are putting a lot of pressure on the company.

Sacyr has been attempting to cover next year's debt haemorrage using a mixture of renegotiation, housing sales, dividend payments and the possible sale strategic assets, like its road toll unit Itinere. Citi infrastructure fund had been reported to be showing some interest in a possible purchase of Itinere, but there has been no concrete evidence of progress.

Press reports and analysts say the asking price for Itinere is in the region of 3.9 billion euros plus debt, and this sum is 400 million euros greater than the value of Itinere's failed initial public offering last April. Analysts tend to be rather dismissive of this kind of approach in the present climate.

"They were unable to do an IPO at 3.5 billion euros and four months later they
want to sell it for 3.9 billion? It's a joke," said an analyst at a major bank
who asked not to be named.

Apart from the asking price there are also clauses in existing Itinere loans that require a renegotiation of terms if it changes ownership, which also are reported to present a stumbling block to any Citi-type deal.

But the main problem which Sacyr faces right now is the current performance of Repsol itself, since the 5.1 billion euro bank loan which partially funded their purchase of the Repsol stake was guaranteed with Repsol shares, and on a margin trade basis. So when Repsol's share price falls, Sacyr must stump up more guarantees, putting further strains on the group's liquidity. And, of course, Repsol shares have been having a very hard time of it recently, evening fell by as much as 20 percent in a single day on October 22 over concerns about the energy company's exposure to Argentina, which is itself getting into ever deeper water with the international investment community: a further Argentine default would be the last thing that Repsol (and naturally Sacyr) need right now. Subsequently Repsol stock has regained some of the lost ground (and is now trading at around 15 euros) but this is still a far cry from the 26.7 euros a share Sacyr paid in 2006.

Sacyr has so far pledged 40 percent of its rental property business Testa as additional collateral for debt taken out to buy the Repsol stake, and Goldman Sachs in a recent note suggest that as long as Repsol's share price remains above 12.9 euros per share, Testa will cover the collateral under current terms, but in Sacyr's present state that is a very wobbly if. And if Testa shares become no longer sufficient, then Sacyr will have to reconvene with banks to discuss alternative collateral, and this they need like a hole in the head, hence all the haste and attention being lauded on the Lukoil suitor.

Analysts are agreed the longer it takes to sell assets to shore up its balance sheet, the more worrying Sacyr's borrowing levels will become and the greater the risk of fire sales.

Spain's leading water company Aigues de Barcelona (Agbar) has also expressed an interest in the water division of Valoriza part of Sacyr's environemntal division. Valoriza is valued at around 1 billion euros. Agbar and Sacyr do not seem to be in actual talks at the present time, since the sum involved is insufficient to materially change the main problem, and Sacyr is more focused on Itinere and its Repsol stake. The Spanish newspaper Expansion reported that the sale process of Valoriza is being handled by Italy's Mediobanca and that as well as Agbar interest has been shown by Veolia which is a former partner of another Spanish builder - FCC - and operates in the environmental services business in Spain.

Any eventual sale of these units would not be the first such move by Sacyr to keep moving ahead by selling assets, since back in April Sacyr sold its stake in French builder Eiffage, following a bungled takeover bid, and in the process cutting its borrowing by 6 percent.

Sacyr representatives also recently met with lenders on its Repsol loan - who are lead by Banco Santander - to discuss the collateral clauses in their agreement. In principle under the original terms of the loan up until December 21 Sacyr have to put up collateral equal to at least 105 percent of the total loan, after that date this figue increases to 115 percent. In addition the interest rate on the loan rises to 1.10 percentage points more than euribor benchmark rates from the present 1 percentage point after the same date, and this is another reason why Sacyr would like to see their Repsol stake turned into history before xmas.

The company has already pledged the maximum amount, 1.275 billion euros, of shares from its property unit Testa Inmuebles en Renta SA allowed under the terms of the loan. Sacyr began using Testa stock in January after Repsol, whose shares were initially assigned as collateral, declined below the 20 euro a share watermark, according to a regulatory filing Sacyr made on January 23 2008. Repsol fell to 12.92 euros on Oct. 28, the lowest in more than five years, and are down 40 percent over the past year. Sacyr has fallen 71 percent this year, the largest fall of any of the 35 most-traded stocks included in Spain's IBEX Index.

So What About Lukoil, Why Should They Be So Interested In Repsol?

On the face of it the justification for Lukoil's interest in Repsol is not as self-evident as it at first appears, but then little in modern Russia ever is.

Lukoil has itself been struggling from a liquidity crunch back home in recent months, as the price of oil has dropped and lack of investment by the Russian oil majors means that field depletion is leading to ever lower levels of domestic output. Indeed the price of Urals crude, which is Russia's principal export blend, was down 68 percent from the July peak last week, hitting the "bargain basement" level of $44.80 a barrel.

Lukoil, which already owns refineries in Bulgaria and Romania, agreed in June to pay 1.35 billion euros to buy into an Italian refinery with partner ERG SpA. Lukoil, which has $1.9 billion in debt and loans scheduled to mature this year (although obligations will drop to $609 million in 2009 and $525 million in 2010) had only $1.66 billion in available cash at the end of June. So what is going on here?

Well, as I have said, Russia is facing its own credit crunch and construction slump, and as a result Vladimir Putin did recently introduce his own $180 billion dollar bank-bailout and loan guarantee scheme. Could it be that Lukoil want, in some shape and form or another, to take advantage of this potential funding to acquire the Repsol stake? Well, there are reasons for imagining that there might be a very strong incentive we haven't yet touched on for them to do just this. The principal reason among such reasons (or the bitter and compelling inner logic of the issue) was basically put under the spotlight by the recent announcement (and large gaffe) made by central bank Chairman Sergey Ignatief when he said that Russia's currency (aka the ruble) had a "certain tendency toward weakening'' . Since the ruble normally trades in a tighly controlled trading band this widely interpreted as meaning that the ruble is about to be devalued, and while estimates of the extent of the devaluation vary, something in the 15% to 20% range would be a good guess, I think.

Viewed in this light, a loan of some 6 or 7 billion euros (denominated in rubles) under the Putin bank bailout and credit guarantee scheme wouldn't look to be too bad a proposition, especially if it was subsequently to be repaid in rubles following a substantial devaluation. (I mean I don't think I will get here into any rather Machiavellian type of speculation about how a hypothetical demand for 7 billion euros from the central bank foreign exchange reserves - which are of course under considerable pressure right now - would effectively constitute a very large "devaluation put", and offer us all the hallmarks of being a self-fulling declaration of intent). And don't start imagining that such an idea is very far fetched, since IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus effectively had to resign at the end of the 1990s following continuing scandals about IMF support loans being diverted into currency speculation. And that such activity is not entirely dead in today's Russia was confirmed by last week's threat by First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov that Russian banks who convert government aid into foreign currency rather than lending to troubled companies would risk losing access to state funding .

Obviously, in addition to any incidental gains they may make in the forex markets, Lukoil would also gain access to Repsol's extensive refining capacity - 1.23 million barrels a day according to their website - which includes five refineries in Spain, three in Argentina and one in Peru. Repsol also has holdings in another refinery in Argentina and two more in Brazil. And indeed the deal has a certain logic from the Repsol point of view, since the tie-in with Lukoil would give access to Russian supplies while the company currently relies on South America for about 95 percent of its present oil reserves. But then, as is normally the case, nothing in life ever comes free, and in this case the strings attached are important ones, very important ones.

Spain's Builders Up To Their Eyes In Debts

Obviously Sacyr is far from being alone in its current "tight fix". Acciona SA, is another Spanish builder struggling under the weight of a growing mountain of debt. Acciona came to international prominence when it bought joint control of power company Endesa SA last year together with Italy's Enel SpA. Well, the Madrid-based builder said July 30 that first-half net income fell 15 percent to 314 million euros as the takeover had increased debt costs, with Acciona net debt rising to 17 billion euros in Q2, up from 10 billion euros a year earlier. Acciona has recently stated it is in talks with creditors in an attempt to refinance the debt it contracted to make the purchase of the Endesa stake, but strongly denied that it has already committed to selling the stake in 2010. This denial followed a report on Spanish financial website El Confidencial that Acciona has assured its creditors that it will exercise an option it has to sell the 25 percent stake in Endesa to Italian partner Enel in 2010.

Despite the denial the decision to sell would be a logical one, and appears as if it may well form part of an agreement Acciona have reached with a group of banks lead by Banco Santander not to link Endesa's share price to the collateral required for the 7.1 billion euro in loans it received for the stake buy, as previously agreed. The 2 loans were due to have expired on 31 December 2012, but Acciona was obviously anxious to get the conditions changed.

"Acciona has not committed to exercising the March 27, 2010 put option but that
does not mean that the company will not exercise it on that date or at a later
date," the Spanish builder said in a statement to the stock market regulator.

Under the previous contract Acciona needed to give additional guarantees in the case that Endesa stock fell below 25 euro per share and this had been the case since October 6. Such guarantees -or margin calls - disappeared under the new contract. In exchange the new contract increased interest rates on the entire sum of the debt - doubling the premium when compared with the previous rate of 60 basis points over Euribor. Thus we find ourselves in exactly the same position vis-a-vis margin calls as Sacyr has with Repsol. The 21 syndicated banks behind the principal Acciona loan include Santander, ING, La Caixa, RBS, Caja Madrid, Calyon and Natixis, and the loan effectively financed the original 25 percent stake that Acciona took in Endesa following a 42.5 billion euro bidding contest in alliance with Italy's Enel which currently owns some 70 percent of Endesa. At the time Enel and Acciona came out in front of competing bids from Germany's E.ON EONG.DE and Catalonia-based Gas Natural.

Back in July the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported that Enel was in talks to buy out Acciona for 10 billion euros, adding the point that any such deal would needs the approval of Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero - so Zpt is going to be busy, since he has already flown to St Petersburg. Corriere also suggested that Endesa's development was currently being paralysed by an ongoing dispute between the two principal shareholders. The paper stated that there was an urgent need to find a solution to overcome the repeated obstacles raised over Endesa board decisions by Jose Manuel Entrecanales, who is chairman of both Acciona and Endesa. Enel has plans to expand Endesa outside of Spain, while Acciona is simply looking to sell its stake to pay down some of its 18 billion euros of debt, according to the paper.

Valuation of Acciona's stake in Endesa depends on valuation of Endesa's wind power generating plants, which Acciona would like to acquire. Any finally agreed exit price for Acciona would also need to take account of the put option it holds to sell the Endesa stake by October 2010 to Enel at a price of 10 billion to 12 billion euros.

Meantime another Spanish building dynosaur - Ferrovial - labours on with its heroic attempt to try to sell its Stanstead airport holding in the UK - but at least in this case the asset being disposed of does not form part of Spanish national patrimony. The Spanish builder that spent $20 billion buying the British Airports Authority is taking longer than anticipated to sell London's Gatwick airport because of the global financial crisis, according to its Chief Financial Officer Nicolas Villen.

``It's difficult to say where we are in this crisis,'' Villen said in an
interview in New York late on Nov. 14. ``In this financial crisis it will always
be more difficult for potential bidders of this asset to obtain financing. So I
think it's going to be a lengthier process than usual.''

BAA currently provides poor service and has failed to plan for extra capacity, according to a recent report from the U.K. Competition Commission, adding a recommendation that the company be stripped of the capital's Gatwick and Stansted airports and either Glasgow or Edinburgh in Scotland. Both Heathrow and Gatwick had a drop in traffic of about 0.5 percent in the first nine months of the year, described by Villen as a "moderate decline" when compared with earlier economic crises, when traffic fell by 3 percent or more.

Ferrovial had a third- quarter loss of 17 million euros, which compared with a year earlier profit of 49.6 million euros. The company's total debt fell 5.4 percent from a year earlier to 28.6 billion euros in September.

Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (or FCC) - Spain's third largest builder - on the other hand had net debt of 8.51 billion euros at the end of the first quarter, 54 percent more than a year earlier, and up from 7.97 billion at the end of 2007.

And It's The Same Picture Among Property Developers

Spanish property group Tremon last week became the first major property developer to follow in the footsteps of Martinsa Fadesa, and file for administration after failing to meet debt payments, causing a fall in the shares of those banks which have total exposure of around 1 billion euros to the company. Tremon is thus the second large Spanish property group to seek
administration this year following the July decision of Martinsa Fadesa. Among Tremon's biggest creditors are Banco Popular, which has an exposure of around 200 million euros exposure, unlisted savings bank Bancaja with 100 million and Banco Pastor which has 95 million.

"Our debt is up to 1 billion euros, and more than 90 percent is held by a
pool of 16 banks. Administration was filed last thing on Friday," said
lawyer Angel Romero, who is acting as Tremon's spokesman.

Other Spanish property companies with large debts are Metrovacesa (6.991 billion euros), Colonial (10.086 billion euros) Realia (2.26 billion euros) and Reyal Urbis (4.672 billion euros)

Spanish property firm Metrovacesa recently stated they expect to meet the terms of a 3.2 billion euro syndicated loan by the end of the year. At the end of September, Metrovacesa's core earnings were 2.13 times its financial costs, below the minimum limit of 2.25 times the company is obliged by creditors to meet by the end of 2008. Among other conditions attached to Metrovacesa's 3.2 billion euro loan is that the company maintain its 6.9 billion euros of debt at no more than 55 percent of asset value. The company said its debt stood at 54.4 percent of assets on Sept. 30 when it published its third-quarter results. If Metrovacesa does not comply with the conditions of the syndicated loan, the banking syndicate can order its immediate repayment and order the company to talk to its creditors.

Spanish stock market regulator CNMV last week requested Metrovacesa to provide it with details on where it stands with repaying the syndicated loan, as well as with refinancing 810 million pounds worth of borrowing with HSBC, the money was used to buy the bank's London offices. Metrovacesa stated in reply that the company was still in talks with several financial entities over refinancing the HSBC debt, which falls due at the end of November, but had yet to reach a deal.

Real estate company Reyal Urbis also recently reached a deal with creditors to refinance debt of 3.006 billion euros. In a statement to the Madrid stock exchange regulator, Real Urbis stated it had obtained two new credit lines which gave it "the necessary liquidity for its operative management". The new deal refinances two syndicated loans signed in 2005 and 2006 in addition to other loans and debt issues. Under the new financing terms, the company has been able to postpone the next payment on its debt until October 2011 and signed up to twice-yearly payments after that date until 2015. Thus it seems there is a tendency to postpone into the future - to 2011 at least - and then perhaps at that point a critical moment will be reached in all this, assuming that is that it doesn't come before, which if we look at the very dramatic state of the contraction in the Spanish economy is a possibility which certainly can't be excluded.

In 2015 - should we get that far - the company will then have to pay off the remaining 40 percent of the debt. One of Spain's largest developers, formed through the merger of Urbis and Reyal in 2007, Reyal Urbis said it had net debt of 5.5 billion euros when it reported its first-half results.

Another Spanish real estate company, Colonial, recently reported a nine-month net loss of 2.475 billion euros after taking charges for plunging asset values. The loss compared to a profit of 356.9 million euros for the same period last year. Group sales for the nine months to end-September dived 23.7 percent to 472.8 million euros, but still the "walking dead" real estate firm managed to put through a debt restructuring in September. Funding banks had previously taken partial control of Colonial earlier this year when some of its shareholders failed to meet obligations. Residential land sales fell by over a half in the fisrt nine months of 2008 and Colonial's net debt stood at 8.975 billion euros as of the end of September.

And As Spain's Government Sells Bonds......

Spain's government still effectively seems to be in denial about where all of this more or less inevitably leads, and is still trying to keep alive the ailing builders and property developers on an emergency life support ("reanimator") system by selling government debt to guarantee the ever more risky private variant. Thus last Thursday (20 November) the (previously-postposed) first special "reverse auction" was held and the Spanish government bought 2.115 billion euros of bank assets out of a maximum possible of 5 billion euros. Spain's Economy Ministry said a total of 4.562 billion euros of assets had been offered. Spain's Fund for Acquiring Financial Assets (FAAF) held the reverse repo auction for investment grade, 2 year asset-backed-debt issued after Aug 1 2007. It plans to purchase up to a further 5 billion in 3-year mortgage-backed debt in December.

The government has said it plans to buy up to 50 billion euros in bank assets in 2008 and 2009 to provide a market for longer-term bank debt which institutions cannot sell to investors or the European Central Bank. The head of the State Credit Institute (ICO) Aurelio Martinez argued after the auction that some banks may have felt inhibited from participating due to fear of being stigmatised. FAAF received 70 bids worth 4.56 billion euros from 28 banks. Of those, 51 bids from 23 different banks were accepted, the rest were rejected after failing to meet criteria ranging from their size and interest rate to the participation of the bank in lending markets. Questions are being raised by analysts about the effectiveness of the fund given the limits on how much banks can sell, the stigma attached to sales, and the comparative ease of borrowing more anonymously from the European Central Bank.

The other side of this particular coin is however the little question of just how all this bank funding is going to be paid for. To some extent this became clearer this week since the day before the auctions the Spanish government previously paid its first visit to debt markets for funds in connection with the programme, and the first programme-specific auction was duly held on Wednesday 19th November. Remarkably the sale generated quite strong demand and even revealed comparatively stable spreads. Indeed demand was such that the Spanish treasury was able to issue 200,000 euros more in debt than initially anticipated in the special 4.4 billion euro sale to cover bank asset acquisitions.

That outcome is especially surprising as it compared with a disappointing demand in a sale of new 10-year German bunds held the same day, and which met fewer bids than the sum issued. Amazingly even the spreads remained stable. Investor appetite may be cautious in view of the high levels of uncertainty surrounding sovereign issues and debt levels over the next few years, and may be showing a preference over debt with a somewhat shorter maturity horizon. Anecdotal evidence (as encountered by the author of the present post) also suggests that many Spanish people may be seeing treasuries as a "safe haven" against a banking system where lack of reliable information makes them nervous about using deposit accounts.

Spain has said it plans to issue issue up to the full 50 billion euros earmarked for this kind of bank support in public debt (thus raising around 5% of GDP in new debt) over the next two years. Spain's deepening economic problems has caused the spread between 10-year Spanish bonds and the benchmark German bund to widen to 60 basis points in October from 8 bps a year earlier.

The much smaller yield differential on shorter term debt was reflected in a yield of 2.7 percent on the Spanish two-year debt sold on Wednesday which compared favourably with a rate of 2.71 percent in the secondary market the previous day. This paper traded in a band of 2.503/687 on Thursday in the secondary market and its spread against comparative German debt remained steady at 25 basis points.

Spain is to hold further auctions December and January to sell bonds and bills. Of course it is not clear who exactly is buying this paper. If it is the Spanish themselves then it will be of little avail (as per the above external financing argument), but Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian did tell Reuters on October 20 that Spain was appealing to Arab sovereign wealth funds to buy the bonds. With what success we have no idea.

........The Government Deficit Rises Sharply

As a result of all this selling Spain's budget numbers are deteriorating fast and could hit the EU 3 percent fiscal deficit limit as early as by the end of this year, according to a statement from central bank governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordoñez before the Spanish Senate last week. The limit itself is only a technicality at this point in time, but it is astonishing to learn that in the space of less than one year Spain will have gone from a budget surplus equal to 2 percent of GDP to a deficit of 3 percent. This is a shift of 5 percentage points in a year, and of course, if this continues into 2009 and 2010, then the debt to GDP levels will start to shoot up rapidly.

Fernandez Ordoñez may well not tell you (as I say here) the whole truth, but he normally does tell you the truth and nothing but the truth, andn he is thus fast becoming one of the main sources of reliable information in what is now a worm-infested Spanish communications system (just as another piece of anecdotal evidence here, I was to have travelled to the Basque Country tomorrow to appear on a regional TV programme about the merger between local cajas Kutxa and BBK, but the programme was cancelled - for the second time now - for the simple reason that the production team could find absolutely no one apart from me who was willing to talk in front of the cameras about this kind of topic. Thus hundred of Tertulias, thousands of empty words, and little in the way of cool clear light on the subject. The wheels of metaphysics turn round and round, but I see no motion in the drive shaft...). Anyway, Fernandez Ordoñez has been quick to pick up on the fact that the government's present forecast of 1 percent growth next year — unveiled just weeks ago in the 2009 budget — is already well out of date and the budget provisions need to be revised accordingly, and on the basis of much more realistic economic forecasts. If they don't start to do this, then the spreads will inevitably only start to rise further and faster as investors get more and more paniky about the actual underlying debt dynamics in the absence of any kind of realistic information.

"We must make a downward revision of prospects for economic growth in the next
few quarters," Fernandez Ordoñez said.

I think everyone now accepts what Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero explicitly said last Thursday: namely that Spain will inevitably exceed the European Union budget deficit limit as it tries to spend its way out of recession. EU budget rules specifically allow for countries to breach the deficit limit of 3 percent during exceptional circumstances, and Zapatero rightly said such conditions existed in Spain, where the economic contraction is about to become much sharper than elsewhere in Europe.

"Whether it (the deficit) goes to 3.5 or 4 or 4.2, we will have to wait to seehow the economy develops," Zapatero said during a press conference. "The Spanish government is not going to resign itself to recession, we're going to try to grow and provide jobs,' he said. "We're going to use the public deficit to keep social promises"

Of course, Zapatero is right here, Spain does need to use its fiscal leverage - Spain's debt to GDP ratio was around 20 percentage points below the EU average at the start of 2008 - to address the probelms. But just one more time Bank of Spain Governor Miguel Angel Fernandez Ordonez is also right in urging Zapatero to show some sort of fiscal prudence and hold back some public funds in case (I would say for when) conditions get even worse. Ordonez is explicitly expressing his fears that a focus on short-term, emergency measures, without a total restructuring plan, may rule out deeper structural labour and service market overhaulswhich will be needed in the future to raise competitiveness and promote long-term growth.

I will be even more explict. As I have argued here, and in numerous other posts, the present Spanish depression is being caused by deep-seated structural problems, and not by transitory cyclical ones. Thus, using fiscal policy as if this was simply a classical problem of the business cycle is a big mistake, on my view, and is needlessly using up vital ammunition which will be badly needed to take us through the battlefields which lie ahead.

We are now facing an economic slump of unprecendented proportions in Spain, and more than likely an ongoing problem of outright price deflation. To fight this combination using the traditional fiscal and monetary policy tools simply will not work - they are likely trying to drain an ocean with a teaspoon. We need new tools, fresh thinking, and a complete change of course. And the sooner we get them the better.

Well, this has been a very lengthy post. If anyone else has actually arrived this far, I can simply thank you for your patience and your perseverence. You are undoubtedly the kind of enduring person the new Spain is going to badly need. I hope you have learnt as much in reading this as I have learnt in the doing the background research which was necessary for writing it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Spanish Construction Activity Down An Annual 24.1% In September

Seasonally adjusted construction output decreased by 1.3% in the entire euro area in September and by 1.5% in the EU27 when compared with August. Compared with September 2007, output dropped by 3.8% in the euro area and by 3.1% in the EU27.

Among the Member States for which Eurostat have data available for September 2008, construction activity rose in eight countries and fell in five. The largest increases were registered in Romania (+27.0%), Slovenia (+19.4%) and Bulgaria (+17.7%) and the largest decreases were registered in Spain (an incredible -24.1%) and Sweden (-19.8%).

Obviously September was a key month in the evolution of the Spanish crisis.

Month on month the most significant increases were registered in Slovakia (+7.2%), Portugal (+6.8%) and Bulgaria (+5.9%), while the largest decreases were recorded in the United Kingdom (-8.5%) and in Spain (-7.8%).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fernandez Ordoñez Says No Deflation In Eurozone, But What About Spain?

While we are likely to see a "substantial'' drop in euro-region inflation, Bank of Spain forecasts for the 15-nation euro area do not show price drops. That is they "show an enormous moderation in price gains, but they do show price gains,'' according to the latest statements by Miquel Angel Fernandez Ordoñez, ECB Council member and Governor of the Bank of Spain. Bank of Spain eurozone forecasts "don't show deflation" he told reporters in Madrid yesterday (Wednesday).

The reason for this swift and adroit response to the question of the day in Spain was that EU Economy and Finance Commissioner Joaquin Almunia (not exactly your garden variety world authority on macroeconomic topics) had earier said that the Europe's economies were "facing the prospect of deflation" amidst the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. In fact Fernandez Ordoñez is right, as is his want - right on a technicality. The Eurozone as a whole is almost certainly not heading straight into deflation (yet), but this begs the question which he could have been answering: what about poor little Spain?

As I reported last week, Spain's consumer price index has now been dropping since June (see chart below), and it is very possible (I would say probable) that the index will move in negative territory throughout 2009 (and possibly by between 1 and 3 percent). True a significant part of the drop at this point is due to the drop in energy costs, but even the core-core index (excluding energy and fresh vegetables) was only up around 0.4% in October (HICP) over June, or an annual 1.2% rate, and it is my very very strong opinion that we will start to see "downwards pass through" as the recession deepens, profits melt (rather than just being squeezed) and everyone struggles hard to try and find a bottom.

According to data from the National Statistics Institute earlier this week, Spanish household spending contracted 1 percent in the third quarter of 2008 over the previous quarter, while investment contracted by 1.9%. We can only realistically expect this process to continue during 2009 and unemployment to continue to rise, creating a considerable capacity overhang which will exert a downward pressure on wages and prices (remember around one third of new employment contracts in Spain are temporary, making salary reductions comparatively straightforward, at least for one part of the labour force).

The Federal Reserve - On The Other Hand - Readies Its Plans

Meantime in the United States the Federal Reserve has been busy stressing that it will do whatever it has to do to ensure the US does not fall into a deflation trap. This view was reinforced by statements from vice-chairman Dohn Kohn yesterday (Wednesday), as US stocks fell below 8,000 on the Dow Jones Index (their lowest level so far in this financial crisis) and consumer prices fell 1% in October when compared with November. That was the largest monthly drop in at least 61 years (since the current index only goes back to 1947). Even core consumer prices, which exclude food and energy, fell by 0.1 percent month on month, and this was the first monthly drop in core prices in more than a quarter of a century.

Don Kohn stressed he did not believe deflation was the most likely outcome for the US economy, but he did say he thought it was a “less remote” possibility than he previously thought.

“Some people have argued that we should save our ammunition, that interest rate cuts aren’t effective,’’ Mr Kohn said. “I think that were we to see this possibility, that we should be very aggressive with our monetary policy, as aggressive as we can be.”

The lions share of the fall in headline inflation, of course, came from energy prices dropping 8.6 per cent. Yesterday crude oil fell to a $53.30 a barrel, its lowest since January 2007.

Treasury inflation-protected securities now indicate that investors anticpate deflation in the US, though Fed officials stressed in interpreting the data that prices were being distorted by a lack of liquidity. The five-year break-even rate, which provides an expectation of future inflation, currently suggests that investors expect annualised inflation at a minus 0.70% rate over the next five years.

It is also worth noting that it is getting much more difficult to read Fed policy intentions, at least as far as movements in the key policy rate go. Massive injections of liquidity have now driven the interbank overnight lending rate to less than half the current 1% Fed FOMC rate. The presence of this gap seems to be now shifting investors' focus toward the amount of money in the banking system as a better gauge of Fed intentions than possible movements in the policy rate. Kohn in fact stressed that the US central bank is simultaneously reducing interest rates and expanding its balance sheet (in a process known as quantitative easing) and explicitly avoiding reliance on one strategy "in favor of another".

Analysts point to the surplus cash that banks keep on deposit at the Fed as an important gauge of the Fed's true monetary-policy stance. These so-called excess reserves have ballooned to $363.6 billion from $2 billion in August as the Fed has added one measure to another in its emergency lending program package. Excess reserves are now bigger than the overnight lending market between banks (aka the federal funds market), but it is in this market thatthe Fed sets its key rate target. As a result of the large volume of excess liquidity it is becoming more and more difficult for Bernanke to control the federal funds rate (he recently described it to the House Financial Services Committee. as an issue he was "working on") - and the effective federal funds rate was 0.38 percent Novber 18, and has averaged 0.29 percent since the Federal Open Market Committee cut the rate to 1 percent on October 29.

Former St. Louis Fed President William Poole has described this as a move to quantitative easing, a process which forces a large volume of reserves into the banking system with the expectation that banks will start to trade them for a higher-yielding asset. Such quantitative easing in fact formed the backbone of the Bank of Japan anti-deflation stance between 2001 and 2006 (as in the case of the Fed, it was this easing rather than the more headline catching ZIRP - zero interest rate policy - which was doing the bulk of the donkey-work), but it is worth noting that while this policy stabilised Japan's situation temporarily, the Japanese economy never actually came out of deflation (at least as far as the core core index goes) and now once more under the grip of recession it seems almost certain to fall back even further into negative price territory. The basic problem is that the banks themselves may well fail to freely lend the excess reserves to businesses and consumers, in the process prolonging the credit freeze. That is basically the underlying story of what actually happened in Japan.

Normally, when central banks launch explicit quantitative easing strategies they abandon the interest-rate target and start purchasing assets in order to boost the money supply. This is what Bernanke calls "expanding the Fed's balance sheet". Typically, such activities can have two effects on an economy.

In the first place banks can decide to earn more than the nominal rate they earn at the central bank and start to lend aggressively. We have seen no signs of this happening as of yet, and measures of bank reserves are growing faster than most money supply measures. Secondly, the central bank can target some assets that are thought to have a broad impact on the economy, such as Treasuries or mortgage-backed bonds. The US Federal Reserve has already taken a half-step in that direction by purchasing the commercial paper of U.S. corporations at predefined rates. The central bank's Commercial Paper Funding Facility held $256.1 billion as of November 12.

Basically returning to the issue at the start of this post concerning Miquel Angel Fernandez Ordoñez's statement on deflation, we should not take everything here at face value. Communicational techniques are different between one side of the Atlantic and the other, and we might note that even Don Kohn says that he doesn't consider deflation a "likely" outcome (he couldn't very well say so, could he, as saying it was likely would be like saying in advance that it wasn't very probable the Fed's preferred policy option would work, and this he isn't going to say, even if he has serious concerns about effectiveness).

By the same token all Fernandez Ordoñez has really told us is that the Bank of Spain forceast isn't currently showing price falls in 2009 (and I am sure it isn't) but only a pack of fools would draw the conclusion from that that they should have no "plan B" for deflation just in case, and while I may think many things about the current Governing Council at the ECB, a pack of fools I do not think they are. It is also worth remembering that with the present occupant of the Bank of Spain governorship it is very important that you read the fine print in what he says, since while he definitely tells the truth, and nothing but the truth, he doesn't always tell "the whole" truth, as when he said that Spanish banks had no exposure to off-balance-sheet SIV-type securitisation (which it didn't), which is not the same thing as saying Spanish banks have no exposure to potentially toxic instruments, since as we are now seeing they do, and I'm sure he was aware of that at the time. Prudently, he was simply keeping his fingers crossed, and saying what he had to say.

Like Chalk and Cheese, Definitely Not Two Of A Kind

So we should be aware that Señor Ordoñez is a very astute customer, which Joaquin Almunia evidently isn't, and the difference between the two is apparent in the way the former has to rapidly jump up out of his foxhole in an attempt to undo the damage potentially done by the latter's rather eyebrow raising "faux-pas".

And just to ram the matter home, I will leave you with an earlier effort on the part of our much beloved Economy and Finance Commissioner to win for himself the acollade of economic illiterate of the year.

The European Union's Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said on Monday (27 October) that while lower financing costs were needed interest rates should not fall to negative levels in real terms.

"At this moment, it would be good for the cost of financing to go down," Almunia told a live Internet chat with readers of Spanish newspaper El Pais (, adding: "We shouldn't go back to a situation in which real interest rates are negative, as we know from experience that this leads to excess indebtedness, low perception of risk and new bubbles which always end by blowing up in our faces." Almunia said it was hard to say how long the present bout of financial turbulence would last but he thought the uncertainty plaguing markets should have cleared with a year.

Essentially two things are being confused here. Negative interest rates (such as those Spain had between 2002 and 2006, you know, the ones that lead to the current crisis) are highly undesireable during the upswing in a business cycle, since you are simply giving more stimulus to economies which are already stretched to capacity - and negative rates may thus produce "bubbles", as they obviously did in both Ireland and Spain - but they are of course highly desireable during a downturn, and especially during recessions, since they can stimulate slumping economies. And of course, we are all currently heading into one of the most important recessions since WWII, or hadn't our "machine-reader" commissioner noticed?

I mean, as I say, basically the man is a total economic illiterate, and indeed his policy pronouncements more often than not lead me to feel what the Spanish would call "verguenza ajena" for any club of economists who would entertain him as a member, or indeed group of Commissioners who get stuck with him fielding the economics portfolio. And what better proof of all of this could there be? Well, take a sneak peak at the above chart, and you will see that Spain once more had negative interest rates after the end of 2007 - ie at just the time when Almunia was speaking - as, of course, the textbook recommends it should. As I said, a complete pack of fools is something the ECB Governing Council aren't. But, and here we come full circle, as inflation is falling interest rates get near to turning positive again (once more giving Spain a dose of "restrictive" monetary policy) and the problem is going to be how we maintain negative rates as Spain enters deflation. We had all better join Fernandez Ordoñez in keeping our fingers crossed and hope that our ECB Council Members prove to be just as inventive as Messrs Benanke and Kohn at the Federal Reserve, and equally astute as those Honourable Gentlemen over at the Bank of Japan.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Spanish Crisis In A Nutshell

This will be a relatively short post, since I think the facts here speak for themselves. Basically the roots of the Spanish "problem" are undoubtedly many and complex, but there is one underlying ingredient in the present dynamic which more or less governs everything else: the dependence on external financing due to the ongoing current account deficit, and the difficulties the banks have had raising this external financing since the outbreak of the "financial turmoil" (aka as the US sub prime crisis) in August 2007. Following the difficulties which arose in the global wholesale money markets in the wake of the "August troubles" two countries - Spain and Kazakhstan - found themselves in a virtually unique (and unenviable) situation: the doors of the global money markets were slammed tight shut in their faces. Since September 2007 both of these countries have, each in its own particular way, struggled to handle the aftermath of what effectively amounted to "financial armageddon".

Astonishingly, after mountains of words have been written, and hours and hours of radio and TV talk shows and "turtullias" have been held, this simple detail about the background to the Spanish crisis still remains obscure to the the majority of the Spanish people (and indeed, equally incredibly, the majority of Spaniards still don't have the faintest idea what cédulas hipotecarias actually are).

So at the heart of the current problem in there Spain lies, not the fact that 12 month euribor interest rates went up somewhat, which they did, and which was (of course) an aggravating factor, no, the real reason that Spain now has around one million empty properties waiting to be sold (apart from the fact that there seems to be no switch here to "shut off" the construction industry when it produces products for which there is no market) is that the Spanish banks have been unable to raise sufficient money to provide the mortgages that are needed to enable people to buy them (or better said they are unable to raise the money at prices which make the mortgage business a profitable one for them).

And what better example of this than what happened in August 2008.

Sudden Stop In Bank Lending In August

According to the latest (provisional) data from the Bank of Spain, Spanish banks lent 33 million euros LESS to Spanish households in August than they did in July. After years when the banks were lending between 8,000 and 10,000 million euros a month, this situation, I think, counts as what people in the technical jargon of the trade call a "sudden stop". The whole Spanish financial system seems to have seized up in August. Even lending to non-financial corporates - which had been increasing during the boom at the same rate as to households - virtually dried up, with only 523 million in additional lending.

Of course, such lending has been slowing steadily since August 2007 (see charts below).

This is not the first time bank lending to households has ground to a halt during the current crisis, back in December 2007 new lending was only 561 million (see chart below), but this time the situation looks much more serious, and even definitive, since in the intervening period the economy has simply deteriorated and deteriorated.

Spain's Current Account Deficit Reducing Slightly

The principal reason why Spanish banks are so short of money to lend is the size of Spain's external current account deficit. Running at around 10% per annum, the deficit means that Spain needs to find roughly 7,000 - 8,000 million euros (7 to 8 billion) a month to settle the account. Unless external lenders step in and provide funding (by buying cedulas, or Spanish government debt, for example), the Spanish banking system keeps gasping for air, it suffers from a chronic lack oxygen in the bloodstream (and each month things simply get worse) in the form of new money to lend to oil the transactions flow. This is what having a "financial crisis" means when you come down to the nitty gritty of things. Actually the size of the deficit has come down since the early months of this year, when the monthly deficit was more like 11,000 million euros, but this "improvement" has been due more to a reduction in the value of imports (due to collapsing internal demand and lower oil prices) than to an increase in exports (both goods and services exports were effectively stationary in August year on year, and as the global economy enters recession this is hardly likely to improve).

Another factor which it is very important to bear in mind is that the deficit on the income item in the monthly current account (basically the difference between what Spanish residents receive from money lent abroad and what Spanish residents pay to external lenders) has been rising notably of late, as both the volume of debt and the cost of serving it, ie interest rates, have risen.

The financial account has also deteriorated recently, with the "other investment" heading (basically the balance between loans people outside Spain make to Spain as compared with loans people in Spain make to the rest of the world) turning strongly negative in July and August after very robust performances in February and March. So, effectively, the whole system is now folding in on itself, and the consequences are not hard to see. GDP slows and then contracts, more than likely in a pretty violent fashion in the not too distant future.

Negative Interest Rates For Far Too Long

So how did we get into this mess you might well ask? How was it that the Spanish current account deficit was able to baloon for so long, and how did the Spanish economy get so hooked on household and corporate debt steroids? Well, I don't think you need to look too far. You should just take a peek at the length of time for which a monetary policy of negative interest rates was applied to Spain by the ECB (see chart below).

Basically interest rates were negative in Spain from early 2002 till mid 2006, causing "massive overheating" in the Spanish economy, which sucked in millions of immigrant workers (5 million in 8 years - since the economy was running way beyond capacity) in order to fuel a huge property bubble which has lead to a level of national indebtedness which is now simply not sustainable.

We might also notice in passing that monetary policy from the ECB again became accommodative in the second half of 2007 as infation accelerated and interest rates once more turned negative, although, as I keep repeating in posts here, we now have a situation whose magnitude means that the economy is unlikely to be very responsive to the use of conventional fiscal or monetary tools.

Fasten Up Your Seat Belts For A Bumpy Ride

Well, I said this would be a relatively brief post (although I hope there is a lot of meat here to chew on). I think this is the core of the Spanish crisis in a nutshell. To better understand how it all works out in practice across the real economy you will need to dig around in my earlier posts, and to understand the implications of what all this will mean as we now move forward, well, naturally that will form the substance of the posts which are now to come.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inflation Is Dead In Spain, Fasten Up Your Seat Belts For A Sharp Dose Of Deflation

As Barcelona-based property consultants Aguirre Newman publish a report that suggests Spanish property prices may need to fall by at least 23% for the market to return to any kind of normality, we learn today that Spain's annual inflation dropped almost a full percentage point to 3.6 percent in October, according to data from the Spanish National Statistics Office. This was the lowest level in a year as energy and food costs fell and the real economy slowed dramatically. October's figure, in line with estimates, was down from 4.5 percent a month before, but this piece of information obscures more of Spain's current inflation dynamic than it actually reveals.

The slowdown in inflation over the last few months is evident in the chart below.

"Headline figures reflect energy and food price falls. The most interesting thing is the substantial drop in core inflation, which is a very clear sign of a more fundamental slowdown in the overall economy," said Daniel Antonucci, economist at Merrill Lynch.

But this slowdown in annual inflation isn't the important point, the big news, and the part most analysts seem to be missing, is that the price index peaked in June (as can be seen in the chart below, and whether you measure on the Spain general index or the EU HICP), since which time it has been falling, and from now on (barring the slight possibly of a minor "blip") it looks like it is going to be downhill all the way. From all the indications we have at present we should be ready for quite a sharp fall in Spanish prices in 2009 (possibly 2-3 percentage points).

The reasons why we should expect a fall are evident, we are heading for a global recession in 2009, energy and commodity prices will all be y-o-y negative, house prices, rents, factory gate prices etc etc, all look set to fall as profits get squeezed, and wage and salary earnings - if not direct base salaries - also fall. As the headline in newspaper the woman sitting opposite me in the metro this morning was reading said "Rebajas Hasta El Pan" (The "sales discounts" even reach bread).

GDP is about to start shrinking fast:

While unemployment is rising at this point almost exponentially:

I would say that the practical economics of this situation are now obvious, but for some more general theoretical explanation of why we should now expect to see deflation raising its ugly head across one economy after another see Claus Vistesen's "The Global Economy – Is Deflation the Next Macro Story?" post. And for more details on the current macro economic background you could try my Spain's Services PMI Contracts At Record Rate In October

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Spain's Services PMI Contracts At Record Rate In October

Well, just as you thought it was getting really bad, you find out it can only get worse. I keep saying I have never seen anything like this, and that is true, but you get tired of repeating it time after time, day in day out, on one occassion after another.

Spain's service sector shrank in October at a record pace with the Markit Purchasing Managers' Index for Spain dropping to 32.2, a second consecutive record low and the tenth consecutive month of contraction. The index was down from 36.1 in September, which at the time really seemed very, very low, and evidently well below the 50.0 level which separates growth from contraction.

"There is no immediate light at the end of the tunnel for firms in the Spanish service sector as activity continues to fall at an alarming pace," said Andrew Harker, economist at Markit Economics."The explosive combination of falling output charges and rising input costs has made it very difficult for businesses to make profits."

Global Services Contract

Outside Spain, service sector activity in the euro zone hit a fresh decade low in October pulled down in part by the very low reading in Spain, and a quite low one in Italy (45.7). The final Markit Eurozone Purchasing Managers' Index slumped to 45.8 the lowest in the survey's 10-year history. The fact that the final reading is significantly below the flash estimate (of only one week ago) and sharply down from September's 48.4 would seem to indicate that the contraction in services is accelerating rapidly at this point across the eurozone.

Global services activity also slumped to its lowest level since 2001 in October, dragged down by the especially weak European service sector, according to the Global Services Business Activity Index, produced by JP Morgan, which plummeted to 44.2 in October from 50.2 in September.

That was the second lowest result in the survey's 10-year history, behind only the month after the September 2001 attacks in the United States.

European Sovereign Yield Spreads Widen

The yield spread between German 10 year bunds and some other eurozone sovereign debt of equivalent maturity is currently the largest since 1997, with investors demonstrating a preference for only the most liquid government bond markets as the implications of the scale of the European bank bailout begin to dawn on the financial markets. The gap between bunds and their Italian counterparts widened to 127 basis points earlier in the week, while difference with Spanish 10-year debt shot to 69 basis points following the news that the country's economy contracted in the third quarter for only the first time since 1993.

Also we learnt earlier this week that credit-default swap traders were prepared to bet more on the risk of default for Italian and Spanish government debt, and for Deutsche Bank than they were willing to put on any other comparable risk wager, according to a Depository Trust and Clearing Corp. report that gives us the most extensive data yet on the credit-default swap market.

A total $33.6 trillion in transactions are currently outstanding on government, corporate and asset-backed securities worldwide, based on gross figures, the DTCC said in a report released Tuesday. After allowing for overlapping trades, the report found that investors have taken out a net $22.7 billion of contracts based on Italy's debt, $16.7 billion against Spain and $12.5 billion on Deutsche Bank of Frankfurt.

The DTCC, which operates a central registry of credit swaps trades, released the data for the first time this week as the industry steps up efforts to counter critics among lawmakers and regulators who blamed the lack of data for exacerbating the financial panic.

Investors have focused their wagers on debt associated with those industries and countries that may be most affected by a credit crisis which is now entering its 15th month. The Spanish economy is seen as particularly vulnerable as it enters its first recession in 15 years amid a slump in its housing market, with banking and finance shares dropping as the credit seizure piles the pressure on builders and property devopment companies and the danger of a sector collapse increases the risk to the banks.

Credit-default swaps on Italy were quoted at 108 basis points yesterday after reaching a record 138 basis points on Oct. 24, CMA Datavision prices on 10-year contracts show. The contracts have more than doubled since August. Yesterday's trading represents a cost of $108,000 a year to protect $10 million of debt for 10 years. Contracts on Spain climbed to 112 basis points on Oct. 24, from about 47 basis points at the start of September. They have since dropped back to 79 basis points.

Turkey, Italy, Brazil, Russia, GMAC LLC, and Merrill Lynch had the biggest gross amount of contracts outstanding on their debt as of Oct. 31. Turkey alone had $188.6 billion of default swaps written against its debt. The gross figure however doesn't take account of offsetting trades. After netting the trades, there were, for example, only $7.6 billion outstanding on Turkey's debt, giving a final number way below the Spanish and Italian values.

Consumer Confidence Rebounds - Ever So, Ever So Slightly

Surprisingly enough against this background, Spanish consumer confidence edged up to 50.1 points in October from 49.5 points in September and from a record low of 46.3 in July, according to the ICO survey. Interestingly enough July was the month of peak oil prices, which seems to suggest that Spanish consumer confidence is very sensitive to the value of energy prices.

Or perhaps the people being interviewed know something I don't. Actually, if we examine the components which constitute the index, we will see that the only real improvement was in the expectations index. If we think about all the enthusiasm there has been in Spain for the election of Obama, could this give us part of the explanation, since I see little else (apart from this and energy prices) which could be fuelling rising expectations at this point, and of course, Barack Obama is not President elect of Spain, and even if he were, such optimism seems to reflect a very simplistic view of the world and the reality which we now, unfortunately, have before us.

Retail Sales and Industrial Output Both Strongly Down In September

Well, for those of you who are interested in staring at strange looking, downward sloping, charts, here are two more of them. Firstly retails sales were down year on year in September by 7.1% according to the latest data out today from Eurostat.

While working day adjusted industrial output was down 8.8% in September over September 2007, according to data from the national statistics office.

It almost gets monotonous, doesn't it? Anyway, my opinion, for what it is worth, is to follow the monthly services and manufacturing PMI data, and the EU monthly sentiment indicator, as the combination of these three will tell us pretty clearly in real time just how fast the deceleration is moving forward as we go. Fasten your seat belts, and hang on tight.

During the third quarter of 2008, the number of debtors processed reached 764, indicating a 263.8% increase as compared with the same quarter of the previous year. By type of bankruptcy, 728 were voluntary and 36 were necessary, implying interannual increases of 277.2% and 111.8%, respectively. Considering the type of proceedings, ordinary proceedings increased 369.1% and abbreviated proceedings increased 178.4%.
National Statistics Office, 4 November 2008