The success story of Spain faces new as well as old challenges

Back in the Euro area crisis the Spanish economy looked in serious trouble. The housing boom and bust had fit the banking sector mostly via the cajas and the combination saw both unemployment and bond yields soar. It seems hard to believe now that the benchmark bond yield was of the order of 7% but it posed a risk of the bond vigilantes making Spain look insolvent. That was added to by an unemployment rate that peaked at just under 27%. The response was threefold as the ECB bought Spanish bonds under the Securities Markets Programme to reduce the cost of debt. There was also this.

In June 2012, the Spanish government made an official request for financial assistance for its banking system to the Eurogroup for a loan of up to €100 billion. It was designed to cover a capital shortfall identified in a number of Spanish banks, with an additional safety margin.

In December 2012 and January 2013, the ESM disbursed a total of €41.3 billion, in the form of ESM notes, to the Fondo de Restructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB), the bank recapitalisation fund of the Spanish government. ( ESM)

Finally there was the implementation of the “internal competitiveness” model and austerity.

What about now?

Things are very different as Spain has been in a good run. From last week.

Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.4% in the third quarter of 2019 compared to to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that recorded in the
second trimester.The interannual growth of GDP stands at 2.0%, similar to the previous quarter.

There are two ways of looking at this in the round. The first is that for an advanced economy that is a good growth rate for these times, and the second is that it will be especially welcome on the Euro area. Combining Spain with its neighbour France means that any minor contraction in Germany does not pull the whole area in negative economic growth.

However there is a catch for the ECB as Spain has slowed to this rate of economic growth and had thus exceeded the “speed limit” of 1.5% per annum for quite a while now. That will keep its Ivory Tower busy manipulating, excuse me analysing output gaps and the like. In fact once the dog days of the Euro area crisis were over Spain’s economy surged forwards with annual economic growth peaking at 4.2% in the latter part of 2015 and then in general terms slowing to where we are now. As to why the ESM explanation is below.

 Strong job creation followed the economic expansion, and employment has recovered by more than 2.5 million. Structural reforms have been paying off: competitiveness gains have supported economic rebalancing towards tradable sectors, and exports of goods and services have stabilised at historical highs (above 30% of GDP). The large and persistent current account deficit, which had reached 9.6% of GDP in 2007, has turned into a surplus averaging 1.5% of GDP in 2014-18.

Actually the IMF must be disappointed it did not join the party as turning around trade problems used to be its job before it came under French management. But Spain certainly rebounded in economic terms.and has been a strength of the Euro area.

Looking at the broader economy, Spain returned to economic growth in 2014 and continues to perform above the euro area average in that category

Over the past six months external trade has continued to boost the economy in spite of conditions being difficult.

On the other hand, the demand external presents a contribution of 0.2 points, eight tenths lower than the quarter past.

The impact of all this has improved the employment situation considerably.

In interannual terms, employment increases at a rate of 1.8%, rate seven tenths
lower than the second quarter, which represents an increase of 332 thousand jobs
( full time equivalents) in one year.

In terms of a broad picture GDP in Spain peaked at 104.4 in the latter part of 2007 then had a double-dip to 94.3 in the autumn of 2013 and now is at 110.9. So it has recovered and moved ahead albeit over the 12 years not made much net progress.

Problems?

According to the ESM the banks remain a major issue.

Several legacy problems also remain in the banking sector. These include larger and more persistent-than-expected losses of SAREB, which pose a contingent liability to the state. Banks have adequate capital buffers, but should further strengthen them towards the euro area average to withstand any future risks. In addition, the privatisation of Bankia and the reform of cajas need to be completed.

Of course banking reform has been just around the corner on a Roman road in so many places. Also the balance sheet of the Spanish banks has received what Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder would call a “nice little earner”.

Housing prices rise 1.2% compared to the previous quarter.The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index has decreased 1.5 points to 5.3%,

Annual house price growth returned in the spring of 2014 which the banks will welcome. The index based in 2015 is now at 124.2.

However not all ECB policies are welcomed by the banks.

Finally, banks still face pressure on profitability due to the low interest rate environment, and potentially from a price correction in financial assets if the macro environment deteriorates. ( ESM )

An official deposit rate of -0.5% does that to banking profitability. I do not recall seeing signs of the Spanish banks passing this on in the way that Deutsche Bank announced yesterday but the heat is on. I see that the ESM is covering its bases should house prices fall again.

If we look at mortgage-rates then they are falling again as the Bank of Spain records them as 1.83% in September which looks as though it may be an all time low but we do not have the full data set.

Comment

The new phase of economic growth has brought better news on another problem area as the Bank of Spain reports.

Indeed, the non-financial private sector debt ratio
relative to GDP stood at 132%, 5 pp down on a year earlier and 4 pp below the euro area average.

The ratio of the national debt to GDP has fallen to this.

Also, in June 2019 the public debt/GDP ratio stood at 98.9%, a level still 13 pp higher than the euro area average.

 

and these days it is much cheaper to finance as the 7% yields of the Euro area crisis have been replaced by some negative yields and even the benchmark ten-year being a mere 0.31%.

On the other side of the coin first-time buyers will not welcome the new higher house prices and there are areas of trouble.

In this respect, consumer credit grew in June 2019 at a year-on-year rate of around 12%, and non-performing consumer loans at 26%, raising the NPL ratio slightly to 5.6% ( Bank of Spain)

What could go wrong?

Another signal is the way that the growth in employment has improved things considerably but Spain still has an unemployment rate that has only just nudged under 14%.So there is still much to do just as we fear the next downturn may be in play.

A fifth successive monthly deterioration in Spanish
manufacturing operating conditions was signalled in October as a challenging business climate negatively impacted on sales and output……At 46.8, down from 47.7 in September, the index also posted its lowest level for six-and-half years.   ( Markiteconomics )

 

Will the Spanish economic boom be derailed by separatism?

There is a truism that political problems invariably follow economic ones. If that is true in Spain at the moment then there has been quite a lag as it was several years ago now that the consequences of the Euro area crisis reached a crescendo. If we look back we see the economy as measured by GDP peaked at 103.7 in 2008 and then fell to 100 in the (benchmark) 2010 as the credit crunch hit. But then the Euro area crisis hit as GDP fell to 96.1 in 2012 and 94.5 in 2013 and the latter year saw the unemployment rate rise above 26%. So that was the nadir in economic terms as a recovery began and saw GDP rise again to 95.8 in 2014 and then 99.1 in 2015 followed by 102.3 in 2016.  So we see that in essence there has been something of a lost decade as earlier this year the output of 2007 was passed as well as a recent strong recovery. If economics was the driver one might have expected political issues to arise in say 2014.

What about now?

At the end of last week the Bank of Spain published its latest projections for the economy. Firstly it is nice to see that they have fallen in line with my argument that the lower oil price provided a boost to the Spanish economy mostly via consumption.

In particular, compared with the expansionary fiscal policy stance of the period 2015‑16 and the declines in oil prices observed between mid‑2014 and 2016 Q1

Of course that is a clear contradiction of the official inflation target of 2% per annum being good for the economy but I doubt many will point that out. You may note that they try to cover off the consumption rise as a response to the crunch.

Moreover, the expansionary effect resulting, in recent years, from certain spending (on consumer durables) and investment decisions being taken after their postponement during the most acute phases of the crisis is expected to gradually peter out.

Factoring in everything it expects this.

Indeed it is estimated that, in 2017 Q3, GDP growth could have decelerated somewhat, as anticipated in the June projections. As a result of all the above, it is estimated that, after growing by 3.1% this year, GDP will grow by 2.5% in 2018 and by 2.2% in 2019.

A driver of the economic growth seen so far has been export success.

Accordingly, for example in 2016, GDP growth was more reliant on the external component than had been estimated to date.

Also there are hopes that this will continue.

The data on the Spanish economy’s external markets in the most recent period have been more favourable than was expected a few months ago.

Although there is a worry which will be familiar to readers of my work.

owing to the exchange rate appreciation effect,

Oh and there is a thank you Mario Draghi in there as well!

by the continuing favourable financial conditions.

What could go wrong? Well……

Turning to the risks surrounding these GDP growth projections, on the domestic front, the political tension in Catalonia could potentially affect agents’ confidence and their spending decisions and financing conditions

This issue is currently playing out in the banking sector where some are fearful of no longer being backed by the Bank of Spain and hence ECB. Banco Sabadell has just announced it will have a board meeting this afternoon to consider moving its corporate address to Alicante in response. Of course if you wanted custom in Catalonia this is not the way to go about it as we mull the words of the Alan Parsons Project.

I just can’t seem to get it right
Damned if I do
I’m damned if I don’t

What about the business surveys?

Firstly the Euro area background is the best it has been for some time.

The final September PMI numbers round off an impressive third quarter for which the surveys point to GDP rising 0.7%.
The economy enters the fourth quarter with business energized by inflows of new orders growing at the fastest rate for over six years and expectations of future growth reviving after a summer lull.

However that sort of economic growth has been something of a normal situation for Spain in recent times. Let us look at the detail for it.

New orders rose across the service sector for the fiftieth month running, with the latest expansion the strongest since August 2015. Where an increase in new business was recorded, this was attributed by panellists to improving economic conditions.

From this there was a very welcome side-effect.

Responding to higher workloads, service providers increased their staffing levels solidly in September

If we move to the economy overall then we see this.

Taken alongside faster growth in the manufacturing sector, these figures point to a positive end to the third quarter of the year. Over the quarter as a whole, we look to have seen only a slight slowdown from Q2, suggesting a further robust GDP reading is likely. IHS Markit currently forecasts growth of 0.7% for Q3.”

Today’s Euro area survey on retail sales does not reach Spain but yesterday’s retail sales release shows they are struggling relatively with annual growth in August at 1.7% but retail sales are erratic.

Population and Demographics

There has also been some better news on this front as highlighted by this below.

The resident population in Spain grew in 2016 for the first time since 2011. It stood at 46,528,966 inhabitants on January 1, 2017, with an increase of 88,867 people.

This matters because the decline in population exacerbated a problem highlighted by Edward Hugh back in 2015. One of his worries was the ratio of births to deaths which had been shifting unfavourably and was -259 last year. This led to this and the emphasis is mine.

Furthermore, INE projections suggest the over-65s will make up more than 30% of the population by 2050 (almost 13 million people) and the number of over-eighties will exceed 4 million, thus representing more than 30% of the total 65+ population.
International studies have produced even more pessimistic estimates and the United Nations projects that Spain will be the world’s oldest country in 2050, with 40% of its population aged over 60. At the present time the oldest countries in Europe are Germany and Italy, but Spain is catching up fast.

Comment

Spain is an example of what is called a V shaped economic recovery as it has bounced strongly as opposed to the much sadder state of play in Greece which has seen an L shaped or if you prefer little bounce-back at all. If you were using economics to predict secessionist trouble you would be wrong about 100 times out of 100 using it. However if we move to what caused trouble in Greece when it had its recent political crisis we see that the driving force was the monetary system of which a signal is that the ECB is still providing over 32 billion Euros of Emergency Liquidity Assistance to it.

So as we stand the impact on the Spanish economy is small as businesses may be affected but moves if they physically happen will boost GDP and shift mostly from one region to another. However if there is any large movement of funds then all this changes as eyes will turn to the banking system at a point when people are wondering if and not when the Bank of Spain will step in? After all would it help a bank that is no longer in Spain? There are rumours that UK banks could have gone to the ECB if they had back in the day thought ahead about their locations. But imagine the scenario if a bank in Catalonia tries to go to the ECB when there is doubt over whether it was in the European Union?

Personally I would expect, after a suitable delay, the ECB would step in but the price would be high as Greece has found out from the years of the Troika which have been so bad they change their name to the institutions.

Tomorrow

I have a morning appointment with my knee specialist so I intend to post an article but it could easily be somewhat later than usual.