In January, we discussed the stunning fact that Spain's social security pension fund was 90% allocated to Spanish sovereign debt. The latest data shows that this farcical epic reach-around has become even more ridiculous as, according to Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the fund's holdings are now 97% weighted to sovereign bonds. The fund purchased about EUR20bn of Spanish debt last year, while it sold EUR4.6bn of French, Dutch and German bonds. More than 70 percent of the purchases took place in the second half of the year, after Draghi's 'promise' to "do whatever it takes" moment.
It appears, since the Spanish government does not explicitly have its own Fed to monetize debt, that it has merely plundered another quasi-governmental entity to do the bond-buying reach-around. The fund, which was profitable last year on this bond-buying in its self-sustaining way, still contributes 1% to Spain's deficit as contributions to the fund are outweighed by the benefits paid.
Rules have been changed to enable this drastic concentration but at 97%, it is perhaps no wonder that Spanish bonds have been more volatile in recent weeks - as the implicit government buyer is now almost all-in. The potential for a vicious circle here is immense - but perhaps that is the point, more TBTF sovereigns for Draghi to deal with.
Spain’s pension reserve-fund ramped up its holdings of domestic debt last year, profiting from a rally across southern Europe and making it easier for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to raid the fund to finance his budget.
The so-called Fondo de Reserva de la Seguridad Social in 2012 increased its domestic sovereign debt holdings to 97 percent of its assets from 90 percent at the end of 2011, according to its annual report due to be presented to lawmakers today at 12:30 p.m. in Madrid and obtained by Bloomberg News.
The fund purchased about 20 billion euros ($26 billion) of Spanish debt last year, while it sold 4.6 billion euros of French, Dutch and German bonds. More than 70 percent of the purchases took place in the second half of the year, after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pledged to do “whatever it takes” to defend the euro, boosting Spanish bonds.
The bond-buying strategy enabled the fund to end 2012 with 63 billion euros, an amount equivalent to 6 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. A 3 billion-euro gain offset part of the 7 billion euros used by Spain’s Cabinet starting from September to finance an increase in retirees’ pensions and Christmas bonuses, according to the report.
Spain’s state-run social security system, also in charge of unemployment benefits, stopped registering surpluses in 2011. Its deficit was 1 percent of GDP last year, contributing to the nation’s total budget gap of 10.2 percent of GDP.
The maximum amount that can be invested in a given security was increased to 35 percent of the total portfolio from 16 percent. At the same time, the fund raised to 12 percent from 11 percent its maximum share in the Treasury’s total outstanding debt. The Treasury’s debt stock was 634 billion euros in February, according to data on its website.