The only European "thinktank" that has been more correct about predicting developments in the continent than any of its peers ("Greece will never default" - nuf said), has released a new briefing, this time looking at the latest European hotbed of trouble (which is not new at all, just the realization that the LTRO benefit has faded has finally set in), Spain, and specifically if its bank will be forced to seek a Eurozone bailout. OpenEurope is diplomatic about it but the conclusion is that all signs point to yes. Furthermore, as recent general strikes across the country, coupled with occasional rioting, showed, Rajoy's agenda of enacting austerity which will be critical to receive German assistance simply to make Spain the latest German debt slave, may have some problems being enacted. Yet the biggest catalyst for the housing-heavy exposed Spanish banks is that, as Open Europe finds, of the €400 billion in loans made to residential sector, €80 billion is toxic. And only €50 billion in reserves are available. Hence the simple math: at least a €30 billion shortfall will need to come from Europe. And this assume no further declines in home price, which however are set for a record price drop this year. So... LTRO 3 anyone as the focus once again shifts to "deja vu Greece?"
From the executive summary:
- Given its size, the fate of the Spanish economy will also largely decide the fate of the euro. €80bn of €396bn (1/5) in loans that Spanish banks have made to the bust construction and real estate sectors is considered ‘doubtful’ and potentially toxic, meaning at serious risk of default, with the banks only holding €50bn in reserves to cover potential losses. Already dropping, house prices could potentially fall another 35%, meaning that Spanish banks will almost certainly face hefty losses as more households default on their mortgages.
- In such a scenario, the Spanish state is unlikely to be able to afford to recapitalise its banks, meaning that the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund (the ESM) would have to step in, shifting the cost to eurozone taxpayers.
- As domestic banks are currently the main buyers of Spanish government debt, this could also lead to major funding problems for Spain. The chances of a self-fulfilling bond run on Spanish debt would increase massively in this scenario, threatening to push the whole country into a full bailout.
- Containing spending in the Spanish regions is also key to Spain rebalancing its books. The level of unpaid debt on the balance sheets of local and regional governments has risen by €10bn (38%) since the start of the crisis (now topping €36bn). This will likely be paid off by the central government, increasing the country’s debt and deficit.
- Spain’s various reforms, particularly to the labour market, are welcome, but are themselves not enough to stop a bond run, as it will take time before they bite. The country’s long- term unemployment has now reached 9% of the economically active population, and youth unemployment reached 50.5% last month. This is threatening the long term productivity of the economy and whether Spanish society can sustain this level is unknown.
- A Spanish bailout is far from a forgone conclusion, but more work needs to be done to avoid one. Open Europe recommends:
- Spanish banks double their provisions against souring loans and commit to thorough stress tests
- Strengthen labour market reforms, particularly to relieve the welfare burden on state finances, including: end wage and pension indexation to inflation, reduce size and duration of benefits, limit collective bargaining, reduce redundancy costs and improve the business climate.
- However, these reforms will only stand the test of time if they enjoy political buy-in from across society in Spain, rather than being imposed from outside.
Full report (pdf)