Author Archive

Spain Asks the Eurozone for a Bank Bailout

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Spain asked the Eurozone for a bailout of up to €100-billion to rescue its banks.  This is just a short-term fix for the troubled Eurozone because it doesn’t address the underlying problems in the monetary union.  The earlier bailouts of Greece, Ireland and Portugal didn’t resolve the problems either.  “The Spanish banking bailout is big enough for some shock and awe (€100-billion vs. talk of €40-billion) but details are murky,” said Kit Juckes, the chief of foreign exchange at Société Générale.

Still unanswered are who shares the burden, and just how much will Spain be limited in terms of talks over its debt troubles.  It’s crucial to keep in mind that in Spain, it’s currently a banking crisis.  “And where is the growth coming from to make the problems go away?” Juckes said.  “The Spanish bailout doesn’t solve Europe’s woes…but maybe it allows the rest of the world to focus on something else.”  There are many other questions, said Adam Cole of RBC in London.  Which bailout will fund the rescue?  How much will the final rescue total?  What will the ratings agencies do?  What terms will be attached to the funds?  “The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) report concluded Spanish banks would need at least €37-billion,” Cole said, noting that the maximum of €100-billion is perceived as credible.  In terms of the ratings agencies, Cole said that “the loans will add directly to the Spanish government’s liabilities and so increase the debt-to-GDP ratio by around 10 per cent, leaving further downgrades likely.”

Spain’s bailout plan is seen as a robust answer to critics who accused European Union (EU) leaders of reacting too slowly, too late and with the least possible amount of cash while the crisis is spinning out of control.  “This is a very clear signal to the markets, to the public, that the Eurozone is ready to take determined action,” Olli Rehn, the EU’s top economic official, said.  “This is pre-emptive action.”

Instead of waiting for Spain to complete stress tests on its banks later, Eurozone officials agreed to move before the market turmoil that Greece’s upcoming elections may produce.  Rather than undershooting estimates of Spanish bank needs, they have been generous: the International Monetary Fund estimated a requirement of at least €40 billion, but the Eurozone agreed to provide at least €100 billion.  “We deliberately wanted to ensure there is some additional safety margin,” Rehn said.  “This is the first time Europe is willing and able to deal confidently and overwhelmingly with (such) a large contingency,” said an unidentified Eurozone diplomat.  “And all through a straightforward telephone conference.  No all-nighters, no devising new instruments in a panic, and no penny-pinching haggling over money.”

The bad news is that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s request for a bailout for Spain’s banks may undermine his political authority and credibility in financial markets.  “The emperor’s clothes are tattered,” Simon Maughan, financial strategist at Olivetree Securities Ltd., said. “Unless he uses this money to attack the regions and control the failed cajas, what threads he has left will be stripped off him.”  Rajoy has to persuade the Spanish people to accept austerity, and convince bond investors the cuts will deliver the deficit goals he has pledged.  if he fails, he may have to return for a larger rescue, potentially draining the Eurozone’s financial ammunition.

“Clearly his domestic credibility will have been hampered by this U-turn but at least he is partially recognizing the depth of the problem,” said Stuart Thomson, a fixed income fund manager at Ignis Asset Management, who predicts another bailout, this time for the government itself, within the next year and a  half.  “This bailout is predicated on a return to growth next year and we don’t think that’s possible.”

Protestors demanded to know why billions would prop up broken Spanish banks, instead of helping people who are suffering financially.  According to Moody Analytic’s Mark Zandi, the reason why Spain is in so much trouble may sound familiar to Americans.  “Spain had a bigger housing boom and bust than we had here in the United States and that means a lot of bad mortgage loans bad real estate loans that undermined the capital positions of the banks.  They are broke, they need help from the European Union,” Zandi said.  “The Spanish must be very humiliated by having to take the aid.  For them to actually have to go to the European Union for help like this, I’m sure was very difficult.”  But the pain runs deep with 25 percent of Spaniards is out of work; among the young, unemployment is upward of 50 percent.

Prime Minister Rajoy warned that Spain’s economy, Europe’s fourth-largest, will get worse before it gets better.  ‘‘This year is going to be a bad one,’’ he said.  ‘‘By no means is this a solution,’’ said Adam Parker, of Morgan Stanley.  Spain’s aid ‘‘could be a near-term positive from a trading standpoint, but you haven’t solved anything in the long term.’’

European leaders must prove to the world that they are making a credible effort to repair flaws in the Eurozone that allowed the problems in Greece to threaten the world economy.  If Greek voters elect a government that is willing to live up to the terms of its €130 billion bailout by meeting its payments and narrows its enormous budget gap, strong doubts remain whether new leadership can fulfill those obligations.  A significant amount of private money has already fled Greece, while its deeply depressed economy and dwindling tax revenues threaten to put the country deeper in the hole.  ‘‘Even in case of a new government, I doubt whether the institutional framework in Greece can guarantee the program,’’ said Jurgen Stark, a former member of the European Central Bank’s executive board.  ‘‘Who has the competence to implement the program?  That is the key point.’’

Catalina Parada is an International, Marketing Consultant and Alter NOW’s Madrid correspondent.  She can be reached at catalinaparada@hotmail.com.

A Tale of Two Countries: Germany and Spain

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Germany’s unemployment declined more than predicted in December as car and machinery exports boomed and one of the mildest winters on record helped construction jobs. The number of jobless people declined a seasonally adjusted 22,000 to 2.89 million, according to the Nuremberg-based Federal Labor Agency.  Economists had forecast a decline of 10,000.  The adjusted jobless rate fell to just 6.8 percent.  German firms are working virtually nonstop to fulfill orders for exports and investment goods.  As a result, the nation has defied a debt crisis that the European Commission fears will unleash a recession throughout the Eurozone.  The Munich-based IFO Institute’s measure of business confidence also rose unexpectedly in December.  Polls show that the majority of Germans see their jobs as secure even as Europe’s biggest economy slows.  Forward-looking indicators including IFO’s underscore that the German jobs motor is fundamentally intact, said Johannes Mayr, a senior economist at Bayerische Landesbank in Munich.

Except for an unexpected 6,000 increase in October, German unemployment has declined in every month since June 2009. The average jobless total in unadjusted terms for 2011 was well below the three million mark, Labor Agency head Frank-Juergen Weise said.  “German unemployment mastered the dual impact of the debt crisis and weakening economic growth in 2011 but these risks remain, accompanying us as we enter the new year, Weise said.

Both the jobless total and the jobless rate were at their lowest level since unification in 1991, noted German Economy Minister Philipp Roesler. “2011 can be described as the most successful since German unification for working people,” Roesler said.  “Demand for labor remains very high, despite the current economic risks.  Overall, the upturn in employment should continue, albeit at a slower rate.  The labor market remains one of the main pillars of our economy,” the minister said.

The national statistics office Destatis reported that the number of employed people in Germany hit a new record of 41.04 million in 2011, with more than 500,000 jobs created.  It was the first time the number of people working in Germany has risen above 41 million, Destatis said.  The nation’s population is approximately 82 million.

“Overall, labor market conditions will remain markedly healthier in Germany than in most other countries in Europe in the months ahead,” said IHS Global Insight’s Timo Klein. At present, Germany is confronting a shortage of skilled labor.  Leading economists anticipate that Germany’s economic growth will slow in 2012, in line with other major Eurozone economies, which may put a squeeze on wages and jobs.  But, unemployment at a record low for the last 20 years, is a position that most countries envy and a sign of the way Germany has rebuilt itself since the Wall was torn down.

“Germany’s manufacturing and export-driven economy finished the year strongly — piling on another 22,000 jobs in December,” said Anthony Cheung of market analysts RANsquawk.  “Behind the strong performance lie some adept moves by Germany’s exporters.  As their Eurozone markets weakened, they have been very good at moving their focus elsewhere.  German carmakers have more than compensated by dramatically growing sales to developing markets.”

This is one reason why companies are not shedding significant staff, even if the economy hits a downturn, said Berenberg Bank’s Holger Schmieding.

Germany’s labor market strength means that domestic demand will “remain a pillar of support” to the eurozone “under very challenging circumstances otherwise,” Schmieding said.  The Eurozone badly needs this help.  For example, Spain again published dire labor market data with the jobless rate rising by nearly 2,000 in December when compared with November.  Eurostat’s most recent data showed October unemployment in Spain at 22.8 percent, by far the Eurozone’s highest.

Spain represents an entirely different scenario.  During 2011, unemployment in Spain soared 7.9 percent, totaling an astonishing 322,286 individuals.  Nearly one-third of all the Eurozone’s unemployed are Spanish; approximately 50 percent of young Spaniards are out of work.  The tough austerity measures outlined by the new prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, are likely to push Spain’s jobless rate even higher.  These include €8.9 billion in spending cuts and tax increases to cut Spain’s borrowing which should total €16.5 billion in 2012.  Spain closed out 2011 with a deficit of 8 percent of its GDP, significantly higher than the six percent reported at the end of 2010.  “This is the beginning of the beginning,” said Deputy Prime Minister Saenz de Santamaria, noting that Spain is facing “an extraordinary, unexpected situation, which will force us to take extraordinary and unexpected measures.”  She stressed that the wealthiest will be increasingly taxed for at least two years, resulting in expected budgetary gains of €6 billion.

These numbers represent a new 15-year high in Spain’s unemployment rate “The figures for the number of registered unemployed for the month of December confirm the deterioration of the economic situation during the second half of the year,” according to Spain’s labor ministry.  Once the Eurozone’s job creation engine, Spain has struggled to find jobs for the millions thrown out of work since the 2008 property bubble collapse.

The bad news fueled fears that Spain, the Eurozone’s fourth-largest economy, was slipping back into recession after the economy posted zero growth in the 3rd quarter of 2011.  Prime Minister Rajoy’s new government has promised to fight unemployment and fix the country’s finances as its top priorities.  Rajoy plans to present a major labor market reform which will alter hiring laws and Spain’s collective bargaining system to encourage companies to hire workers.

Spain’s secretary of state for employment, Engracia Hidalgo, said the successive labor reforms carried out by the previous government “never made the labor market more dynamic and flexible.”  Spain  lets the jobless receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of two years.  Prime Minister Rajoy’s government extended a monthly payment of 400 euros ($520) for people whose benefits have run out.  Otherwise, the payments would have expired in February.

Spain’s New Financial Hit: S&P Downgrades Its Credit Rating

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

Standard & Poor’s slashed Spain’s credit rating to AA-, three steps beneath the highly desirable AAA, underscoring the challenges facing Europe’s major powers as they meet G20 counterparts over the eurozone debt crisis.  S&P, whose move mirrored that by fellow ratings agency Fitch, cited high unemployment, tightening credit and high private-sector debt.  Spanish 10-year government bond yields climbed slightly in response, although they are still nearly 60 basis points lower than those of Italy.

“Despite signs of resilience in economic performance during 2011, we see heightened risks to Spain’s growth prospects due to high unemployment, tighter financial conditions, the still high level of private sector debt, and the likely economic slowdown in Spain’s main trading partners,” according to S&P.  Spain’s Economy Minister Elena Salgado noted that there would be some margin for maneuver this year thanks to about two billion euros raised by an auction of wireless frequencies and lower interest payments.  “Interest payments by the central government will be at least two billion euros below budget.  So the combined effect of the spectrum auction and lower interest payments will mean we have a margin of 0.4 percent (of GDP)” Salgado said.

S&P took note of Spain’s “signs of resilience in economic performance during 2011” but saw “heightened risks” to the country’s prospects for growth.  Elevated unemployment, tighter financial conditions, and an external debt-to-GDP ratio of approximately 50 percent and the likely economic slowdown of Spain’s main trading partners are the downgrade’s primary causes.  S&P noted that the “economy” variable in its credit-rating equation was responsible for the downgrade.  Spain’s GDP, according to S&P, will likely grow about 0.8 percent in 2011 and nearly one percent in 2012, weaker than S&P’s 1.5 percent estimate made in February.  S&P said that Spain is still in danger of another downgrade if the situation deteriorates.  According to their downside scenario, “We have also adopted a downside scenario, consistent with another possible downgrade.  The downside scenario assumes a return to recession next year, partly as a result of weaker external and domestic demand, with real GDP declining by 0.5 percent in real terms, followed by a weak recovery thereafter.  Under this downside scenario, the current account deficit would decline, but the general government deficit would remain above 5.5 percent of GDP, at odds with the government’s fiscal consolidation targets.”

Investors currently are focusing on“whether European governments can forge a political solution to the sovereign crisis,” said Guy Stear, Hong Kong-based credit strategist at Societe Generale SA.  The longer-term question is “whether austerity plans will work,” he said.

S&P pointed out ongoing challenges facing Spain. “The financial profile of the Spanish banking system will, in our opinion, weaken further, with the stock of problematic assets rising further,” according to S&P analysts.  Spain is being held back by “uncertain growth prospects in light of the private sector’s need to access fresh external financing to roll over high levels of external debt amid rising costs and a challenging external environment.”

Simon Denham, the head of Capital Spreads, noted that “S&P and Moody are working overtime at the moment downgrading bank after bank and European country after European country which reminds us of the dangerous situation that the eurozone is in.  However, as mentioned, the overriding theme that something will be done to sort the mess out is keeping equity markets afloat and the FTSE remains just above the 5,400 level at the time of writing.”

Steven Barrow, currency strategist at Standard Bank, offers this perspective.  “The move follows a similar downgrade from Fitch last week and hence does not have a huge shock factor for the market.  Nonetheless, it clearly questions the markets ability to continue with the more optimistic tone towards the debt crisis that seems to have been reflected in the euro recently – although not necessarily in the bond markets.”

 

Catalina Parada, Marketing Consultant, is Alter NOW’s Madrid correspondent.