Do not adjust your television set, this is not a Spanish rescue (despite looking an awful lot like one…)
June 10, 2012
Well, that was the line that Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos was spinning yesterday. Sorry Luis, this is essentially a Spanish rescue – external funding sources filling a gap which the state can’t (check), monitoring of a large chunk of the economy (check), involvement of all the big international organisations (check – EU, IMF, ECB etc.), the list goes on.
Meanwhile, the oft absent Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy held a press conference today, declaring the package a ‘victory’ for the euro and stating that if it were not for the current government’s reforms it would have been a full bailout package. If this is a victory (finally dealing with a glaring problem after four years) then we don’t want to see a defeat, but at least Rajoy made a public appearance this time. That said, in the midst of the worst crisis his country has faced since the financial crisis hit, Rajoy is now jetting off Poland to watch Spain vs. Italy (a mouth watering prospect admittedly but his timing could take some work), while the likes of the Education Minister are heading to Roland Garros to watch Rafael Nadal – the Spanish government not quite in crisis mode then, we’re not sure if that should inspire confidence or not…
In any case, as we predicted over two months ago, European assistance to help Spain deal with its banks is now official, so what does this rescue mean for Spain and the eurozone, below we outline some of the key points and our take:
Spain will access a loan from the EFSF/ESM (the eurozone bailout funds) which it will use to recapitalise its ailing banking sector. The money will be channelled through the FROB (the bank restructuring fund) but will still be a state liability (it will not go directly to the banks). However, unlike the other bailouts it will not come with fiscal conditions but only conditions for reforming the financial sector.
Open Europe take:
Firstly, the ESM will not be in place in time to provide the loan (the treaty is yet to be ratified by numerous countries and has faced many delays) so at least initially it will come from the EFSF. As others have pointed out, this is important because ESM loans are senior to other types of Spanish debt while EFSF loans are not. This may make things easier to start with (as it removes the threat of legal challenges based on clauses in other Spanish sovereign debt which could be triggered if it suddenly became junior), however, Finland has already raised concerns over its exposure and role in the rescue – an issue we tackle in more detail below.
The lack of additional fiscal conditions is fair given that Spain is already subject to a deficit reduction programme and that this is ultimately a financial sector problem. There are questions over conditionality and moral hazard though – we would like to see bank bondholders and shareholders sharing more of the burden (bail-ins) to ensure the necessary reforms take place. As things stand its hard to see how the banks will ‘pay’ for this capital, particularly given the Spanish regulators previous failures (during and after the property bubble).
De Guindos confirmed that the funds would be counted as Spanish debt, so Spanish debt to GDP could be about to jump by 10% in the near future and given its current path this could put Spain over 90% debt to GDP (the level beyond which sustainability becomes questionable) much sooner than had been anticipated. This will require adjustments in its reform programme and lead to increasing market pressure.
Size – is it enough?
This is the key question – the total amount has been put at “up to” €100bn. That is much higher than was suggested by the IMF assessment released on Friday night, which suggested €40bn.
Open Europe take:
It sounds like a big number, but upon closer inspection it may not stretch as far as many expect. Consider that Bankia requires €19bn, while three other very troubled cajas need around €30bn (Banco de Valecia, Novagalicia and Catalunya Caixa) meaning half the money could already be eaten up, leaving only €50bn for the rest of the huge banking sector.
This compares to around €140bn in doubtful loans, and a total €400bn exposure to the bust real estate and construction sector. Doubtful loans to this sector total around €80bn currently, but we expect house prices to fall by a further 35%, broadly meaning that the number of doubtful loans could easily double. On top of this we have further losses on mortgage loans as well as losses on other corporate debt and a decrease in the value of Spanish debt held by banks. So huge number of issues – putting a clear figure on it is difficult due to the difference between tier one capital and ‘loss provisions’ (tier two capital). But even if this €50bn is given in tier one capital and stretched to increase provisions its hard to see that it will be enough given the huge exposure to mortgages and the bust sectors, especially at a time when growth is falling further and unemployment continues to rise.
Finland and Ireland – flies in the ointment?
If the EFSF is used (which looks likely) the Finnish government is obliged to ask for ‘collateral’ as it did with Greece – the noises coming out of Finland suggest it will, especially given its objection to ‘small’ countries bailing out ‘larger’ ones. Ireland has also suggested that if Spain is able to avoid fiscal conditions on its bank bailout then it could request similar treatment (i.e. a loosening of ‘austerity’).
Open Europe take:
The Finland issue will get messy, as it did in Greece. It will add another complex layer to negotiations, while politically it will help the (True) Finns who are already launching a campaign against further bailouts. It could also lead to legal challenges – as we pointed out with Greece, it could trigger ‘negative pledge’ clauses on Spanish bonds given that they essentially become subordinated to Finland’s claim on Spain. Not guaranteed, but a legal grey area which adds to the confusion.
As for Ireland, they have a fairly strong case here. Ultimately, their fiscal troubles stemmed from bailing out their banks, something Spain is now able to dodge thanks to external help. Ireland already feels that it is paying a huge price for protecting the European banking system – this will only add to this ill feeling. Given Ireland’s perceived ‘success’ in Germany some flexibility may be forthcoming but we doubt enough to assuage Irish anger.
Impact on the UK?
The IMF will only play a ‘monitoring’ role, meaning the UK will not be liable for the money provided to Spain. However, given the links between the UK and Spanish banking systems it is imperative that the problems in the Spanish financial sector are finally dealt with – whether that will happen this time around is yet to be seen but given the points above it is not off to a great start.
Impact on the eurozone – Open Europe concluding remarks:
Markets responded positively to rumours of external aid for Spain on Friday afternoon, but, given the points above, a huge amount of uncertainty remains which will keep markets jittery and increase pressure on the eurozone. That is far from needed given the uncertainty surrounding the Greek elections. Given the ongoing assessment of the actual needs of Spanish banks the rescue will now enter a state of limbo as attention turns back to Greece, in the meantime Spain is likely to find it difficult to access the market (since this is broadly an admission it cannot raise any substantial funds itself).
Questions will also arise over the strength of the eurozone bailout funds – Spain guarantees around 12% of them, surely its guarantees are now worthless or would do more harm than good. Additionally, now that one of the larger countries has asked for support pressure will intensify on Italy (particularly with the falling support for the technocratic government and the slow pace of reform).Open Europe blog team