The Bank of Spain released its latest data on the level of bad loans held by Spanish banks today. For the first time since January 2013, the value of bad loans has dropped – falling from €195.2bn in Feb to €192.8bn in March. However, it has stayed roughly constant as a percentage of total loans (13.4%).
Symbolically, even a small drop in the headline value of bad loans may be seen as important, especially given that previous declines were down to the transfer of assets to the Spanish bad bank (SAREB), rather than any change in circumstances of the loans. If this is discounted, the value of bad loans has simply continued to rise.
That said, as the graph highlights, these loans remain at very high levels and well above the loss provisions held by banks. This continues to tell us that:
- Spanish banks will continue to deleverage for some time to come. This puts a dampener on any hopes that they will show any rapid increase in willingness to lend and take on more risk to help fuel any form of Spanish recovery. This thereby increases the risk that any recovery will be ‘creditless’, and therefore more likely to be limited and temporary.
- This data is quite timely, as it also highlights the obstacles which the ECB is going up against in these countries when it comes to encouraging banks to begin lending again, particularly to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). With their balance sheets still weighed down by these loans, it seems likely that banks will continue to be reticent to take on significant new lending, even if the ECB does offer them cheaper long-term loans.
- Given that many of these loans still relate to the real estate and construction sector, they will continue to weigh on prices in these markets. This suggests prices could fall further (although this will vary significantly based on location and regional markets), while the political hot topic of evictions could return to the fore again in the future.