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Spain's Economic Outlook After Elections

Released on 2012-04-01 08:00 GMT

Email-ID 52058
Date 2011-11-23 13:19:48
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Spain's Economic Outlook After Elections

November 23, 2011 | 1151 GMT
Spain's Economic Outlook After Elections
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Spanish Prime Minister-elect Mariano Rajoy in Madrid on Nov. 20

Outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero*s decision
to call for early general elections, held Nov. 20, allowed Spain to have
a smooth political transition. While the arrival of a new government in
Spain will be quieter than in other members of the eurozone, such as
Italy and Greece, the new government of Mariano Rajoy has immediate
challenges - among them high private debt, a fragile banking system and
growing unemployment - that threaten the new administration.


On Nov. 20, the Popular Party won a landslide victory in Spain*s general
elections. Outgoing Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero
called for the elections in April, seeking to put an early end to a
government that had failed to find answers to the economic crisis.
Zapatero wanted a new administration - preferably run by his Socialist
Workers* Party (PSOE) - to assume control. Instead, the Popular Party,
led by Mariano Rajoy, obtained 186 seats in the 350-seat Spanish
parliament, giving the new administration's party an absolute majority.
The "indignants* protest movement's influence seemed limited, although
it possibly hurt the PSOE, led by Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba. While the
PSOE secured only 110 seats in its worst performance in more than 30
years, other minor, anti-austerity left-wing parties performed better
than was expected (the United Left, for example, won 11 seats).

Although the PSOE failed to stay in power, Spain managed a smooth
electoral transition * clearly distinguishing itself from Italy and
Greece, the two major European countries at the center of the
Continent's economic crisis. In Italy, the transition was a traumatic
process during which former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi brought
weeks of uncertainty to his country (and to the international markets).
The outcome of this crisis was a techocratic government that now must
gain the support of a fragmented and contentious opposition. The
situation was perhaps more tense in Greece, where former Prime Minister
George Papandreou threatened to call for a referendum on EU austerity
measures before he resigned and handed power to a caretaker government.

Rajoy will not have to face elections in the near term, thanks to the
laws of the Spanish political system. The next general elections, as
well as most of the autonomous parliaments* elections, do not need to be
held for four years. But despite this seamless political transition,
Spain has serious economic troubles that will threaten the
sustainability of the new administration.

Spain's Short-Term Economic Problems

One of the main problems that Spain faces is its budget deficit, which
In 2010 stood at 9.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), the
third-highest figure among eurozone countries (Greece and Portugal are
at 10.6 percent and 9.8 percent, respectively). According to Eurostat,
Spain*s total general government debt reached nearly 642 million euros
($867 million) in 2010. But borrowing is increasingly expensive; in
November, the yield for the Spanish 10-year bond hit 6.98 percent, the
highest level since Spain joined the eurozone. With such a large budget
deficit, Spain must regularly convince markets that it is in control of
the situation - otherwise Madrid faces immediate and severe financing

In an attempt to win back market confidence, the PSOE and the Popular
Party agreed in August to reform the country's constitution to include
the concept of "budgetary stability,* which will entail a deficit cap.
However, the text does not specify the size of the cap, which must be
set by either the European Union or, in its absence, the Spanish
parliament. The deficit limit could also be broken during a recession or
a national crisis. When it comes into force in 2020, the new law will
affect all levels of Spanish administration, including the regional
governments that run health care and education.

The debt-to-GDP ratio is also a cause for concern in Spain. According to
Eurostat, Spain's debt represented 36.2 percent of its GDP in 2007,
moved to 63.45 percent of GDP in 2010 and reached an estimated 70.25
percent ratio in 2011. Yet the main problem in Spain is private, not
public, debt. Currently, private debt stands at 212 percent of GDP.

At the same time, both the real estate crisis and exposure to Spanish
debt are harming the Spanish banking sector. In June, Spain's average
domestic non-performing loan (NPL) ratio rose to 6.7 percent from 5.5
percent last year, while the NPL ratio for real estate increased to 17.8
percent from 11.2 percent in 2010. The effects of this are not limited
to major players, since medium- and small-sized savings banks, known as
cajas, are similarly exposed to high-risk loans.

While Spain*s two international banks, Santander and BBVA, benefit from
their geographic diversification - which gives them the capacity to
counterbalance muted domestic results - both have a significant presence
in Spain. More than half of BBVA's assets are in Spain, while Santander
has around 30 percent of its assets there.

Sovereign exposure of the major Spanish banks, while less than that seen
in other eurozone countries, is concentrated in Spanish debt. Their
total exposure to government securities was 119.8 billion euros at the
end of 2010, representing around 7 percent of the banks' total assets.
Sovereign exposure to other peripheral countries is limited.

Unemployment and Demography

While Zapatero pushed through austerity measures intended to cut the
deficit to 6 percent of GDP in 2011, the Spanish government later
admitted that those goals would not be met. During the campaign, Rajoy
vowed to make cuts "everywhere" except for pensions in order to meet
Spain's target of cutting the public deficit to 4.4 percent of GDP in

The problem is that austerity measures affect a population already
suffering from very high unemployment. Currently, Spain's unemployment
rate is 20.7 percent, the highest rate in the eurozone. The situation is
particularly serious among those aged 15 to 24; youth unemployment in
Spain moved from 24.6 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in the second
quarter of 2011. As those rates show, Spanish youths are having a harder
time finding jobs than are their eurozone counterparts.

Demography is also an increasing source of worry in Spain. According to
official statistics, Spain's population of about 46.7 million will
decline by up to half a million within a decade. Spain is an aging
country. Most of its population is older than 35 and the declining
growth rate is expected to stand at 0.9 percent by 2015 and 0.5 percent
by 2025. Emigration is also a factor in this decline in growth - the
economic crisis is expected to push nearly 600,000 people to leave Spain
this year. As the young tend to be consumers and the old tend to be
savers, Spain has only a few years to generate consumption-led economic

Despite the bleak outlook, Spain is better prepared than most European
countries to reverse this situation. To some extent, Spain has been more
efficient in incorporating foreigners, especially from Latin America,
into its economy. Between 2000 and 2005, immigration grew 304 percent in
Spain, and by 2007 around 1.8 million Latin Americans were living in
Spain. Because of cultural and linguistic similarities, most of those
new inhabitants have been effortlessly incorporated into the economy.

Due to the size of its economy and of its debt, the consequences of an
eventual Spanish collapse might not be as serious for the eurozone as
would the fallout from an eventual collapse of Italy. However, the
smooth transition in Spain and the apparent lack of serious political
conflicts in the near future doesn*t mean that the Iberian country is
free from immediate economic challenges.

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