MADRID-It’s unclear whether the proposed $125 billion loan to Spanish banks, tentatively approved by the Eurogroup on Saturday, will assuage US worries about the health of the Eurozone. The Euro has since lost ground it gained after the announcement, as the fourth bailout of Euro countries will be followed this week by Greek elections, which could ultimately determine if Greece would become the first country to leave the Eurozone.
Mariano Rajoy, prime minister of Spain, said Saturday that he doesn’t consider the mass incentive to be similar to the bailouts that were required for Greece, as the money doesn’t come (yet) with austerity measure requirements attached. Rather, the Eurogroup praised Spain as having already implemented significant fiscal and labor market reforms and measures to strengthen the capital base. “The Eurogroup is confident that Spain will honor its commitments under the excessive deficit procedure and with regard to structural reforms, with a view to correcting macroeconomic imbalances in the framework of the European semester,” the body said in a statement. “Progress in these areas will be closely and regularly reviewed also in parallel with the financial assistance.”
Rajoy also said that his austerity measures this year, which includes the removal of guaranteed severance pay, showed the Eurozone that it means business about making cuts. If not for the cuts, he said, the country would have had to ask for a government bailout.
However, Rajoy said in a statement Saturday that the bank infusion will enable “credit to flow once again to families, to entrepreneurs, to small- and medium-sized enterprises, to workers and to independent contractors so that they can all develop their initiatives, maintain or set up companies while, at the same, time, creating jobs.”
Among other measures, the country’s banks, many of them nationalized, are setting aside more than $108 billion to protect against bad real estate loans. However, both the banks and Rajoy have said the country is in for worse economic times this year, predicting GDP contraction of between 1.3% to 1.7%. The country has an unemployment rate of around 25%.
Funds will move through the Euro Group from the European Financial Stability Facility and the European Stability Mechanism. The International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, have said they will also examine the health of Spain’s banks and make recommendations to the Euro Group regarding the incentive. “With this thorough restructuring of the banking sector, together with the on-going determined implementation of structural reforms and fiscal consolidation, we are certain that Spain can gradually regain the confidence of investors and market participants and create the conditions for a return to sustainable growth and job creation,” according to a commission statement.
One group has suggested that the government needs to allow UK or US-style REIT formation to help recapitalize the banking sector. Philip Charls, CEO of the Brussels-based European Public Real Estate Association, said at an Association of Spanish Rental Property Companies conference in Madrid last week that REITs helped pull the US out of the Savings & Loans banking crisis in the 1990s, and would be able to do the same for Spain.
“The Spanish government has not yet passed the legislation to create a REIT structure that would attract domestic and international investors and their urgently needed capital” Charls said at the conference. “The alternative is to allow in the debt piranhas, who will strip Spain’s real estate and bank loan portfolios of any value they can extract.”