Monday, November 29, 2010

Zapatero gets the message

If he means what he says (a big if since he is a politician) it seems like the Spanish PM, Jose Zapatero, has finally got the message. At a meeting with business leaders to discuss reforms this week he said all the right things:

He's talking about reforming pensions by February and restructuring the weakest savings banks by Christmas. In addition he says that regional governments, who account for about half of Spain's public spending, must start reporting their deficit-cutting progress every quarter.

Up until now he has dragged his feet on reforms, mindful of how unpopular they are on the left of his party and indeed with the electorate as a whole who I suspect mostly don't accept that things need to change if Spain is going to survive and compete. Now Zapatero talks about "accelerating reforms to the max" ... "whatever the personal cost". His new-found zeal as a reformer presumably owes its origin to the Irish crisis and the widespread view that Spain could go the same way ("The difference between Spain and Ireland is timing").

Another reason for urgency is the need to restore some credibility ahead of the first 4 months of 2011 when, according to Barclays, Spain and its banks need to raise 70bn€ in the bond markets, which they think will lead it to ask for a bail-out next Spring. Sounds plausible if you think Zapatero' reforms are too little too late, the Spanish banks are in worse shape than they admit and that austerity measures announced so far will push the economy back into recession. In this case now would be a good time to reduce your exposure to the Euro (or even short it if you are feeling brave) because this will be a calamitous bail-out too far for the currency to bear. On the other hand European leaders know this and may have a few tricks up their sleeves to ensure Spain pulls through e.g. I could easily see the ECB printing money to buy Spanish government or bank debt. Whatever happens it's going to be an interesting 2011.

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