Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Greek bail-out could send Spanish property crashing

Last week’s Eurozone bail-out involved some debt relief for Greece, more firepower for the EFSF (the bailout fund for other crisis countries) and a bank recapitalisation plan. Quite apart from the fact that most market observers think the plan is flawed and inadequate, the last bit that should have Spanish property owners worried.

In theory, topping up the capital buffers of the banks, particularly Spanish ones which are among Europe’s weakest, should be a positive development. The banks will be safer in the event of a new crisis and there should be less fear in the interbank market, a key feature of the original “credit crunch”.

There are two ways for a bank to boost its capital adequacy ratio: raising more capital or slimming down in size to make its existing capital look proportionally bigger.

Investors are rightly suspicious of banks so raising fresh capital by selling shares is not going to be easy. Higher capital ratios themselves imply lower profitability for the banks, making it harder for them to raise capital.

Perversely Government and EU officials are making it even harder for the banks to raise capital by demanding that they pay less in dividends and pull out of certain areas of business. The proposed financial transaction tax is also depressing bank share prices.

So banks are more likely to choose to go on a diet – desperately reduce in size to meet the new adequacy ratios without raising more capital. But how do banks reduce in size? There are a few ways, all of which are negative for growth and asset prices. They can sell non-core businesses like insurance or overseas subsidiaries. They can reduce the size of their loan portfolios by slashing the amounts they are willing to lend to households and businesses. They can also sell off other assets like the properties they have repossessed.

This is what Santander intends to do according to this article in the FT: Santander seeks to offload €3bn of Spanish property If all the Spanish lenders do the same then there will be a flood of new property on the market at knock-down prices. At the same banks will be trying to cut down on lending to businesses and homebuyers.

Throw in further austerity measures by the government and falling demand in most export markets and it’s hard to feel optimistic about the Spanish economy right now.

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