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Morgan Stanley Issues Alert On Spanish Banks

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Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, has issued a major alert on the health of Spanish banks, warning that a replay of the ERM crisis in the early 1990s could wipe out the capital base of weak lenders exposed to the property crash.

"A momentous economic slowdown is now under way. We believe the deterioration in Spain is just in the beginning stages. The bulk of the pain will be suffered in 2009," said the report, by Eva Hernandez and Carlos Caceres. "The probability of a crisis scenario similar to the early 1990s is increasing. If the ERM (Exchange Rate Mechanism) scenario were to become reality the main concern would not be earnings, but capital," it said.

"We estimate that a non-performing loan ratio of 10pc to 15pc for developers' loans would fully erase earnings in 2009 and would represent between 20pc to 30pc of the current tangible capital base of Banco Popular, Sabadell and Banesto," they said.

The grim report comes amid a fresh flurry of horrendous data from Spain. The ICO consumer confidence index has plunged to a record low of 46.3. Lay-offs continued to surge in July as the building industry - 13pc of Spain's workforce - stepped up its job purge. Unemployment has risen by 457,000 over the last year, pushing the rate to 10.4pc. "These figures are very disturbing", said employment chief Maravillas Rojo.

Finance minister Pedro Solbes told El Pais that the outlook had darkened dramatically over recent weeks as the global oil shock and rising interest rates combined with Spain's home-grown housing crisis. "The economic situation is worse than we all predicted. We thought it would happen slowly but instead it has hit fast," he said. Mr Solbes admitted that the property boom had degenerated into a "bubble" but said there was little the government could reasonably do about it. "What was the state supposed to do? Stop people building houses? That wouldn't be reasonable. Tell the banks who they can lend money too? We couldn't do that either. We warned that building 800,000 homes a year was not sustainable: and that granting mortgages for 40 years was folly, but there are certain things the government cannot prohibit," he said.

The root cause of the bubble was the extremely lax monetary policy imported by Spain after it joined Europe's monetary union. Interest rates were slashed on EMU entry, and then fell to 2pc until late 2005 - far below Spain's inflation rate. However, Mr Solbes has been reluctant to link the crisis to Spain's euro membership. As Europe's economics commissioner at the launch of the euro, his career is inextricably tied up with the whole EMU experiment.

For now, smaller Spanish banks are getting by on funding from the European Central Bank, in many cases issuing mortgage bonds with the express purpose of using them to secure loans from Frankfurt. ECB loans have tripled to €47bn over the last year, causing rumblings of concern among regulators. The ECB is not allowed to prop up banks with long-term funding under EU treaty law.

Morgan Stanley said there was 40pc chance of a "bear scenario" leading to a 0.5pc contraction of the Spanish economy next year, with a mounting risk of an even more extreme case that replicates the ERM crisis (or worse) and leads to a 1.4pc contraction in 2009.

The report said construction investment made up 18pc of GDP last year, much of it funded by foreign investors. The concern is that a "sudden reversal of capital inflows" could leave the economy unable to finance its current account deficit, now 10pc of GDP - the world's second biggest after the US in absolute terms. The corporate sector has debts equal to 130pc of GDP. This too requires foreign funding.

More bad news for Spain.

It an interesting game to see who's going to implode first, although the consequences won't be good.

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  • 396 Brexit, House prices and Summer 2020

    1. 1. Including the effects Brexit, where do you think average UK house prices will be relative to now in June 2020?

      • down 5% +
      • down 2.5%
      • Even
      • up 2.5%
      • up 5%

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