The Pain in Spain

by Andrew Stuttaford

That euro zone worries were going to resurface was inevitable, and so was the fact that many of them would revolve around Spain.  For those following these matters, this report from Open Europe is a must-read, but here is the dark heart of it:

Given its size, the fate of the Spanish economy will also largely decide the fate of the euro. €80bn of €396bn (1/5) in loans that Spanish banks have made to the bust construction and real estate sectors is considered ‘doubtful’ and potentially toxic, meaning at serious risk of default, with the banks only holding €50bn in reserves to cover potential losses. Already dropping, house prices could potentially fall another 35%, meaning that Spanish banks will almost certainly face hefty losses as more households default on their mortgages.

In such a scenario, the Spanish state is unlikely to be able to afford to recapitalise its banks, meaning that the eurozone’s permanent bailout fund (the ESM) would have to step in, shifting the cost to eurozone taxpayers.

As domestic banks are currently the main buyers of Spanish government debt, this could also lead to major funding problems for Spain. The chances of a self-fulfilling bond run on Spanish debt would increase massively in this scenario, threatening to push the whole country into a full bailout.