Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spain risks crisis over vanishing reserves

Spain's foreign reserves have plummeted to wafer-thin levels, leaving the country exposed to a possible banking crisis if the property market swings from boom to bust - despite membership of the eurozone.

Over the past two months the Banco de España has sold off 80 tonnes of gold, flooding the world market with enough bullion to dampen the usual spring rally. The bank has reduced its holdings of US Treasuries, British gilts, and other investments at a similar rate.

Total reserves have now fallen by two thirds from €41.5bn in early 2002. Greece and Portugal have seen a similar drop.
It appears the bank has been draining the reserves to help finance the current account deficit, which has ballooned to 9.5pc of GDP, reaching €8.6bn in January alone.

"The current account is completely out of control," said Alberto Mattelan, an economist at Inverseguros in Madrid.

Where this gets serious is if there is a property collapse in Spain and the banks get into trouble," said Prof Tim Congdon, an expert on monetary policy.

The first signs of a housing slump are emerging as the ECB raises interest rates, already up seven times to 3.75pc since December 2005. The shares of Valencia builder Astroc have fallen 77pc since February, setting off a sharp slide across the sector, with knock-on effects on banks with mortgage exposure.

Each country is on its own. The ECB may interevene only if the crisis spreads across the eurozone, and it is forbidden from bailing out the member states. The International Monetary Fund warns that the structure leaves EMU exposed to "systemic financial risk".

For now Spain is still looking rosy: growth was 4pc in the first quarter; the budget surplus is 1.8pc of GDP; and export share is holding up reasonably well.

However, the party is ending after a near tripling of house prices since 1995. In a report, The End is Nigh, Jamie Dannhauser from Lombard Street Research, said Madrid is now making matters worse with a new law to hit property speculators.

"This screams of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. House price growth has clearly peaked and is decelerating quickly. Speculators appear to have got out already, sensing the dangers that lie ahead," he said.

The government cannot devalue its way out of trouble, so it will have to deflate. "Pain seems to be on Spain's doorstep," he said.

What happens when the reserve runs out? This is no different to being out of a job and using your personal savings to make interest payments on your mortgage. When the savings account runs dry you still have the principal due plus the next interest payment. It looks to be a very desperate move any way you slice it.

It also demonstrates just how bad banks view the current condition of the Spanish housing market. Given the fact that the ECB is barred from bailing Spain out unless an economic crisis spreads across the E.U., it looks to me like Spain is in dire straits.

Further, if the crisis expands to France, which it well could given the current state of their housing market, where does that leave the Euro? And Germany has been in economic recession for how long now? When you take a close look at the Euro, who backs this currency? Think about it…
Vern

1 Comments:

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Friday, May 25, 2007  

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