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Spain - Even Worse than Greece?

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Published on Apr 23, 2012

Why House Prices Plunge in Spain Again

Spain -- The Next Domino Is Getting Ready to Tumble
It is well known that Spain's economy is in a depression, and we do not use this term lightly. With the official unemployment rate at about 23% and youth unemployment close to 50% it is not an exaggeration to speak of a depression. The probability of social upheaval erupting with greater frequency is extremely high. We already noted that the general strike recently called for by Spain's unions is only the fifth since the end of the Franco regime in 1975. It is a rare event in Spain and underscores the decline in the social mood and the growing desperation. Those who still have work want to protect their privileges and use the unemployed as their political weapon.

Meanwhile, Spain's banks are quietly sinking beneath the waves. They are the quintessential zombies, especially the insolvent cajas, which are drowning in real estate related assets that see the value of their collateral inexorably spiraling down the drain (as an aside here: the Fed's recent 'stress test' of US banks possibly has not taken sufficient account of this 'moving target problem'; as we have seen mentioned elsewhere, it also failed to consider the remote possibility that treasury bonds may decline more than it currently widely expected).

But let's return to Spain. The WSJ reports on the latest house price data, and keep in mind here that these are the 'official' and hence doctored in every imaginable way, data. The plunge in house prices is in fact accelerating.

"Spanish house prices tumbled at their fastest pace on record in the fourth quarter, a sign that a long-running property bust will continue to weigh on Spanish households and banks.

House prices fell on average by 11.2% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, well below the 7.4% decline in the third quarter, while prices of used homes was down 13.7% in the period, the country's statistics agency INE said Thursday.

Both readings are by far the worst since INE started recording countrywide prices in 2007, the peak year for Spain's decade-long property boom. Previously, annual price declines had bottomed out at 7.7% in 2009, and analysts say house prices have only rarely fallen year-to-year since at least the 1970s.



The drop indicates Spanish property prices are now correcting at a similar pace to that seen in the U.S. soon after the 2008 financial crisis, and may fall further at least this year. In previous quarters, price drops were somewhat contained, the result of support efforts by the government and banks, fearful of the effect of a housing collapse.

Spanish banks hold more than €400 billion ($521.32 billion) worth of loans to the construction and real-estate sector, backed by collateral that loses value as property prices slide further. The amount is equivalent to around 40% of Spain's gross domestic product. (emphasis added)

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