Sun, May 13, 2012 - Page 11 News List

Spain takes action to clean up banks

PROPERTY HANGOVER:Madrid has forced its banks to come up with a further 30 billion euro financial cushion after the banks’ problem property ratio hit 60 percent

AFP, MADRID

Office rental signs hang on balconies of a block in central Barcelona, Spain, on Friday.

Photo: Reuters

Spain announced on Friday drastic reforms forcing banks to set up a new 30 billion euro (US$39 billion) financial cushion and to remove risky property assets from their accounts.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government took the sweeping action just two days after it nationalized the fourth-biggest bank, Bankia, to salvage a balance sheet dripping in red ink.

Madrid will charge two independent auditing firms with valuing banks’ exposure to the collapsed property sector, still reeling from a housing bubble that popped in 2008, ministers told a news conference.

“The government wants complete transparency, clarity is crucial to end any doubt about Spain’s solvency,” Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos told the conference after a Cabinet meeting.

At the same time, the minister stressed that the reforms will not be funded with taxpayers’ money, thus preserving Madrid’s efforts to rein in mushrooming state debt.

Bankia, in which the state is taking a 45 percent stake as a crisis measure, had 37.5 billion euros in exposure to the property sector at the end of last year.

Of that total, loans worth 31.8 billion euros were classed as problematic.

The hangover from the property sector crash extends across the financial sector.

Bank of Spain figures show the commercial banks held problematic real-estate assets, including loans and seized property of 184 billion euros, 60 percent of their property portfolio at the end of last year.

The country “faces one of the most difficult moments in its history,” Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria said.

The extra provisions of 30 billion euros demanded from the banks will apply to all property-related assets, including those not yet classed as being problematic, ministers said.

That figure is in addition to 53.8 billion euros the banks were told to set aside in the last reform package, in February.

Overall, the provisions would bolster coverage of property-related assets to 30 percent, from 7 percent.

Banks will finance their own provisions, or turn to loans from the state-backed Fund for Orderly Bank Restructuring carrying an interest rate of 10 percent, the government said.

“This type of injection of money is not public aid,” the economy minister insisted.

Moreover, banks are being forced to remove seized property-related assets from their balance sheets and place them in specialized agencies, allowing them to fix a fair price.

“This will be compulsory for all entities,” said De Guindos, a departure from earlier assurances by government officials that the measure would be voluntary.

The European Commission meanwhile said Spain would miss by a wide mark its effort to cut the public deficit from 8.5 percent of GDP last year to 5.3 percent this year and 3.percent — the EU limit — next year.

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