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Business Over Tapas
A digest of this week's Spanish financial, political and social news aimed primarily at Foreign Property Owners:
with Lenox Napier and Andrew Brociner
For subscriptions and other information about this site, go to businessovertapas.com
24 October 2013 Nº 041
Forget the 'green shoots of recovery', if you believe the bankers, Spain is the very place to invest in. To prove it, Bill Gates is on the front pages after buying a share in a massive Barcelona based building company. The real estate market, so say the salesmen, is at an optimum time to buy as well. Oh, things are good again, with Spain officially out of the longest recession ever during 'the democratic years' (with a positive growth of 0.1% in the third quarter). The Minister for the Economy, Luis de Guindos, recognises the news as 'the first, timid, small step out of the current crisis'. The bankers are ebullient, the politicians cautious, but the general public remains in the doldrums, with massive unemployment, poverty and the uncertainty of a better future.
From The Telegraph - a quote from the owner of one of the Cantoria homes: “It is unbelievable that at a time when Spain is suffering such a deep economic crisis and high unemployment and needs tourism and foreign investment the authorities would do this,” said Mr Brooks. “It sends a message. Do not buy in Spain.” The news of the demolitions also appears in The Times, The Daily Mail and The Express. 1, 2 and 3 while La Voz de Almería carries the headline on Saturday: 'The demolitions in Cantoria explode across the British press. Newspapers with millions of readers publish full reportage about the demolitions'. Indeed, even Online Nigeria offers stern disapproval of the Spanish behavior!
A full-page article which oddly doesn't appear on the Internet from Monday's Andalucía edition of El Mundo explores the local British concern over the demolitions on the part of the Junta, which are thought to be 'haphazard' – decided according to political concerns rather than ecological or judicial ones. The homes were bought in 'good faith', continues the article (a point accepted by the judge who ordered the Cantoria demolitions), yet the builders have managed to elude any responsibility towards the British settlers. Many of these settlers are 'trapped' in valueless homes without water or electricity. The article finishes by noting fresh tensions in the area and that the local British community is criticizing 'the barbarous Spanish' in their local English-language media. The British national press are also mentioned for their strong criticism regarding the issue.
The secret, says El Mundo, is to buy just as the property market hits the floor...
'It got us into the crisis and now it's back to get us out of the misery. In a country without industry, domestic consumption or available finance for business projects, el ladrillo, the brick, is shaping up, six years after the bursting of the bubble, as the only engine capable of attracting investment to the Spanish economy.
After closing the worst chapter of this financial crisis in 2012, Spain has returned on the radar of foreign venture capital firms, investment funds and large international investors willing to inject billions of euros whenever they see an opportunity.
Neither tourism nor exports, both boasted as triumphs by the Government, seem to be in the eye of this new situation. That fresh new money that wants to come to Spain and has returned optimism to banker Emilio Botín has a clear target: real estate'...
'UK buyers have always favoured France when investing in international property, but Spain is swiftly closing the gap. According to mortgage specialist Conti, 36 per cent of all enquiries received so far this year have been for Spain, growing by three per cent on the same time last year. Conversely, while French property made up 43 per cent of enquiries, numbers actually declined by two per cent.
In fact, Spain accounted for more enquiries than France during May, June and July, demonstrating that the market remains a popular one and confidence is rising. Things are certainly starting to look up for the country's real estate sector and prices have started to bottom out in certain parts if the country. Seemingly, Spain is now on the slow climb to recovery and savvy buyers know that now is the time to snap up property while it remains in low value territory'... From Property Showrooms.
'The price of housing in Spain experienced a drop of 10.6% in the second quarter, year-on-year, the highest amongst the countries of the eurozone, according to data released last week by Eurostat. However, this decline represents a slowdown compared with the year-on-year fall of 12.8% recorded in the first three months of 2013.
Data from the EU statistics office shows a fall of 0.8% in the house prices in Spain, compared to the first quarter of the year, when they fell by 5.1%, behind only the 2% quarterly decline recorded in the Netherlands. In fact, the quarterly decline in housing prices seen in the second quarter, the 12th consecutive negative quarter, is the lowest since the fourth quarter of 2010, when prices fell by 0.1%'... From Kyero.
'The depreciation of the value of one's home is passing an important bill to most family economies. If the average value of a house in Spain was about 320,000 euros at the beginning of the crisis back in 2007-2008, today this has been reduced by about 75,000€ to around 245,000 euros, with the fall of real estate prices'... From El Mundo.
'Spain received 48,800,000 foreign visitors through September, an increase of 4.6 percent over the similar period last year, according to the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism... Just in September, Spain welcomed 6,500,000 international visitors, which is an increase of 4.7 percent compared with the same month in 2012, and marked a new record high after the one registered in August'... From Almería Confidencial. Visitors from the Nordic countries were up by 17.7% in 2013, at 3.6 million over the same time period. The British grew by 4.4% and the Germans by 4%. The Italians – for some reason – were down by 10%. '...The so-called 'industry without chimneys' provides 11 percent of the gross domestic product of Spain and 11.4 percent of total employment, says the tourist minister, José Manuel Soria'.
Almería has also done well from tourism this year, with foreign visitors up. The provincial tourist authority is nevertheless worried about the impact on particularly British visitors following the recent demolitions in Cantoria (and the threat of further action by the Junta de Andalucía). The Patronato de Turismo de Almería will therefore be at the London World Travel Market (4th - 7th November). 'We need to clean up our image, following on from the policies of the Junta de Andalucía, in particular, towards British residents here', says the Vice-president of the provincial diputación Javier Aureliano García, an open critic of the Junta's actions in Almería. From The Entertainer Online.
Ana Pastor, the Minister of Development, revealed on Monday in an interview with Cadena Ser that the Government had completed "an agreement with a low cost airline" to operate out of Madrid from 2014. A newspaper was quick to say that the company in question is Norwegian Air Shuttle. The ABC newspaper also maintains that Norwegian Air Shuttle is interested in 'opening new national connections' as well as increasing its number of international routes from its new base in Madrid. The airline flies to Alicante, Málaga and Las Palmas, is also reportedly considering opening routes to Barcelona and Tenerife.
'The president of the Eurogroup of EU finance ministers insists that “Spanish banks are better off than those of many other European countries.” In an interview with EL PAÍS, Jeroen Dijsselbloem radiated optimism about Spain’s economic future, asserting that the bailout of the banking system will almost certainly not be extended as initially planned, as banks seem to have regained access to credit on the markets and provisioning needs appear to have been met. "I am very optimistic about Spain," said Dijsselbloem. "The industrial and economic foundations are there. And the reforms are working. The improvements are there, even if the changes are still not noticeable in the real economy. Unemployment is going down, the recession is ending, exports are growing. I insist: I am optimistic about Spain."... From El País in English.
'This is a time of extreme optimism. Yes, there may be twelve million people living in poverty, a complicated deficit for the government and so on.. but for the Chairman of the Banco Santander, Emilio Botín, "now is a fantastic moment for Spain," because "money is pouring in from everywhere".
According to Botín, confidence in Spain has increased in a way which would have been unimaginable six months ago as many now want to invest in the country. In these positive terms, he spoke in a press conference in New York to present the Santander brand in the United States. "Everyone is interested in investing in Spain. Is reaching us money in the stock exchange, to buy debt, to invest...", he insisted.
'Microsoft founder Bill Gates has snapped up a €113.5m (£96.2m) stake in Spanish construction and services group FCC, five years after the country's property bubble imploded. News of the deal after markets closed on Monday night sent the shares soaring in early trade on Tuesday, up nearly 12pc to €17.55. Shares had already climbed 5.4pc on Monday before the deal was officially announced to the stock market'... From The Telegraph.
The New York Times is similarly sanguine about Spain: '...“The worst is over,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, in a note published Wednesday, noting a turnaround in net Spanish exports'...
'The government on Thursday unveiled its latest fiscal adjustment plans, which entail finding 4 billion euros worth of measures for 2015 to meet its target of reducing the budget deficit to 4.2 percent of GDP from a projected 5.8 percent next year. The deficit target for this year is 6.5 percent, with the government aiming to bring the shortfall back within the European Union ceiling of 3 percent of GDP in 2016'... From El País in English.
'Recovering Spanish carrier Iberia will return to profit next year for the first time since 2010, the chief executive of its parent International Airlines Group (ICAG.L) said.
The Spanish airline became unprofitable in all markets, including long-haul, following its merger with British Airways in 2011. It was hit by competition from low-cost rivals and high-speed trains, labour disputes and a recession that has left a quarter of Spaniards out of work. IAG has spent around 700 million euros on restructuring Iberia, which reduced losses for the first time in almost three years in the three months to the end of June. "Iberia was in a significant crisis but is well on the path to recovery. Iberia will be profitable next year, like British Airways (BA) and Vueling already are," IAG boss Willie Walsh said at the Airport Operators Association annual conference in London on Tuesday. From Reuters.
From Eye on Spain comes an article about the Spanish asset declaration for assets held outside Spain. It also features this question POLL: 'Have you decided to spend less time in Spain because of the new tax declaration of overseas assets?'. The answer (by Wednesday evening) being 53.8% say 'Yes'. Perhaps we should run this country for them?
A comment from 'James' in the same feature is interesting: 'The Spanish Government is looking for ways to fund its enormous tax deficit. With so many Germans and Britons owning a Spanish property, they become an obvious target. The main difficulty is that because of the difference in tax years and definitions of residence - an average of 3 months over the years will do to make you a British resident - it is possible to end up paying tax in both countries. Whilst taxes like income tax can be offset by what you have paid in the other country, this does not work where the UK has no similar tax. Obviously the collection of data regarding assets is designed to be used for charging a tax on assets or wealth. The UK does not have such a tax at this time although it does have death duties and capital gains tax , which are applied to property or shares. So if Spain charges tax on world-wide assets as a fixed percentage, this will be a net loss unrecoverable from the UK. Spanish police already have records of cars parked at Málaga airport - indicative that the owner may be absent from the country. They can easily check flight and ferry ticket records, where passports must be shown for departures to the UK. It is difficult for them to check cars crossing into France, Portugal or Gibraltar unless they set up cameras, at the frontiers It would be wise for anyone who spends a lot of time in Spain to start keeping records such as toll tickets or travel tickets that prove when they are absent from the country. You may be sure that the onus will be on the potential taxpayer to prove his/her innocence. The Spanish police have already created difficulties for Britons living in boats in Spanish marinas'.
A blog I visit daily is Colin Davis' Thoughts From Galicia. Here's Colin on Emilio Botín's triumphant claims of 'business be good': - 'The 79 year old founder, owner and President of Santander Bank told his audience of business people this week that everything in Spain was hunky dory and the place was ripe for profitable investment. It was going through a "fantastic period" he said. The banking sector was now strong again; government borrowing was cheap; the stock market was soaring; and people were falling over themselves to lend money to the government. Yes, he admitted, there was still a bit of a credit crunch and 4.9m people were unemployed but these couldn't stand in the way of renewed profits in the financial sector. Which was good to hear. It's a relief to know that the massive amounts of taxpayer money were put to good use'.
'Has the euro been a disaster, or what? It seems pretty self-evident that it has been. Unemployment is 27.6 percent in Greece, 26.2 percent in Spain, 16.5 percent in Portugal, and 13.6 percent in Ireland, which, remember, is supposed to be the austerity success story. What's happened? Well, exactly what euro-skeptics feared would happen from the time the common currency was just an idea: a shock hit some parts of Europe worse than others, and there hasn't been any easy way to adjust. The ECB's one-size-fits-Germany policy has left crisis countries no choice but to try to pay-cut their way to prosperity — which would be painful enough if it were even possible. But it's really not when interest rates are all but at zero'... From The Atlantic.
'Luis Bárcenas, the former treasurer of the ruling conservative Popular Party (PP), on Friday reiterated in court that he had given 7,500 euros in 500-euro notes as a bonus to the PP’s secretary general, María Dolores de Cospedal, who in turn emphatically denied his claims.
“It was my hand that gave the envelope to Mrs Cospedal,” Bárcenas said via video-conference from the Soto del Real jail in the outskirts of Madrid, where he is in preventive custody while awaiting possible charges of fraud and money laundering.
De Cospedal, who claims the former treasurer has infringed her right to honour, has brought a civil case against Bárcenas. “When you hand over black [undeclared] money, normally there aren’t any witnesses,” the former PP money-man added'... from El País in English.
'The investigation into Carlos Fabra and his more than 80 bank accounts continues to pay off. On Tuesday, the senior the tax advisor to the anti-corruption Prosecutor, Conrado Caviró, declared that the former President of the Diputación of Castellón (1995 to 2011) and his ex-wife, Amparo Fernández, made between 1999 and 2004 by self-billing themselves 9,537,000 euros and, without any receipts, a further 3,267,000. The expert added that, of this latter quantity, 3,005,000 euros were paid in cash into any of the many bank accounts held by the couple'... Found at Público. Carlos Fabra is currently under investigation for 'influence peddling, bribery and 5 fiscal offences' (Wikipedia).
(Between 1988 and 2009) 'Six international organizations have condemned the Spanish political regime a total of 77 times by its repeated breaches of international law and human rights. The European Court of Human Rights (70 times), the European Organization for Security and Cooperation (3 times), Transparency International, Access Info, the World Anti-Doping Agency and even the International Union of Cyclists (once each) have issued judgements, reports, notes and public statements of condemnation that, in most cases, most of the Spanish press has silenced, manipulated or distorted'... from Un Espía en el Congreso. A book on the subject is called 'España Ante El Tribunal Europeo de Derechos Humanos'.
According to VozPópuli, 'The Government is deactivating the research teams working with the great corruption scandals. The bodies responsible for investigating major cases of corruption are being decommissioned one by one. The latest closure has been that of the commissioner responsible for the investigation of the 'Gürtel Inquiry', but closures, changes in key personnel and general interference to stop these investigations are also affecting cases and investigations like the one into the Princess Cristina, or the Bárcenas papers or the 'Interligare case', which investigates an alleged corrupt network at the Ministry of the Interior which was scamming public contracts'...
'Former Minister and President of the Junta de Andalucía Manuel Chaves has said, in reference to the case of the fraudulent ERE paid by the Junta de Andalucía, that "whatever procedures you have in place, whatever controls, it's all the same", because "if there is a director managing a fund of such-and-such amount of money who wants to steal, he'll steal".
Chaves stated, in an interview with Vanity Fair, that it is true that the procedure that was established "was inappropriate and suffered from lack of controls", but explained that an administration like the Junta, with many thousands of public employees, "is very difficult to control"... From El Mundo.
'Spanish intelligence holds a grounded suspicion that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has combed through millions of phone calls, SMS messages and emails originating in Spain. The same sources and the government are also sure that the US surveillance network did not spy on Spanish politicians, as it did with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and former Mexican head of state Felipe Calderón'... (We thought this one should be posted under 'Corruption' for the blatant disregard of human rights and dignity) From El País in English. A bit more from the same article: '...In Spain, such is the protection afforded to the citizenry in terms of data privacy that the security services can only demand access to the records kept by providers in exceptional cases and as part of a police investigation. The national CNI intelligence agency can access such data in an investigation, but only if given the green light by the Supreme Court. Any other method of tapping people’s conversations is a crime'...
From Ideal last Friday: 'Andalucía has become the poorest region of Europe, according to Eurostat data, having fallen from fifth place in the ranking, in 2010, to first place. The network estimates that more than 40% of the Andalucian population, about three and a half million people, live in the 'ring of poverty', a concept that comes from the steady increase of the massive rate of unemployment, which has now reached 35.8%, and the inability to face unforeseen expenditures. One of every four poor people in Spain lives in Andalucía, says the report'.
'The EU Court of Human Rights has overthrown the “Parot Doctrine”, which means a large number of ETA terrorists and mass murderers could be released immediately.
In short, the Doctrina Parot was an interpretation of Spanish parole laws which said that when someone was in jail for concurrent sentences, parole could only be applied per sentence, not the whole amount. ... So the jail doors must now open (within days) and a flood of people - at least 150 people according to El Mundo - sentenced to the maximum amount of time under Spanish jail laws released back onto the streets. Something nobody is very keen on'. From David Jackson. By Wednesday, 36 Etarras have asked through their lawyers for immediate release.
Following on the subject of the precipitate release of certain members of ETA, the AVT (association of victims of terrorists) is indignant with Amnesty International who 'should consider the human rights of terror victims' and not behave, they consider, like the terrorists themselves. The Government, meanwhile, talks of 'zero tolerance' for any pro-ETA rally in the Basque Country.
The first 'Etarra' to be released is Inés del Río, who must apparently be paid 30,000€ compensation for her over-long stay behind bars! She is responsible for the murder of 24 people between 1985 and 1986 (including an American citizen) and she was sentenced to 3,828 years of prison.
'To Hell and Back: Spain's Grotesque Recession and Its Surprising New Economy.
A not-so-short history of the Spanish economy: The half-century housing bubble, the excruciating recession, the grisly unemployment, and, finally, a glimmer of hope'... Headlines introducing an article in The Atlantic.
An article from El Diario (17 June 2013) titled 'Spain is a Train', deals with the metaphor of the AVE – and also the waste: '...We are talking about a very expensive and inefficient train whose cost does not correspond to its use, and that has so far eaten up more than 34 billion euros, including European cohesion funds. A train that reflects our economic and social inequality because only a minority get to enjoy its service for their business and leisure activities, while the majority feels lucky to get a ride maybe a couple of times a year.
A train that also illustrates our territorial inequality while paying court to political centralism from Madrid rather than plying the main corridors of our country. A train that generates transfers and concentrations of population and wealth, benefiting big business and urban nuclei, and leaving thousands of small towns without service.
A train that devours both resources and territory, whose demands (without curves or ascents) destroy the environment through which it passes, with large tunnels, viaducts and connectors; and that offers urban speculators the chance to place their stations*. A train that has eaten much of the conventional rail system, drying up the public resources until the closure of lines and the lack of maintenance of the remaining lines becomes a reality'...
'...To sum up, the fact is that Spain is much like the AVE. But the high-speed project speaks also of the country that might have been and now never will, the lost opportunity to have opted at the time for another economic and social model. The better than 34,000 million euros that the AVE has taken reminds us of other, earlier plans which aimed to modernize the old existing railway network: for less money, we would today have a more extensive network, at speeds more than acceptable (up to 200 km/h, just like many European trains), which would have carried far more people and have been much more affordable. Plans that were dropped when the Socialist Government first succumbed to the fever of the AVE.
So now we not only look back: the AVE also speaks of the future that we have reserved for our country, an economic model that does not concern itself with research or training or citizen welfare, but for the development of its tourism. President Mariano Rajoy has said that the new Madrid-Alicante line will promote "tourist mobility", and he was describing the country as we shall one day be: a picturesque landscape crossed by fast train from which tourists take their photos, and only stops in the large cities'.
*A plan to build a station in Vera, Almería, is contingent on a new city being built in a local flood-area for 70,000 people, to be called El Llano Central.
From Urbanísmo Patas Arriba, we find the introduction to a story in El Diario about the abandoned Valencia race-track, estimated cost (between one thing and another) to the public purse: 300 million euros! - 'Valencia has gained a new and huge plot full of garbage, pallets, concrete blocks and even fences and unwanted traffic signs. It was intended for the failed Formula One circuit, with the particularity that it had cost at least 89 million euros to each and every Valencian, even though the ex-president Camps, and Mayoress Barberá introduced it as 'at zero cost'. Now you can see for yourself the huge public waste of these lousy rulers who, as usual, have been left 'smelling of roses' while no one from the judiciary has raised any criminal charges'...
'The Secretary General of the Partido Popular for Andalucía, Luis Sanz José, said on Monday that the Junta de Andalucia will spend in 2013 about 15 million euros in institutional advertising. He specifically explained that in the first quarter of this year the Junta had spent a total of EUR 5 million, which represents 1 million 250 thousand euros a month or almost €42,000 per day'... From Teleprensa. (Buying friends and influencing people!)
'How many Spaniards have fled abroad since the start of the crisis? Many people may have a foggy idea that emigration has been outstripping immigration for a few years now, but the details are unclear.
Brain drain some say: these are the voyages of the lost generation, the educated jetsam of an exhausted economy washing up on Europe’s greener shores. The United Kingdom, specifically London, is a preferred destination. Despite the precipitation, London has a loud and friendly Spanish community. But how big is it?'... As El País in English will tell you in this amusing article, it depends who you ask!
'Entrepreneurs of the night entertainment industry estimate that 4,500 nightclubs, bars and concert halls have been closed due to the "desperate" situation faced by the increase of IVA to 21%, coupled with the economic crisis and the rising costs and taxes on alcohol. In protest at this situation, representatives of the business alliance for leisure and tourism ProNoche gathered on Monday outside the Finance Ministry in Madrid as part of the campaign 'Salvemos la Noche'... (Well, Spain does have a certain standard to keep up, of bars, tapas and the occasional cuba libre). From El Mundo.
'A new drive by provincial government, the Diputación de Alicante, hopes to get more ex-pats to register on the ‘Padrón’ and able to exercise a vote in next year’s European elections. The ballot for the European Parliament takes place on 25th May 2014 and the Department of Foreign Citizens at the Diputación has organised a series of meetings across the Costa Blanca. The campaign, ‘Municipal Register and the 2014 European Parliament Elections’, is aimed at informing everyone how to cast a vote in the election in Spain'... From Round Town News.
Spain in Numbers – a nice video from Nicla Casas.
“Are you ready to run with the bulllllllllls?” This is the first thing that Rob Dickens, chief operating officer of The Great Bull Run LLC, says into a wireless microphone on a Saturday morning in August. People are cheering at the sound of his voice. Some have been drinking, even if it is just past 11 in the morning. Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly blasts from the loudspeakers. Wah-wah-wahhnn'...
-The running of the bulls in America (they do a tomatina as well).
A reader sends me the following article from the BBC, from 2010 - 'Britons who face seeing their Spanish homes demolished are to be visited by Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant.
Spanish authorities are attempting to reclaim the country's coastline by bulldozing some of the developments that resulted from tourism's growth.
To cash in on lucrative immigrants, some councils allegedly granted illegal planning permission, now being revoked. Mr Bryant will advise the thousands of Britons living in Andalucía on issues from property rights to healthcare.
He will visit the town of Albox where about a dozen British expatriate families are fighting demolition orders issued at the end of last year'...
Mark Simmonds, effectively Bryant’s successor albeit from the Conservative side, is no doubt aware of the current situation. He was well briefed on the Priors’ case during his own visit here almost a year ago. Questions: Has the Spanish position changed... or hardened over the years and are these demolitions discriminatory?