02/01/2015 – Expansión
LATEST DATA FROM BANK OF SPAIN / The sector lowers its credit portfolio for real estate development to 156.2 billion, levels not seen since 2004. The balance has fallen 52% from a record 325 billion in 2009.
The Spanish banking sector is leaving financial restructuring behind, having reduced its development risk by half, which has been a major point of weakness throughout the crisis. The sector’s credit balance declined to 156.2 billion in September, according to the latest data published by the Bank of Spain. Thus, financial institutions have placed their stock in the levels seen a decade ago, in 2004, when the housing bubble began to rise.
With this, the bank has cut 52% exposure to real estate development from its June 2009 record, when it was at 325 billion euros.
Reducing direct exposure to developers is due to several factors. Some of them reflect the fact that risk has not been eliminated in the strict sense, but that balance sheets have been transformed or moved from banks to other economic agents.
In this regard, one of the elements that explains this reduced exposure is the creation of SAREB, also known as the ‘bad bank.’ The financial institutions with public aid transferred a net development loans (with already reduced provisions) of almost 35 billion euros between 2012 and 2013. This risk has stopped pressuring state-backed groups, but has been assumed by the shareholders of the bad bank.That is, by taxpayers, through the Restructuring Fund (Frob), with a share of 45%, and healthy banks: Santander (17%); CaixaBank (12%); Sabadell (7%) and Popular (6%), mainly.
As important or more than this factor are the allocation of assets and debt swaps for property. The bank began to systematically implement this strategy at the beginning of the crisis, in order to ease the financial burden on developers and give the sector some breathing room. Currently, gross property portfolio of banks totaled at 84.5 billion, up 12.6% from 75 billion a year ago.
The transfer of loans to bad debts (considered irrecoverable and given at 100%) and sales, still emerging, of developer credit portfolios to vulture funds have also contributed to lowering stock. In October, for example, Bankia sold a loans portfolio to real estate companies with a nominal value of 335 million euros to the Anglo-Saxon hedge fund, Chenavari. Sabadell, CaixaBank and BMN are also discussing developer sales credit, which is scheduled to be closed soon.
Looking ahead, analysts believe that the activity of the real estate sector and the continuing process of risk reduction of banks will be slow. Experts from International Financial Analyst (AFI) predict that the total portfolio of developer and constructor loans, which in September totaled at 205 billion (156.2 billion in loans to developers and 48.8 billion more to constructors), will amount to 198 billion at the end of 2014. In 2015, the number should be reduced to 187 billion (with a quarterly decrease of 5.8%), and in 2016, it may even reach 179 billion euros (-4.3%).
The institutions and investment firms agree that development risk is no longer a source of uncertainty for the Spanish financial system. The arrears of these companies, with dubious loans of around 58.5 billion, is 37%. This exposure, however, is properly covered by the financial reform and restructuring of the real estate sector, which has placed the average coverage levels at around 50%. For the next year, AFI experts estimate that the default rate will remain at 34.3%, decreasing to 30.8% by the end of 2016. However, this exposure remains a major disadvantage in terms of profitability, which is the main challenge being faced by Spain’s financial system. Although not by disturbing amounts, institutions assume that they will have to keep making provisions to cover the deterioration of their real estate portfolios. For its high default rate, this risk also entails significant capital consumption as well as an increase in expenditures for the operational costs of maintaining their enormous portfolios.
Original article: Expansión (by M. Martínez)
Translation: Aura REE