Pressure from the ECB Forces Spain’s Banks to Market €40bn in Problem Real Estate

19 June 2018 – El Mundo

The extension of zero interest rates until “at least” next summer, as announced by the European Central Bank, has led Spain’s financial institutions to conclude that they can wait no longer for an improvement in economic conditions to divest their delinquent loans. At the moment, the main Spanish banks have problem assets worth more than €40 billion up for sale in the wholesale market.

The buyers in this market are large investment funds, which value the assets at prices below their nominal values. For the banks, this difference means, on the one hand, that they definitively loose 100% of the investment that they made and, on the other hand, that they can release the provisions for at least half of those losses. The ECB does not want the entities to speculate with these assets on their balance sheets and for that reason, it is forcing their sale.

In this way, last week, Cajamar liquidated its Galeon Project comprising €308 million in debt and yesterday, it was BBVA who divested another portfolio, called Sintra, comprising €1 billion in property developer loans for finished homes in Andalucía, Madrid, Valencia and Cataluña.

The CEO of BBVA, Carlos Torres, said that with this operation, he considers the chapter of accumulated delinquent debt on its balance sheet as a result of the real estate bubble to be “closed”. Since December 2016, the entity has cut its gross exposure to the real estate sector by approximately €20 billion.

Another entity that has placed portfolios of loans and foreclosed properties on the market is Liberbank, with a €250 million portfolio of foreclosed properties, which it has eloquently baptised Bolt. Other entities that are close to signing agreements include Banco Santander, with €500 million in debt on the verge of being placed and another €400 million on the market, and Banco Sabadell, one of the most active entities in the sale of doubtful assets this year, which is finalising the sale of €900 million in defaulted loans.

The bank headquartered in Alicante has two other large portfolios up for sale, although in that case they are foreclosed properties with a combined value of €8 billion, which proceed from both its own activity, as well as from the activity it took over following the purchase of Caja de Ahorros del Mediterráneo (CAM). If the group chaired by Josep Oliú closes the sale of all of these portfolios, it will have reduced its exposure amounting to more than €14 billion to less than €5 billion.

In the market for the large funds that purchase these assets, there are also offers from CaixaBank (€800 million in defaulted loans in a portfolio called Agora) and Bankia, which is selling €650 million in doubtful loans and preparing another one worth €1 billion.

The largest operation of all is by far the one involving Sareb, called Alfa, which involves placing on the market assets with a nominal value of €30 billion. The public-private company is sounding out the definitive price that the funds would be willing to pay before it decides whether to keep it up for sale.

Original story: El Mundo (by César Urrutia)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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