Euribor Falls to New Record Low

20 August 2019

The 12-month Euribor benchmark interest rate, which is used as a reference to set Spanish mortgages rates, fell to a new low of -0.398% last week. The rate first fell into negative territory in February 2016, as the European Central Bank’s (ECB) policy of quantitative easing looked to boost the Eurozone economy.

Euribor seemed to have hit bottom in March 2018, at -0.191%, when analysts began predicts gradual increases in the rate until potentially hitting zero in 2019. However, after rising to -0.108% in February, Euribor began falling again due to fears that the growth in the Eurozone was once again faltering.

Original Story: El Confidencial

Adaptation/Translation: Richard D. K. Turner

Spain’s Banks Continue to Suffer from High Levels of Exposure to Non-Performing Real Estate Assets

13 August 2019

Spain’s largest financial institutions still have more than 37 billion euros worth of non-performing real estate assets on their books, not counting non-performing loans, even after a series of major disinvestments over the past two years. The bank with the most significant exposure, Santander, sold €30 billion in assets to Blackstone; while BBVA sold another €13 billion to Cerberus. CaixaBank unloaded a €12.8 billion portfolio to Lone Star as Banc Sabadell sold assets totalling €10.1 billion to Cerberus and Oaktree.

EU banking regulators are pressuring the banks to quickly reduce their exposure even further, setting a high bar for the expected pace of disinvestment over the coming years.

Santander still has €10.132 billion in foreclosed assets, over 16% more than the bank with the second-highest exposure: Sabadell (€8.732 billion). Santander’s exposure to land is especially high, with a portfolio with a gross value of €4.37 billion. Thus, the bank recently created a company to prepare the portfolio for an eventual sale. The new company, Landmark Iberia, has 400,000 square meters of developable land for sale.

Original Story: El Confidencial – Jorge Zuloaga

Adaptation/Translation: Richard D. K. Turner

Unicaja Negotiates Sale of 3,700 Refinanced Mortgages Worth €250M

24 April 2019 – El Confidencial

Unicaja Banco could become one of the first entities in Spain to sell refinanced mortgages whose borrowers are now up to date with their payments.

The Málaga-based entity has engaged EY to coordinate the sale of 3,700 doubtful loans worth €250 million. The mortgages went unpaid during the crisis and were all refinanced, such that the borrowers are now up to date on their payments.

To date, barely any Spanish entities have tried to sell assets of this kind. But pressure from the ECB to improve returns is forcing Unicaja to give it a shot. The mortgages are still classified as doubtful, since the Bank of Spain establishes that a borrower has to pay 12 monthly instalments and reduce some of the capital for a loan to be considered normal.

The sale of the mortgages by Unicaja has been called Project Biznaga and forms part of a larger asset divestment process being undertaken by the entity, worth around €1 billion. The sale is generating a lot of interest amongst international investors and is going ahead in parallel to the bank’s merger negotiations with Liberbank, which are in their final stages.

Unicaja has one of the lowest exposures to problem assets in the Spanish financial sector and the highest levels of coverage. According to the latest official figures, as at December 2018, it had €3.6 billion of foreclosed and doubtful assets and a coverage ratio of 57%.

Original story: El Confidencial (by Jorge Zuloaga)

Translation/Summary: Carmel Drake

S&P: House Prices will Rise in Spain by More than in Other Major Eurozone Economies

24 February 2019 – La Vanguardia

House prices in Spain are going to continue rising for at least the next three years, although the rate of growth will slow down as the economy loses momentum and the European Central Bank (ECB)’s monetary policy normalises, according to forecasts from the agency S&P Global Ratings, which points to larger rises in the Spanish real estate market than in the other major Eurozone economies.

According to the ratings agency, house prices in Spain, which registered an estimated nominal rise of 6.6% in 2018, will increase by 4.5% this year, by 3.4% next year and by 3% a year later, although S&P warns that if prices continue to grow by more than the expected incomes of households, then access to housing will continue to worsen over the coming years.

In this sense, as a result of the deep fall in real estate prices in Spain during the crisis, access to housing is still at better levels now than it was before the burst of the real estate bubble, with a ratio of prices with respect to income that is 29% lower than the maximums observed in 2007, albeit 25% higher than the long-term average.

Similarly, S&P considers that the low interest rates applied to mortgage loans for the acquisition of homes will continue to serve to support access to housing in Spain, indicating that, given the rise in inflation between May and October 2018, real rates became negative.

In addition to Spain, the agency forecasts that real estate price will continue to rise across the Eurozone, although at a lower rate than in previous years, with the exception of Italy, where an increase of 0.5% is expected this year, which will accelerate to 1.3% in 2020 and to 1.6% in 2021.

In the case of Germany, prices will rise by 3.9% in 2019, although those increases will moderate to 3.3% and 3% in the subsequent two years, respectively, whilst in France, house prices are predicted to rise by 2.4% this year and by 2% in the following two years (…).

Original story: La Vanguardia 

Translation: Carmel Drake

House Prices Will Rise by 5%+ in 2019 & Sales Will Grow by 13%

8 January 2019 – Expansión

The normalisation of the market in Madrid and Barcelona will make way for high growth in provincial capitals such as Valencia, Málaga, Palma and Sevilla. Rents will rise by more than 10% in the large capitals and sales could exceed 600,000 units in total.

Housing is going to enter a new phase of the cycle in 2019. After a year of expansion in 2018, with growth brushing the records seen before the crisis, this is going to be the year of consolidation, but also of awakening in the medium-sized capitals.

A panel of experts consulted by Expansión foresees an average price rise of more than 5%, and an increase in the sales volume of between 10% and 13%, which means that house sales may exceed the threshold of 600,000 units. That would make 2019 the seventh consecutive year of improvement in the residential sector after prices decreased by more than 30% during the years of the crisis.

Madrid and Barcelona, which inaugurated the recovery in 2016 and which have been leading the housing charge until now, are going to begin a process of normalisation. The experts agree that moderation will be felt in those two markets in particular. In the case of Barcelona, the political uncertainty, control measures from the Town Hall and price levels reached could lead to corrections in some districts where prices have already peaked.

This year, it will be the new capitals that will lead the growth of the market. The last quarter of 2018 already closed with three revelations: Valencia, Málaga and Tarragona led the increase in sales prices, with rises of more than 15%, according to data from Tinsa. In 2019, the experts are placing their focus on those and other cities, such as Sevilla Alicante, Palma, Bilbao, Murcia and Zaragoza. In the large capitals, price increases will exceed 10%.

The rise in sales prices versus the stagnation of wages will continue to cause demand to increase in the rental market, which will rise by around 7%, and by more than two-digits in the large cities, where price tensions are even greater. The volatility of the financial markets will continue to make rental a very attractive investment option. Nevertheless, the experts warn that the uncertainty regarding the measures approved by the Government in terms of the rental segment could put future investments at risk.

Whether the sector tends towards a plateau or rather moderate growth will depend on factors such as the evolution of the economy, policy changes by the ECB and the measures that the Government decides to introduce.

Original story: Expansión (by Inma Benedito)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Cerberus is the Favourite to Acquire Solvia for €300M

31 October 2018 – El Economista

The sale of Solvia, the servicer of Banco Sabadell, is heading into the final stretch. According to reports, the US fund Cerberus is lining itself up as the favourite to acquire that company, worth just over €300 million.

According to market sources, binding offers were submitted on Tuesday for Solvia Servicios Inmobiliarios – the firm responsible for marketing the assets – of which those presented by Cerberus, Intrum (the company resulting from the merger between Justitia and Lindorff) and that of another overseas fund stood out. In particular, the offer submitted by Cerberus is the favourite in the process, which is being coordinated by Alantra.

The entity has engaged Rothschild to find a buyer for its property developer.

In any case, according to the same sources, this transaction exclusively contemplates the sale of the management activity, and not the transfer of assets, which opens the door for Sabadell to obtain greater profits, unlike some of its competitors such as BBVA, which did sell its servicer (Anida) together with a portfolio of assets worth €13 billion to Cerberus, applying a discount to those assets. It is worth recalling, nevertheless, that the US fund closed the acquisition of a portfolio of assets (from the Catalan entity) for more than €3 billion in the summer.

This operation comes in a context in which the international investment funds are very interested in Spanish property, which is allowing the owners to sell at higher multiples. That, together with the requirements of the European Central Bank (ECB) to accelerate the sales of financial institutions to the real estate business, has created the ideal breeding ground for Sabadell to decide to sell this asset.

Moreover, this divestment is going to allow the financial institution to reduce the consumption of capital and, whereby, avoid penalties from the ECB. El Economista made contact with Sabadell, but the entity declined to comment on the operation.

It is worth recalling that the entity – in parallel to the sale of its servicer – has engaged Rothschild to find a buyer for its property developer (Solvia Desarrollos Inmobiliarios) and a portfolio of its best plots of land, worth €1 billion, according to Vozpópuli.

Original story: El Economista (by Araceli Muñoz)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Project Olympia: CaixaBank Puts €800M Portfolio of Doubtful SME Loans Up for Sale

23 October 2018 – Voz Pópuli

CaixaBank is pushing ahead with its objective to clean up its toxic property. The Catalan entity is holding negotiations with large international funds to sell the largest portfolio of doubtful SME loans to go on the market to date, amounting to €800 million, according to financial sources consulted by Voz Pópuli.

The deal in question is Project Olympia, which CaixaBank wants to close before the end of the year. It includes loans with real estate guarantees granted to small and medium-sized entities.

This operation joins another that the group led by Gonzalo Gortázar has underway and which is in a more advanced phase, Project Orion, comprising €600 million also in doubtful loans to SMEs with real estate guarantees.

In total, CaixaBank wants to clean up almost €1.5 billion before the end of the year and whereby complete the macro-operation signed with Lone Star to sell almost all of its foreclosed assets for €7 billion. After transferring the homes and land, the only assets left to sell are the problem loans, which is exactly what the entity is doing with Olympia and Orion.

Candidates

Unlike with the sale of the foreclosed assets, the favourites to buy the Olympia portfolio are not large fortunes such as Blackstone, Cerberus, Lone Star and Apollo. In this case, intermediate funds are looking at the operation, such as Axactor, Bain Capital, Intrum and D. E. Shaw. The large funds are saving themselves for other operations underway and to close those already signed during the year.

In the case of Olympia, experts in the market calculate that CaixaBank could obtain around €250 million for this package of loans, whilst the price of Orion could amount to €200 million.

With all of these operations, the Catalan entity is expected to end up with a net exposure (after provisions) to real estate of around €10 billion, down from €20.2 billion at the end of last year.

Beyond the pressure from the ECB to follow this path, the strategy is key for the bank this year due to the closure of its current strategic plan. The lower its exposure to property, the greater the profitability of the entities, which is critical in the current environment.

Original story: Voz Pópuli (Jorge Zuloaga)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Project Newton: Bankia Puts €450M Toxic Asset Portfolio Up for Sale

21 September 2018 – Voz Pópuli

The insatiable appetite of the opportunistic funds for Spanish property is never ending and the banks are taking advantage to reduce their exposure to real estate assets and whereby clean up their balance sheets. The latest to come to the market is Bankia, which has put a €450 million portfolio up for sale comprising primarily property developer loans, although Project Newton, as the operation has been baptised, also includes a small proportion of foreclosed assets, according to financial sources consulted by Vozpópuli.

Newton’s sale is expected to be completed this year and will be followed by two other asset portfolios that the bank plans to sell soon, according to reports from Bloomberg. The operations disclosed by the US agency include a €1,500M portfolio comprising unpaid mortgages and a €2,000M portfolio comprising foreclosed assets.

At the end of the first half of the year, the entity chaired by José Ignacio Goirigolzarri held €15.2 billion in toxic assets, after reducing its balance by €1.7 billion between the months of January and June.

Strategic plan

With the sale of the three aforementioned portfolios before the end of the year, the bank would more than exceed its annual objective in terms of asset sales, which amounts to €2.9 billion per year for the next three years. In fact, if Bankia divests all three portfolios, its real estate exposure would decrease to €11.25 billion, and so it would follow in the footsteps of the other entities that have accelerated the sale of these types of assets in the last year.

The most recent example is Santander, which on Wednesday closed the sale to Cerberus of a portfolio of properties worth around €2.79 billion with a 45% discount. The initial perimeter of the operation was €5.1 billion, but in the end, the commercial premises and land that had been included in Project Apple were left out of the final portfolio.

The entity already transferred Popular’s property last year to a joint venture with Blackstone, and so its real estate exposure will decrease to around €7.3 billion once the Apple sale is completed.

Meanwhile, BBVA, which also sold €13 billion in foreclosed assets to Cerberus, has entrusted the sale of €2.5 billion in problem loans to Alantra. That operation will reduce the real estate exposure of the bank chaired by Francisco González to almost zero.

Moreover, Sabadell and CaixaBank have also completed significant operations in recent months. The former sold €9.1 billion in foreclosed assets to Cerberus, whilst the latter divested almost all of its real estate business: €12.8 billion in real estate assets, which were acquired by Lone Star.

In this way, the banks are complying with the guidelines set out by the European Central Bank (ECB) and are generating returns from their businesses in Spain, which have been weighing them down since the economic crisis.

Original story: Voz Pópuli (by Pepe Bravo)

Translation: Carmel Drake

BBVA Puts another €2.5bn Property Portfolio up for Sale

12 September 2018 – Voz Pópuli

BBVA’s exposure to the real estate sector will have been reduced to almost zero by the end of the year. Following the sale of almost all of its property to Cerberus, the entity chaired by Francisco González has decided to accelerate the divestment of its remaining delinquent loans. To this end, it has entrusted the sale of €2.5 billion in problem loans to Alantra, according to financial sources consulted by Vozpópuli.

The operation has not been put on the market yet but it is expected to be communicated to opportunistic funds within a matter of days, maybe even this week. The name of the operation is Project Ánfora.

The operation is expected to be completed during the last quarter of the year. In that case, the year-end accounts for 2018, the final set that González will present, will reflect the fact that BBVA will have become the first large Spanish entity to clean up all of its real estate inheritance, with the exception of Bankinter, which barely had any to start with.

The latest official figures, as at June 2018, show that BBVA had real estate exposure amounting to €14.9 billion: €2.5 billion in loans to property developers and €11.5 billion in foreclosed assets, whose transfer to Cerberus will be closed soon.

Sudden push

Another entity that has also accelerated its clean-up process in recent months is Santander, with Project Apple, amounting to €5 billion, whose sale is currently being finalised, also to Cerberus. Afterwards, it will be left with another €5 billion to divest. The exposures of CaixaBank, Sabadell and Bankia are still above that level.

With this sudden push, the banks are seeking to fulfil the mandate established by the ECB and make their businesses in Spain profitable, which have been weighed down over the last decade by the digestion of property.

The sources consulted explain that Project Ánfora includes relatively small loans, such as mortgages and SME credits, which received financing linked to properties.

In addition to Ánfora and Marina – the sale of foreclosed assets to Cerberus – this year, BBVA has also closed the transfer of the Sintra portfolio to the largest Canadian fund, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), containing €1 billion in loans to property developers.

Original story: Voz Pópuli (by Jorge Zuloaga)

Translation: Carmel Drake

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