S&P Encourages Spain’s Banks to Divest More Property & NPLs

18 April 2019 – Ya Encontré

Spain’s banks got rid of €90 billion in foreclosed assets and doubtful loans last year, almost doubling the transaction volume recorded in 2017 (€52 billion) and setting a new annual record. But they still have a lot of homes left to sell and Standard&Poors is encouraging them to divest more of those properties, with a view to restoring their pre-crisis risk levels of 4% within two years.

According to the ratings agency, the banks still hold properties worth €80 billion, representing one of the highest stocks in Europe and accounting for 7% of the balance sheets of the domestic financial sector. In this context, S&P considers that the banks still need to get rid of another €30 billion in assets, at least, if they are to properly clean up their accounts.

The active buyside players in the market include many overseas investors and funds, such as Lone Star, TPG, Apollo, Blackstone, Bain Capital and Cerberus, which have played an important role in reducing the stock of major financial institutions, such as Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank and Banco Sabadell.

S&P is not alone in its stance. Both the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are also urging Spain’s banks to divest the last of their property portfolios as quickly as possible to ensure financial stability ahead of the next recession.

Original story: Ya Encontré

Translation/Summary: Carmel Drake

El Corte Inglés Puts a RE Portfolio Worth Between €1.5bn & €2bn Up For Sale

21 December 2018 – Expansión

El Corte Inglés is preparing to shatter the real estate market. The distribution giant has engaged PwC to sell a mega-portfolio containing 130 properties with a valuation of between €1.5 billion and €2 billion, which would represent the largest divestment undertaken by the company to date.

The operation includes a large variety of assets, all of which are non-strategic, and includes shopping centres (not large department stores), logistics warehouses, supermarkets, offices and land. Once the period for receiving offers has closed and depending on the offers themselves, El Corte Inglés will reserve the right to reduce the size of the portfolio. According to market sources, the firm’s intention is not to find a single buyer but rather to slice up the assets into packages.

Real estate portfolio

The company chaired by Jesús Nuño de la Rosa is whereby accelerating the divestment plan launched to reduce debt with a view to obtaining an investment grade rating from the ratings agencies over the medium term.

El Corte Inglés is one of the main owners of real estate assets in Spain, with a portfolio worth more than €17 billion, larger even than those owned by the large Spanish Socimis, Merlin and Colonial, whose asset portfolios were worth €12.2 billion and €11.2 billion, respectively, as at June, and those of the large real estate companies such as Amancio Ortega’s Pontegadea, whose assets were worth €8.8 billion at the end of 2017.

With this large exposure to property, El Corte Inglés is taking advantage of the investor appetite in the market for real estate assets to clean up its balance sheet. Last year, real estate investment reached a new record with transactions worth €18.7 billion, including corporate operations, which represented an increase of 46%. Excluding purchases by companies, the investment figure also reached a historical maximum of €10.8 billion, according to data from CBRE.

In the framework of this plan, this summer, the company sold its centres in Parquesur and La Vaguada, both in Madrid to Unibail Rodamco, the largest operator of shopping centres in Europe. Those assets have a surface area of 20,000 m2 each and were sold for €160 million.

Original story: Expansión (by R. Arroyo & V. Osorio)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Scope: Spain’s Most Exposed Banks are set to Boost their Toxic Assets Sales

25 October 2018 – Expansión

The large real estate sale operations formalised during the last year by Santander, BBVA, CaixaBank and Sabadell, amongst other entities, have allowed the Spanish banking sector to reduce its total volume of problematic assets (NPLs) by approximately 60% from the peak of €200 billion reached in December 2013, to €82 billion recorded at the end of the first half of this year.

This massive clean up of a large part of the banks’ balance sheets has caused analysts at the credit rating agency Scope to consider the current ratios of toxic assets as “manageable and more of a legacy left over from the crisis than a real concern”. That is according to the authors of a recent report which evaluates the improvement recorded in the quality of assets in the Spanish banking system as a result of property sale operations such as those of Santander with Blackstone (€30 billion), BBVA and Sabadell with Cerberus (€13 billion and €9.1 billion, respectively) and CaixaBank with Lone Star (€12.8 billion).

Despite the effort carried out by a large part of the sector, those responsible for analysing the Spanish banks at Scope assume that those banks with comparatively worse levels of property exposure will accelerate their cleanups over the coming quarters, either by carrying out large sales or by placing several smaller portfolios.

Sources at Scope expect to see more large operations involving the sale of problem assets over the coming months, given that the large funds are now operating full steam ahead in the real estate segment, and “they are trying to gain scale and capitalise on their recently purchased platforms”, explains the report. Such is the case, for example, of Lone Star, which acquired Servihabitat from CaixaBank, and whichever fund ends up buying Solvia from Sabadell.

Financial sources agree that the cycle of real estate operations in Spain still has several operations in the pipeline, and they point to entities such as Bankia and Cajamar, which have relatively higher levels of problem assets than the sector, as candidates for starring in those transactions. Specifically, Scope points to Cajamar in its report, given that it is the only entity with a ratio of non-performing assets of more than 10%, according to data from the ratings agency.

The analysts at Scope also assume that Bankia will carry out movements to sell a substantial part of its toxic exposure. One of the nationalised entity’s strategic objectives is to accelerate the clean up of its balance sheet over the coming quarters. Moreover, the analysts anticipate that the global NPL ratio will continue to reduce quickly given that the other banks “are already in the process of completing the sale of several foreclosed asset portfolios”, explains the firm in its report.

The funds seek NPLs in other latitudes

Although the activity of buying credit portfolios is still intense in Spain, the funds specialising in these types of assets are setting their sights on other countries in search of opportunities to find value.

Sources in the sector explain that a large number of the opportunistic and real estate funds that have been undertaking operations in Spain are trying to close new transactions in Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus (…).

Original story: Expansión (by Nicolás M. Sarriés)

Translation: Carmel Drake

S&P Warns of Deceleration in Catalan Housing Market

7 February 2018 – El País

The Spanish real estate market is going to continue growing, but the Catalan crisis may have a negative effect on the housing market in the region. “Although Barcelona has recorded some of the highest property prices since the start of the recovery, in 2018, Cataluña could see a recession in its real estate market”. That is what the ratings agency Standard and Poor’s (S&P) thinks, according to its report about the real estate market in Europe, which indicates that “economic growth should continue to be strong this year and next, but the political uncertainty may have a more negative impact on companies and consumers. The main risk is the impact of the Catalan crisis, given that it is the largest economic centre in Spain, accounting for 20% of the country’s nominal GDP”.

Leaving aside Cataluña, the agency indicates that the strong economic conditions in Spain will continue to drive up the volume of house sales and will help to reduce the stock of homes. In fact, it forecasts that the volume of transactions in Spain will grow by around 8% this year.

Moreover, although interest rates bottomed out at the end of last year, they will continue at very attractive levels for house purchases. Nevertheless, the agency points out that accessibility ratios continue to be high, even though the number of years of salary needed to buy a home has decreased from 7.7 years at the height of the boom to 6.6. years in 2016. And it adds that second-hand house prices are going to continue to increase, although to a lesser extent that over the last two years.

The S&P agency considers that the Spanish economy will exceed the figures recorded in 2017, when average prices increased by 4.2% YoY in the last quarter, according to data from Tinsa. The city of Madrid exceeded Barcelona with an annual increase of 17% compared to 14.8% in the Catalan capital, where prices fell by 1.7% during the last three months of 2017. The volume of transactions amounted to 455,000 during the first 11 months of the year, compared with 375,000 in the previous year. Purchases by foreigners accounted for 17% of the total.

Original story: El País (by S. L. L.)

Translation: Carmel Drake

RE Experts Warn That The Cataluña Situation Is Seriously Affecting Investment

17 October 2017 – Expansión

The Spanish Association of Real Estate Consulting Companies (ACI) says that the “serious” situation currently being experienced in Cataluña is affecting the normal evolution of the real estate market since investors are fearful.

The Spanish association of real estate consultancy firms, comprising domestic and international companies alike, such as CBRE, Aguirre Newman/Savills, Cushman & Wakefield, JLL, Knight Frank and BNP Paribas, warned yesterday of the consequences that the secessionist challenge is having in the real estate market.

Specifically, the association chaired by Ricardo Martí Fluxá said that “the serious situation” in Cataluña at the moment, is affecting the strong performance of the Spanish real estate market as a whole. Until the third quarter, the volume of investment in real estate assets was registering record figures, at €10,300 million, up by 58% compared to the same period a year earlier. “The latest developments are seriously affecting the normal operation of investment activity and the evolution of our real estate market”, they warned.

For this reason, the real estate consultancy firms have called for respect for the laws, appealing to the Generalitat to abide by the order established in the Constitution. “Our association joins the large number of companies, institutions and entities that are calling on the Generalitat to comply with the provisions of our laws and abide by the order established in the Constitution”, they said in a statement.

The warning from the large real estate consultancy firms follows a statement made just a few days ago by the CEO of Lar España, one of the five large Socimis whose shares trade on the (main) Spanish stock exchange.

The CEO of the listed company, Miguel Pereda, said that if his firm had to make an investment in Cataluña today, it would “probably” not go ahead with it, in light of the political situation regarding independence.

Meanwhile, on 5 October, the ratings agency Moody’s issued a report warning that the “growing political tension” may negatively affect the credits interests of the Socimis Merlin and Colonial, given that the entities hold 13 % and 19% of their respective portfolios in Cataluña.

Indeed, Colonial is one of the listed companies that has moved its corporate headquarters from Barcelona to Madrid because of the secessionist challenge posted by the Catalan Generalitat.

Original story: Expansión (by Rocío Ruiz)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Threat Of Cataluña Independence Hurts Spain’s Largest RE Companies

10 October 2017 – Expansión

One of the sectors that is being hardest hit by the insecurity generated in Cataluña following the referendum on 1 October is real estate. In just one week, the large companies in the sector have seen their stock market valuations decrease by €717 million and how the credit ratings agency Moody’s has issued warnings about the negative effect of the political tension on the growth of rental income, occupancy rates and asset valuations.

The Socimi that is most exposed to Cataluña is Merlin. The real estate giant led by Ismael Clemente owns assets worth almost €1,500 million in Cataluña. The real estate company in which Santander and BBVA own stakes is also one of the companies that has most backed this market over the last year, positioning the Catalan capital, together with Lisbon, as one of its markets for highest growth.

In the context of that strategy, at the beginning of the year, Merlin purchased the iconic skyscraper Torres Glóries – also known as Torre Agbar – for €142 million. The building, which has a gross leasable area of 37,614 m2, is one of the candidates to house the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which will abandon its current location in London due to Brexit. Sources in the sector consider that the events of recent days completely eliminate Barcelona from the running, in favour of its rivals in the bid: Amsterdam, Dublin, Bratislava, Copenhagen and Milan.

Another Socimi with a significant portion of its assets in Cataluña is Colonial. The real estate company, which is headquartered in Barcelona, has almost 10% of its assets in the region. In the office segment alone, it owns assets worth €827 million in Cataluña, making it its third market after Paris, with €6,144 million, and Madrid, with €1,339 million. Yesterday (Monday), Colonial convened an extraordinary meeting of the Board of Directors to consider moving its headquarters (and in the end, approved their move to Madrid).

One of the projects that Colonial has underway was announced at the beginning of the year, in the form of an alliance with the company Inmo, the real estate subsidiary of the Puig family, for the development of Plaza Europa (Barcelona), with an investment of €32 million. The plan to construct a 21-storey building with a surface area of 14,000 m2 will be undertaken on a plot of land owned by the Puigs. Moreover, at the beginning of the year, Colonial started work to build a turnkey office building in the 22@ district, which will involve a total investment of €77 million and which will be ready by the middle of 2018.

In terms of the other Socimis that are listed on the main stock market, Hispana holds assets in Cataluña worth €255 million at the end of June (…). Meanwhile, Axiare owns four assets in the region (…) worth just over €126 million; and two of the assets in Lar’s portfolio are located in Cataluña (…), with a combined value of €116 million.

Amancio Ortega

(…) HNWIs have also been backing the Catalan market and, in particular, Pontegadea’s exposure to the region is significant. Amancio Ortega’s company does not disclose figures by country or autonomous region (…) however, in 2011 alone, it acquired three assets worth €233 million, including BBVA’s headquarters in Plaza Cataluña, for €100 million. It also owns important buildings on Paseo de Gràcia and Plaza Catalunya, and is the owner of the Inditex group’s largest stores.

Original story: Expansión (by R. Arroyo and M. Anglés)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Another RE Bubble? S&P Forecast House Price Rises Until 2020

3 August 2017 – Cinco Días

After years of crisis, the Spanish real estate market is now growing again year after year. That is according to analysis prepared by Standard & Poor’s, which estimates that house prices will rise by 4% in 2017 and by 4.5% in 2018, with respect to the previous year.

The report also forecasts a reduction in inflation. Currently, prices are rising at 1.5% p.a. but that figure is expected to decrease to 1.3% in 2018. Moreover, economic growth in Spain is expected to lead to a reduction in unemployment, down to 15.7%. And that percentage is forecast to fall to 13.6% by 2020.

Despite the positive outlook, the risk measurement entity warns of the risk that Brexit, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, could have, given that currently, Brits account for 19% of foreign house buyers in Spain.

House sales are growing to both domestic and international buyers. In 2016, the total volume of transactions rose by 13.7% to reach 404,000 homes sold in Spain. During the 12 months to April 2017, 416,000 homes were sold, up by 11.8%.

Sales to foreigners grew by 13.8% in 2016. In total, 53,500 of the 404,000 homes purchased were transferred into foreign hands. The main buyers were British, who accounted for 19% of purchases by foreigners; followed by the French (8.05%) and Germans (7.69%). Moreover, the report points out that the so-called golden visas, which grant residence permits to those foreigners who invest more than €500,000 in real estate, excluding taxes, have led to an increase in acquisitions by Russian and Asian citizens.

Standard & Poor’s also expects that the European market will continue to grow. The ratings agency forecasts that house prices will rise in many of the neighbouring countries, such as Germany, where they are expected to increase by 6% next year. Nevertheless, in the main countries that the buyers in Spain come from, in other words, the United Kingdom and France, prices are expected to decrease by 1% or remain stable, respectively.

This growth in sales has meant that house prices have not slowed down. According to the real estate appraisal company Tinsa, house prices rose by 3% during the second quarter of 2017 compared to June last year. Currently, according to the same firm, the average price of homes per square metre in June 2017 amounted to €1,245/m2, well below the peaks of 2007 (€2,047.69/m2).

Sources at Standard & Poor’s expect that the Spanish economy will continue to grow in 2017, by 3% for the third consecutive year. The creation of 2 million jobs since 2013 and the increase in exports are the main drivers of confidence that the firm is using to justify the rise in house prices, although it also warns of the need that Spain has to reduce its deficit, which is one of the highest in the Eurozone.

Ultimately, economic growth will be reflected in real estate growth over the next three years. The slow reduction in the stock of housing accumulated during the years of the bubble and the slow, albeit inexorable, rise in interest rates (the first rise is expected to happen in 2019) will limit the rise in house prices. Standard & Poor’s also questions the effect of Brexit on the real estate market.

Original story: Cinco Días (by Fernando Cardona and Eduardo García)

Translation: Carmel Drake

S&P: Banks Will Sell Off €35,000M In Toxic Assets In 2017

25 January 2017 – Cinco Días

S&P Global Ratings is convinced that there is going to be a new wave of M&A activity in the Spanish financial sector, as a result of the low return environment, which is putting downwards pressure on banks’ margins, and the rising regulatory costs.

The high volume of non-productive assets on the balance sheets of most entities is also having a negative impact on their accounts, which is pushing them towards mergers, said the Director General of Financial Institutions at S&P, Jesús Martínez, yesterday. The Director considers that these consolidation processes will help smaller entities improve their returns.

The Bank of Spain and most of the major financial institutions in Spain share this idea and are convinced that there will be a second round of mergers over the medium term. These mergers will join the one that Bankia and BMN are likely to complete in July.

In its forecasts for the year ahead, the ratings agency considers that the Spanish financial sector will be supported by the “robust” economic recovery that is happening in Spain at the moment, as well as by the improvements that are being seen in employment and in the real estate sector. It believes that the latter is key for the improvement of banks’ yields. In fact, it thinks that the banks will manage to considerably reduce the property they hold on their balance sheets this year, decreasing the balance from €183,000 million at the end of 2016 to around €148,000 in 2017.

This is the first time that the foreclosed asset balance will fall below its 2010 level (€175,000 million), according to data provided by S&P.

Non-productive assets in the Spanish banking sector peaked at €320,000 million in 2012 if we take into account the foreclosed assets that were transferred to Sareb by the nationalised bank. In 2016, the volume of foreclosed assets decreased by around €37,000 million, according to S&P. Between 2016 and 2017, the total decrease is expected to amount to around €70,000 million.

Nevertheless, the ratings agency warns that the sector will be affected by certain risks resulting from the crisis, such as the high volume of non-productive assets that the entities hold on their balance sheets, or the difficulties involved in increasing returns given the very low interest rates that are putting pressure on margins in the income statement.

Despite that, the agency considers that the banks may continue to offset this decrease in returns and the pressure on margins through the lower provisions that they are having to make, as a result of the reduction in non-productive assets, which is expected to continue over the next few years. S&P forecasts that the risk outlook for the financial sector will decrease, which will cause it to review its ratings. (…).

Original story: Cinco Días (by Ángeles Gonzalo Alconada)

Translation: Carmel Drake

Fitch: Banks Are Selling Homes With Record Discounts Of 65%

27 October 2016 – Expansión

The housing market is improving, supported by the strong macroeconomic outlook. Nevertheless, this increased optimism is not being reflected in the prices at which banks are selling their foreclosed properties.

According to a report from Fitch Ratings, which will be published today, banks have continued to sell homes during the first half of the year at prices that represent an average discount of 65% on the original appraisal value – the highest ever. “This is because the majority of the assets that have been sold recently are lower quality products, those for which demand was lowest during the worst years of the crisis”, explains the report prepared by the ratings agency’s analysts Christian Gómez, Juan David García and Beatriz Gómez. And the outlook is not much rosier. In Fitch’s opinion, there will only be a reduction in the discounts being applied to these assets if the recovery in the housing market improves significantly.

In this sense, Fitch highlights the role being played by the servicers and other firms that specialise in the management of these types of assets. Specifically, the banks sold the managers of their real estate portfolios to funds such as Apollo, Värde and Cerberus. They now operate as independent firms in the financial sector and “they have had a positive influence on the management of residential mortgages and on the real estate sector in general since they entered the market three years ago”, said Fitch.

“They will have an increasingly strong influence in Spain due to their competitive advantages (more technological capacity and international experience) than the banks”, it added. Fitch estimates that between €20,000 million and €30,000 million of problem assets relating to the real estate sector are now being managed by these platforms, which prefer to reach a consensus with the borrower before pursuing legal channels.

Potential for more lending

The ratings’ agency noted that new mortgage lending grew by 38% during the second quarter of the year compared with the same quarter last year, thanks to the economic recovery and the improvement in financing conditions. Fitch expects this trend to continue because the total volume of credit currently represents just 30% of its pre-crisis levels, and other factors are also at play. This recovery is significantly lower than that seen in other countries, such as Italy, Germany and France, whose credit volumes now represents 80% of their pre-crisis levels.

Original story: Expansión (by D. Badía)

Translation: Carmel Drake

S&P Confirms Merlin’s Investment Grade Rating

21 April 2016 – El Mundo

Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has ratified the BBB rating that it assigned to Merlin Properties back in February, after the Socimi successfully closed its recent €850 million bond issue, according to reports from the company.

The ratings agency considers that Merlin’s investment grade reflects the “optimal risk profile” of the Socimi, which is further supported by a portfolio of property assets worth around €6,100 million.

The firm also assigns a stable outlook to the rating for the company led by Ismael Clemente, because it considers that its “large and diversified” property portfolio constitutes a “source of recurring revenue generation”.

“The assets are also well located, which allows the company to benefit from the recovery in the real estate sector that Spain is currently enjoying”, added the ratings agency.

The ratings firm has also assigned the same BBB rating to the €850 million bond issue that the Socimi recently placed. Through this operation, the company will restructure one tranche of the debt that it inherited from Testa when it acquired the company from Sacyr.

Moreover, S&P leaves the door open to a possible increase in Merlin’s rating, in the event that the Socimi adopts a “more conservative” financing policy, however it also warns of a downgrade in the event that its debt exceeds the threshold of 50% of the value of its assets.

Original story: El Mundo

Translation: Carmel Drake