Three Developments in Spain

With Brexit, the pressure on Italian banks,
and the surge and then sell-off in the yen, Spain may have been pushed off some
investors’ radar screens. 
  There are three important
developments to note. 

The first is related to Spanish banks
The Advocate-General of the European
Court of Justice (ECJ) opined today that Spain could
impose a time limit on claims of unfair mortgage terms.  If the ECJ
concurs with the Advocate General as is frequently the case, Spanish banks may
avoid refunding potentially billions of euros to a customer who paid too much for mortgages.

Spain had mortgage rate floors that prevented
borrowing costs from falling in line with key benchmark rates.
  In May
2013, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that such rate floors were illegal.  In
April a Spanish court ruled that around 40 lenders had to refund borrowers the
extra interest they paid since the May 2013 judicial decision.

The bottom line is that ruling if upheld, will save Spanish banks
billions of euros. BBVA appears to have been the most exposed, according to
reports, estimated to be nearly two bln
euros in retroactive payments. 
Banco Popular and CaixaBank also
appear to have significant exposure.   Their stock prices responded
favorably to the unexpected decision.

The second
development involves
Spanish politics.
  |It appears that Rajoy,
whose PP did a bit better in the June election compared with December, is
getting closer to securing another term.  The latest development was a
signal by the Ciudadanos head Rivera that the party could be willing to abstain
in a confidence vote, which would allow for a minority government. 
Ciudadanos ruled out entering a coalition
with Rajoy.   

Ciudadanos abstention would be helpful but not
  The Socialists would also have to be willing to abstain.
Internal diplomacy is working overtime today, and some indication whether Spain
will have a minority government or if must go
to the polls again is likely before the

Third, the Spain, along with Portugal, have a
ten day period to plea for clemency before the EC considers the sanctions for
failing to do enough to meet their budget targets last year.
Finance ministers confirmed the EC’s findings yesterday.  The EC can fine
Spain and Portugal up to 0.2% of GDP, and
they can cut off some EU aid.     

It seems clear that the EC is trying to
balance the importance of the rules and recognizing the efforts that both
countries have made in recent years.
  There also seems to be
recognition that several other countries are in similar position.  Also, the EC recognizes with the Brexit vote,
the integration of Europe has been challenged
It does not want to take action that will aggravate the
situation.    Many also will recall how Germany and France
dodged a similar problem several years ago and were
not fined

We anticipate the EC to ultimately decide on symbolic
  The EC does not want to appear as a harsh taskmaster, but an
ally in coordinating policy and getting the fiscal houses in order, which
not-so-incidentally appears to be a prerequisite for German agreement for more
burden sharing.    The EC has no interest in sabotaging the
fragile Portuguese recovery or undermining the stronger Spanish recovery.

Both the head of the Eurogroup of EMU finance
ministers (Dijsselbloem) and the European Commissioner for Economic and
Financial Affairs (Moscovici) have separately suggested that the fine may be
    In effect, if Spain and Portugal are contrite and
pledge to take some corrective measures, no fine will be levied.  
Portugal, which had a 4.4% deficit last year, has a new (left of center)
government that is targeting 2.2% deficit this year.  Spain’s deficit was
5.1% in 2015, despite being among the fastest growing European economies. 
The market expects the Spanish deficit to be around 4% this year.  Thus,
both countries will be able to argue that they will show more progress this

This would
be the first time that a member would be fined
for the failure to hit the budget target.   
In some ways,
the idea of fining a country for too
large of a budget deficit has the same absurd quality as a debtors prison.  
Country A has not done enough to reduce their deficit so it will be fined and have a bigger deficit and more
debt, requiring more counter-measures.  This
be the first time that a member would be fined for the failure to hit the budget target. 

All three of the developments discussed here could be positive for Spain.
The banks may not take as large of a hit as it seemed like for overcharging
mortgages.  Spain looks likely to escape without a fine (or perhaps the EC will
call it a fine but of zero value).   Lastly, Span appears to be moving
toward a minority government, though the confidence of this may be the weakest
of the three.


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