Monday, October 06, 2008

When it comes to what is happening to Spanish property, I rely on Charles Butler at Ibex Salad and at Mark Stucklin at Spanish Property Insight. Mark has recently professed himself sceptical about data being issued on sales volumes and prices here but Charles has said things really are different here and that it’s wrong to assume responses to a property crash here will be the same as in, say, the UK. At least I think that’s what he’s saying. Charles is such a clever and well-informed chap that I’m not always sure I’ve understood all that he’s written. So, why not check for yourself.

I was going to ask yesterday how many years it would take before members of the EU stopped putting national interest before that of the entity to which they claimed committed membership. After the failure of the weekend’s mini-summit and now Germany’s unilateral announcement about safeguarding her nationals’ bank deposits, I guess I should say decades, rather than years. If not centuries. How much easier it was to be optimistic during the boom years of over-cheap money and too-easy credit. And how much more pious these hopes look now that the going has got tough. I guess the [arrogant?] Anglo view was well summed up by a commentator on British TV this morning who said, firstly, that British banks would fare better than those of most countries because of greater capitalisation and, secondly, that there were too many small banks on the Continent which had got fat during the carpetbagger years and these now needed to be consolidated. The only other option, he said, was to follow the Japanese route of taking 20 years to get over the crisis. Happily, he can’t have been referring to Spain as the banking sector here is at least as robust as the British is said to be. Indeed, unless someone [or something] stops Sr Botín of Banco Santander, they will soon be the same thing.

Property and banking have been closely connected for at least 15 years in Spain and the way things are done here now provides an interesting option for the Spanish government in its challenge to improve liquidity in the banking sector. There are, it’s said, 108 million euros worth of 500 euro notes lying under mattresses around the country. Of these, a mere 54 million would be enough to solve the liquidity problem if their owners toddled along to their bank and put them on deposit. And so, while rejecting any suggestion of an amnesty for folk who used black cash to [at least] part-finance their property acquisitions, the government is said to be looking at ‘incentives’ to persuade them to come out of the long grass and help the struggling banks. Fascinating. Call me cynical but I can’t see it working, myself.

Talking of taxes . . . Some readers may recall my account of the several-hour calvario I endured merely to pay the massive 7% transaction tax on my recent purchase of a little place in the hills. All to no avail, it now seems. For the Xunta’s Facenda [Hacienda] has written to tell me that I should not have done this here in Pontevedra but in Pontecaldelas, 15 km away. It seems – if I’m being optimistic – that, while this error has not precluded them from recognizing receipt of the cash I had to go and get from my bank and pay at the Pontevedra office, the Facenda is not capable of sending a copy of the forms from one of their offices to another. So, instead, I have to go and retrieve the papers from Pontevedra and take them to Pontecaldelas. Where I suspect I will have to fill in new forms. And all this despite the fact there was a special desk in Pontevedra to check that your form was correct. Hey ho, another morning of my life wasted. I guess I could make the point that I might have got things right if they’d issued the forms and the guide to them in Spanish as well as Gallego but I doubt that it’d get me very far. After all, their letter to me is only in Gallego as well. But at least I’m optimistic they’ll talk to me in Spanish up in Pontecaldelas.

7 comments:

moscow said...

Colin,
I agre with salad that spaniards have a different attitude to property. I remember a ex-girlfriend's (English) parents who bought a house then sold it because they got bored with it, bought and moved to another one, when they got bored sold it again, and so on. Very improbable in Spain. And many of the housing on the coast is owned by foreigners. They are the ones in debt, and struggling. I am not sure what things will be like in Spain in future. We'll have to wait and see. But this view that whatever happens in anglo-land will be replicated in continental economies is simply ridiculuous. Conservative attitudes to finance, housing, consumption, in Japan, France, Spain, have come to the fore as an explanation why these countries are not sinking as fast as anglo-land. Funny, isn't it?

Charles Butler said...

Hi Colin,

Thanks.

You can think of Spanish property values as being more or less analogous to gold prices. Falling market prices, in the sense that they reflect a lack of demand for new production, do not cause people to go out and sell the krugerands they've got stored in the strongbox, but rising prices do get them out buying more. This all without mentioning that financial crisis makes it even more attractive as an alternative to cash and bank deposits. In other places folks cling to their money. Here they get rid of it by converting it to land before it becomes worthless.

Colin said...

De nada, Charles.

Yes, I had thought'strange' attitudes to proeprty were unique to Galicia but I now see they aren´t. Plan to write more on this tomorrow . . .

Colin said...

Moscow,

I am an admirer of conservative attitudes - be they traditional British, French, Spanish or Japanese - but I do think that some non-conservative things have been hapopening in Spain and it may be that a bigger bill has to be paid for these than currently seems the case. But you are better informed than me so I am certainly not going to argue with you . . . . .

And, as I´ve written today, I can´t see that it¡s right to blame Anglo red in tooth and claw capitalism for what is happening now. Not that I asm saying you do, of course.

Colin said...

Charles, Just a thought/query - What about all those new builds littering the country? Are prices not reduced simply because there is no elasticity of demand, s the constructors don´t bother to try lowering their prices? Provided they can stay liquid, they can just sit out the downturn.

Charles Butler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Butler said...

Colin,

Lots of stuff takes place behind the scenes. Banks and cajas, mysterious as it may sound, might be accepting that stuff from developers (as opposed to foreclosing) in lieu of debt - at higher than foreclosure prices. If not that, they are certainly facilitating the sale to stronger hands. Either way, a non-performing debt comes off the books, is replaced by a performing one or an asset valued at the cancelled debt, (not to mention that a construction loan, more risky because it depends on cash flow, is replaced by a simple mortgage) and the assets do not have to be marked to fire sale prices.

The important point is that real estate is not valued on a return-on-investment basis in this country. It has intrinsic value and money that has the luxury of looking well into the future naturally gravitates towards it.