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Saturday, December 18, 2010 2:39 AM

Spanish "Ghost Towns", Shadow Inventory, Cooked Books; Spain's 2011 Real Estate Funding Crisis

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In Spain, huge projects are completely empty and bad debts mounts as the Spanish banks play extend-and-pretend with developers. That game is about to end.

Developer loans are coming due. Yet, there is no way for developers to make interest payments let alone pay any principal. When developers collapse in 2011, banks will be stuck with a vast amount of undeveloped land at overvalued prices as well as ghost towns so far outside of major towns that no one will live in them.

A flood of inventory awaits a dearth of buyers. Moreover, a huge amount of shadow-inventory is waiting on deck, hoping for better prices so the owners can bail. Unfortunately there is no one to bail to. Spain's official unemployment rate is 20%, and it's quite likely the real unemployment rate is higher.

On top of that, Spain has to deal with various austerity measures. There is no way for it to grow out of its problems.

Many are starting to realize Spain is massively understating the problems its banks, and Spanish banks books are cooked. That has been my position all along. The New York Times offers evidence in Newly Built Ghost Towns Haunt Banks in Spain

It is a measure of Spain’s giddy construction excesses that 250 row houses carpet a hill near this tiny rural village about an hour by car outside of Madrid.

Most of these units have never sold, and though they were finished just three years ago, they are already falling into disrepair, the concrete chipping off the sides of the buildings. Vandals have stolen piping, radiators, doors — anything they could get their hands on.

The Bank of Spain says the banks have about $240 billion in “problematic exposure” out of $580 billion invested in real estate and construction, a situation, they say, the banks are capable of handling.

The boom and bust of Spain’s property sector is astonishing. Over a decade, land prices rose about 500 percent and developers built hundreds of thousands of units — about 800,000 in 2007 alone. Developments sprang up on the outskirts of cities ready to welcome many of the four million immigrants who had settled in Spain, many employed in construction.

“Most of the adjustment in housing prices has already taken place,” José Manuel Campa, Spain’s deputy finance minister, said recently, though he allowed that there was a lack of good information on real estate sales.

Still, skeptics abound. One is Jesús Encinar, the founder of Spain’s most popular property Web site, Idealista.com. He says that the Spanish authorities are striving to engineer a soft landing of the housing market that would give more time to offload surplus housing at reasonable prices.

But he believes prices still have a long way to fall, by 30 or 40 percent, maybe more. “Some people who said there was no housing bubble are now saying we are at the bottom,” Mr. Encinar said. “But I say we have several years to go.”

Fernando Acuña, co-founder of Pisosembargados.com, a Web site that sells housing on behalf of the banks, said as many as 100,000 repossessed units were now for sale in Spain, a number that “could double or triple.”

The biggest challenge for the banks is that they are likely to end up owners of vast amounts of undeveloped land. José Luis Suárez, an expert on real estate at the IESE business school, said 65 percent of bank lending to developers is tied up in land, enough to build 758,000 more housing units. “That gives you an idea of how long it could take for the market to digest all this,” he said.
There is much more in the two-page article. Inquiring minds will want to take a closer look.

Revenue Drain to Hit Spain

Bloomberg reports Spain Banks Face 2011 Revenue Drain on Funding Costs.
Spain’s banks, burdened this year by rising defaults and flagging credit demand, will face further pressure in 2011 as funding costs eat away at the returns on their stock of home loans.

The squeeze may be worst for lenders with the greatest proportion of mortgages because they have less scope to pass on the financing costs to customers, said Claire Kane, an analyst at MF Global in London. Ibercaja, a Zaragoza-based savings bank, has 53 percent of its loans in mortgages, while Bankinter SA, based in Madrid, has 46 percent, Bank of Spain data show.

“The amount of mortgages a bank has gives an indication of who is going to face the most pressure on revenues,” said Daragh Quinn, an analyst at Nomura International in Madrid. “The more retail mortgages you have, the more difficult it will be to re-price your loan book.”
Cooked Books and Bad Loans

The Bank of Spain said "Bad loans as a proportion of total loans in Spain climbed to 5.67 percent in October, the highest level since January 1996, from 5.50 percent in September and 4.99 percent a year ago."

Does anyone believe that? I don't, but even if it is true, it will not stay that way long. Expect to see that rate rise as soon as developers default and banks get saddled with ghost towns.

Here's another paragraph from the article that strikes me as unbelievable.

"The quality of Spain’s mortgages has proved resilient, even with unemployment higher than 20 percent. Moody’s expects a loss ratio of 2.8 percent for home loans, compared with 12.9 percent for loans to developers and 50 percent for real estate assets."

Anyone agree with Moody's regarding that 2.8% loss ratio on home loans in the face of statements by Jesús Encinar, from the preceding article. Encinar, the founder of Spain’s most popular property Web site, thinks home prices drop another 30% over the next few years.

PIGS Exposure Table

Inquiring minds may wish to take another peek at PIGS Exposure Table, Explaining the Panic by Numbers

click on chart for sharper image

Exposure to Spain

Germany - $216.6 billion
France - $201.3 billion
Great Britain - $136.5 billion
US - $172.8 billion

A Question of Philosophy

Here's an interesting quote from the above Bloomberg article by Arturo de Frias, an analyst at Evolution Securities Ltd. in London: "Mortgages can be a problem in a given year such as 2011 because of the prevailing liquidity or funding conditions. Over a longer period, they remain a very profitable business."

That sounds much like the philosophy espoused by Countrywide Financial and hundreds of U.S. subprime lenders that all suddenly died in 2007-2008. Ironically it's the reverse of an often repeated Keynesian phrase "In the long run, we're all dead."

In this case it's "In the short run we're dead, but never mind that. In the long run we'll do just fine". It sums up the PIGS situation quite nicely, but it's certainly no way to run a business or a country.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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