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Back to Cajas: ¿privatización o publificación?

Mª Amparo Salvador Armendáriz, School of Law, University of Navarra, Spain.

Savings banks: privatization or publification?

Wed, 26 Jan 2011 12:00:14 +0000 Published in Expansion

Privatization has been, for some, one of the supposed 'threats' hanging over the Spanish savings bank system for some months now. For others, it is the inevitable solution. It is already a fact that, after the intermediate step of virtual mergers through the SIPs, the savings bank sector will proceed to transform into banks, among other reasons because it is a requirement, in many cases, to access the Frob's aid.

Is the transformation of savings banks into banks privatization? I do not think so. Structures It is, in any case, a modification of the legal form of these entities from credit , with a view to adapting them as much as possible to the typical legal form of the market: capital companies. They will be private, or not, depending on who will finally become the owners of the securities in which their capital stock is represented.

What is foreseeable, if things continue the way they are going, is that this owner will be none other than the State -via the Frob-, at least in the majority of cases. Which, at final, is nothing more than a process of 'nationalization' of the savings banks or, if you prefer, of 'publification', from the perspective of control and ownership of the institutions. Or, from an economic point of view, of 'socialization' of losses.

Resurgence of public banking

In this context, it is reasonable to think that in the course of the next few years we will witness the resurgence of what is already known as 'public banking'. In 1991, the then so-called public bank was transformed into a public market bank, with the birth of Argentaria. Such may be the result of this savings banks restructuring process, beyond the substantial differences -which certainly exist- in terms of their origin and issue of entities, among others.

In the meantime, the most efficient mechanism will have to be found to proceed with the necessary reorganization of a relevant part of the Spanish savings banks, as pointed out by the experts. Although the legal mechanism designed for this operation is not known in detail, de facto and taking into account the role already assumed by the Frob, it will operate alternatively to the intervention management assistant foreseen in the LDIEC and which was used in its day with Banesto and, recently, with Caja Castilla-La Mancha and CajaSur. Nor does the day seem far off when the loans already granted by the Frob at 7.75%, as they cannot be repaid, will end up being converted into state shareholdings. Only later will the real privatization take place, when the State sells such participation, or when, through a capital increase, entrance is given to private investors.

Will it be then the time for the privatization that is now being talked about? It will depend -once again- on the percentage of private capital that comes into play and on its effective influence on the control of the entities that will then survive, transformed into capital companies.

Some will wonder what will be left of the governing bodies of the savings banks, of the people who occupy them and of the autonomic competences that regulate them. I imagine little. Certainly, it will not be much like what we have known so far.

Hopefully this inevitable restructuring can be carried out with the utmost professionalism, impartiality and efficiency. May the supervisor be able to separate the wheat from the chaff and take advantage of the valuable human capital accumulated in many of these institutions, which now look to the future with reasonable concern. And let us hope that the sector, once cleaned up, can continue to serve society in the exercise of its proper task: to give confidence to its depositors and credit to individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises.

The issue of social work deserves a separate commentary. Unfortunately, despite being the 'soul' of the savings banks, it is not a priority in the diary reform and restructuring of the sector.