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Isabel Rodríguez-Tejedo, School of Economics, University of Navarra, Spain

Solvency problems

Thu, 31 May 2012 10:41:02 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

The risk premium continues to make our hair stand on end. The issue (any issue) in itself has nothing mystical about it, what is worrying is what its upward trend reflects: the growing lack of confidence in the possibilities and future of our Economics. Part of the rise in the risk premium is due to the fall in the subject interest rate of German bonds, which increases the gap with ours, and should not in principle cause problems, but clearly there are other reasons as well.

And that is that the difficulties are accumulating. The government guarantees support to the communities and writes blank checks for the financial sector. Neither one nor the other, at the point where we are, could have another solution, but this nationalization of debts is going to be expensive. Very much so. The figure that is repeated is the one that has been put on the table by JP Morgan: according to one of its main economists, sustaining Spain's financing until 2014, including the recapitalization of the banks, would mean some 350,000 million euros. The problem is (now) one of solvency. The question the markets are asking today is the one that was already being asked yesterday in the street: "where is the money going to come from?"

In the past, the very energetic declarations of our governments announcing that Spain did not need a bailout have been based on the fact that our self-financing capacity was not outweighed by the bad economic status . It is not easy to ignore the obvious, and that is that the speech has changed: although the possibility of a bailout continues to be denied, senior officials of our government point out how difficult it is to finance ourselves at current interest rates. The curtain has not yet come down, but it seems less and less likely that the State will be able to meet its financing needs autonomously and that we will need some external subject from financial aid .

The European Stability Mechanism could provide liquidity but does not seem a viable option as a solution, given the magnitude and nature of the problem. At best, it could be expected to serve as a stabilizer until a rescue plan is put in place. The bailout that Europe has been offering (the one that the Greeks, Irish and Portuguese received) is not what the government wants. The conditions that come with traditional bailout plans are not just a loss of sovereignty (always politically humiliating). Moreover, the experience of these countries speaks of high social costs and strong contractions of economic activity. On the other hand, seen from outside our borders, it is likely that many people think it is fair that those who have broken the dishes should pay the bill and do not want to finance our misfortune (sorry, our debt).

There is another possibility, in principle more palatable. This second option is based on the direct recapitalization of the banks. To be understood: the solution would involve a bailout that would go directly to the financial sector, without the State as a whole having to ask for financial aid. Those who support the measure point out that it goes straight to the heart of the problem, and avoids imposing conditions on Economics as a whole. Opponents doubt, firstly, that the problem is so contained and, secondly, they do not approve of "passing on the package" of financing needed by a country to the Union as a whole in such a piecemeal fashion. Moreover, as it is designed, the Rescue Fund does not provide for this option, which Germany has repeatedly opposed. Between those in favor and those opposed, it seems that the latter have the upper hand, although the discussion is not completely closed.

Either of the two formulas would have its consequences, but those of the traditional bailout would probably be harsher. In any case, that we will see more fiscal tightening (read more taxes and more cuts from expense) seems guaranteed. We could expect the adjustments to reach some of the structural reforms that we have been dragging on and always leaving halfway, but in the short term deadline the one that has the upper hand is the scissors.