El rumor es que la banca española ha tenido mejores resultados que la de otros países gracias a la buena regulación:
Spanish GDP is forecast to fall 4% this year, unemployment is already around 18% while house prices have so far fallen 18% from their peak. Yet remarkably, BBVA is the only major bank in Europe not to have had to raise fresh capital, while none of the listed domestic banks has required a government bail-out.
The Bank of Spain takes much of the credit, both for forcing Spanish banks to build substantial buffers of generic provisions during the good times -- and for stopping local banks piling into mortgage securities. The banks also played their part, focusing on the retail market rather than risky investment banking. It helps that Spain has only a small credit-card and commercial-property market. And the banks' impressive ability to control costs -- BBVA and Santander both have domestic cost/income ratios below 40% -- has helped them earn their way though the crisis.
But the final piece of the jigsaw is clear from this year's second-quarter results: low eurozone interest rates have made a real difference. Not only has the relief provided to stressed holders of residential variable-rate mortgages helped keep non-performing loans levels much lower than forecast earlier this year, but the lag between interest-rate cuts and mortgage-rate resets has helped support bank margins. The rate of growth in non-performing loans slowed in the second quarter, in the case of Santander falling by 29% from the first quarter, while the spread it earned on its loan book rose to 3.32%, up from 3.18%.
Even so, Spain's banks are not completely out of the woods. The pace of non-performing loan growth may be slowing, but bad loans are still rising and are not expected to peak until at least 2010. Losses on some of those loans could still turn out to be high. Most banks have now written down or restructured their exposures to real estate developers and residential mortgages are typically well-collateralized. But the emerging problem area is loans to small and medium sized companies, which are sensitive to the state of the economy. Meanwhile, margins will be squeezed as mortgage rates are reset.
That suggests further pain may yet lie ahead for purely domestic banks, such as Sabadell, Bakinter, Popular and Banesto. But BBVA and Santander now look increasingly likely to ride out this crisis. Not only do they have higher quality loan books, lower rates of non-performing loans, resilient pre-provision profits, substantial provisions, high returns on equity and strong balance sheets, but they also offer exposure to emerging economies in Latin America such as Mexico and Brazil, where margins are strong and growth is potentially higher.
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