The Economist – Rosy scenario


The Spanish government is newly optimistic, but many Spaniards are not.

In Madrid ministers brag that they have turned a corner. Euro-zone bond yields have been hitting new low levels. Spain’s banking and labour reforms are now in place. Growth will revive later this year or in 2014. Jobs, the Spanish El Dorado, will eventually follow.

But that is surely too rosy a view. Exports are growing and the current account is now in surplus, but even the government sees GDP shrinking by 0.5% in 2013 (and most analysts talk of 1.5%). Spaniards are suffering an aching spell of record unemployment, at 26.6%. Austerity means worsening public services just as real wage and pension cuts make people poorer. The biggest asset for many families, their house, is plunging in value, with a further 20% price fall expected. Higher income, sales and housing taxes will hit spending power further. Business confidence and retail sales are in retreat. And a housing glut will take years to digest. Only 25,655 of what Fitch, a ratings agency, says are 1.2m unsold Spanish houses were bought in November.

Spain must eventually emerge from all this. But will Spaniards put up with extended pain? Or will they rebel against a political establishment that has failed them? So far they have been quietly dignified. Peaceful demonstrators have made more headlines than violent protesters. Yet days lost to strikes are at a ten-year high. A budget deficit of 7-8% of GDP in 2012 must be cut this year. The European Union has set a 4.5% target, though it may relax this. Investment has already been slashed so future cuts must fall on public health, education, pensions and welfare services.

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