MORE on Spain's very troubled economy:
Spain escaped exposure to U.S. subprime assets but risks its own property debt crisis in 2009 as defaults soar among real estate and construction firms that hold half of all Spanish corporate credit.(my -worried- emphasis)
Over 1000 Spanish property and building firms will have filed for bankruptcy protection in 2008 and more than 1300 could follow suit next year as they struggle to repay over 470 billion euros ($657.9 billion) in debt, according to PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
The collapse of Spain's decade-long housing boom will send non-performing loans to 9 percent by 2010, from 3.5 percent at present, threatening the solvency of savings banks that hold over half of all property debt, according to Credit Suisse.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is ready to launch Spain's first bank bailouts to avoid capital problems and the Bank of Spain expects a wave of forced mergers among small regional savings banks or cajas.
"It'sthe main risk to the whole banking sector," said Antonio Ramirez, abanking analyst at London broker Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. "I think the peak on defaults is quite close -- probably mid-2009 -- not because things are getting better, but because things are getting badso quickly."
470 BILLION EURO DEFAULT?
Starved of easy foreign financing, Spain's housing sector has collapsed under its own weight of over production.
Up to 1.5 million unsold new homes stand empty in Spain, equivalent to 5 years of sales at current depressed rates.
Demand is unlikely to recover until house prices hit bottom, and Standard and Poor's says that may not happen before 2010, with a 30 percent fall from a 2007 peak.
Spain is more dependent on housing than any EU economy, bar Ireland. That has made real estate the achilles' heal of a banking sector which stayed out of U.S. sub prime debt due to Bank of Spain regulations and strong domestic business.
"The Spanish central bank didn't allow our banks to take American crap because they had their own crap...they were extremely exposed to the Spanish housing market," said economist Luis Garicano of the London School of Economics. "This famous 315 billion in developer loans and 160 billion in builder loans, that's not going to be paid."