The thriftily lending of Spain’s commercial and investment banks to those who borrowed excessive capital from international markets to lend to developers at rates they could not repay caused the Spanish economy to tumble in 2011. Basel III, a voluntary framework on bank capital adequacy, stress testing, and market liquidity risk, seemed to be the regulatory answer by the financial services industry. It was adopted by all of Spain’s largest lenders and local governments. Their main mission: stabilize the credit markets enough for foreign direct investment (FDI) into the Spanish economy.
It registered with mixed results. Santander Group, the eleventh largest bank in the world in terms of market capitalization, choose to diversify their revenue stream into frontier growth markets and a separately capitalized subsidiary model. And although margins decreased significantly, the bank’s individual subsidiaries operated independently and autonomously within their respective regions by only making prudent loans, conducting accurate due diligence, and trying to achieve long-term sustainable growth numbers. EVO Banco, an 80-branch retail bank run by Mediobanca, was not so fortunate. In September 2013, after a tumultuous earnings season, EVO Banco was bought out by the private equity giant Apollo Capital Management. This was the first investment for Apollo in Spain’s troubled financial sector since the start of the financial crisis. With severe regulations restraining traditional banks’ ability to make riskier (but profitable) loans, private equity firms like Apollo, KKR, and Blackstone Group are stepping in to fill the credit void.
Microeconomic indicators of recovery include personal income outlays, retail sales growth, and new home sales and employment. However, coupled with these statistical data, should be the growth of Spain’s small businesses. Small businesses can keenly gauge not only the quantitative aspects of financial recuperation, but also the qualitative facet to prosperity. They typically employ more than half the workforce and create two-thirds of the new jobs in the Spain. Furthermore, small businesses provide investment, innovation, competition, and entrepreneurial energy that is essential to long-term, sustainable growth. According to a recent study by the Bank of Spain, new short-term loans valued at 1 million euros or less (the type of credit taken by only small/medium sized businesses) rose 6.4% in the first two months of 2015 to 21.7 billion euros. Unfortunately, the fate of Spain’s small businesses and overall outlook is tied to other countries in the European Union.