Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos ruled out seeking a bailout hours before Standard & Poor’s cut the country’s credit rating to three levels above junk and a report showed unemployment jumped close to a record.
“Nobody has asked Spain, either officially or unofficially” to turn to Europe’s bailout mechanisms, he said in an interview in Madrid late yesterday. “We don’t need it.”
Spanish unemployment, already the highest in the European Union, rose to 24.4 percent in the first quarter, just below the 24.55 percent record of March 1994, the National Statistics Institute said today. The increase in first quarter joblessness will mean 953 million euros ($1.3 billion) of lost revenue for the government, the tax inspectors association said today.
De Guindos spoke at the end of a month that has seen Spanish bond yields rise above 6 percent for the first time since early December on concern that banking losses will swamp the government. That sparked speculation that Spain will need to seek an international rescue for its lenders and prompted one minister to call on the ECB to buy the country’s bonds.
“This is not the real cure for the problems and the volatility of the market,” de Guindos said. “I don’t think that we need any further liquidity injections after the two LTROs that the ECB has implemented over the last three or four months.”
Just hours after de Guindos spoke, Standard & Poor’s cut its rating on Spain by two levels to BBB+, citing concern that the country will need to pour more money into its lenders. The downgrade was the second this year by S&P and puts Spain at the same level as Italy.
S&P’s decision did not mean that the rating company expected Spain to need a bailout, Marko Mrsnik, director for sovereign ratings for Europe, said today in a conference call. Still, EU aid to Spanish banks would “ease pressure” on the sovereign rating, he said.
The yield on Spain’s 10-year benchmark bonds rose 6 basis points to 5.89 percent at 3:30 p.m. in London, pushing the spread with similar German maturities to 421 basis points from 415 basis points yesterday. The country’s benchmark IBEX 35 stock index erased early declines and advanced 1.1 percent to 7100.3.
The downgrade “raises the chance of Spain accessing external official funding for its banks alongside a robust external audit,” London-based Barclays Capital analysts Marcus Widen and Laurent Fransolet wrote in a note today.
Spain is sticking to its line that austerity should be the main driver of policy as it tries to quash concerns that it will be pushed to follow Ireland, Portugal and Greece into a bailout. As French presidential frontrunner Francois Hollande presses to renegotiate a euro-wide fiscal treaty backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, de Guindos said that Europe can’t afford to twin such a pact with stimulus measures.
“A growth pact has to be focused on structural reforms,” de Guindos said. “I do not see that the growth pact should involve any sort of fiscal boost or stimulus.”
De Guindos announced today that Spain will shift the burden of taxes onto consumption and reduce levies on employing workers. The government will raise indirect taxes such as those on sales, cigarettes and alcohol from next year under the plan that aims to eliminate the budget deficit by 2016. The shortfall reached 8.5 percent of GDP last year.
“We have to put on the table a much more comprehensive growth program that has to be much more focused on performance on the structural side,” De Guindos said in the interview.
ECB bond purchases wouldn’t help to calm European markets either as governments instead need to show how they can fix their economies, de Guindos said.
The International Monetary Fund said on April 17 that budget deficits will persist till at least 2017 in Spain, where the economic recession will be deeper than in other euro-region countries. The IMF forecasts a 1.8 percent contraction this year and growth of 0.1 percent next year.
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