Spain’s pension reserve-fund ramped up its holdings of domestic debt last year, profiting from a rally across southern Europe and making it easier for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to raid the fund to finance his budget.
The so-called Fondo de Reserva de la Seguridad Social in 2012 increased its domestic sovereign debt holdings to 97 percent of its assets from 90 percent at the end of 2011, according to its annual report due to be presented to lawmakers today at 12:30 p.m. in Madrid and obtained by Bloomberg News.
The fund purchased about 20 billion euros ($26 billion) of Spanish debt last year, while it sold 4.6 billion euros of French, Dutch and German bonds. More than 70 percent of the purchases took place in the second half of the year, after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi pledged to do “whatever it takes” to defend the euro, boosting Spanish bonds.
The European Commission has called on Rajoy to cut costs related to its aging population as the prime minister struggles to patch up a budget ravaged by a six-year slump. His People’s Party government is the first to have tapped the fund started in 2000 to provide Spain’s tax-funded pensions system with a safety net. It used the cash to partially compensate pensioners for inflation.
The bond-buying strategy enabled the fund to end 2012 with 63 billion euros, an amount equivalent to 6 percent of Spain’s gross domestic product. A 3 billion-euro gain offset part of the 7 billion euros used by Spain’s Cabinet starting from September to finance an increase in retirees’ pensions and Christmas bonuses, according to the report.
Spain’s state-run social security system, also in charge of unemployment benefits, stopped registering surpluses in 2011. Its deficit was 1 percent of GDP last year, contributing to the nation’s total budget gap of 10.2 percent of GDP.
A recession is crimping contributions paid by workers and their employers. At the same time spending has increased due to a record jobless rate of 26 percent and a pensions’ bill, which has risen to 9 billion euros a month from 8 billion euros in 2004.
While the fund stopped receiving government contributions in 2010, its managers changed rules on July 17 to profit from returns from Spanish securities, according to the document.
The maximum amount that can be invested in a given security was increased to 35 percent of the total portfolio from 16 percent. At the same time, the fund raised to 12 percent from 11 percent its maximum share in the Treasury’s total outstanding debt. The Treasury’s debt stock was 634 billion euros in February, according to data on its website.
Spanish sovereign debt returned 6 percent last year, according to indexes compiled by Bloomberg and the European Federation of Financial Analysts Societies. German debt gained 4.4 percent and U.S. Treasuries 2.1 percent.
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