Spanish Regions Line Up for Aid

Requests for emergency loans from three regions adds to pressure on Prime Minister Rajoy.

The Spanish region of Murcia became the third to say it will need emergency loans, and Valencia signaled it needs funds to cover current and past overspending, adding fiscal pressure on Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

A day after Catalonia said it needed 5 billion euros ($6.3 billion) from an 18 billion-euro bailout fund announced by Rajoy last month, an official in southeastern Murcia yesterday put its needs at 700 million euros. In Valencia, an official who asked not to be named in line with policy confirmed remarks by economy chief Maximo Buch to Europa Press that 3.5 billion euros would cover only current needs.

Rajoy meets in Madrid today with French President Francois Hollande as he considers seeking a second European bailout after securing up to 100 billion euros ($125 billion) in loans for banks. Rajoy hosted European Union President Herman Van Rompuy on Aug. 28.

The country’s regions risk overwhelming a plan to tackle the euro area’s third-biggest budget deficit. They were responsible last year for most of Spain’s overspending, which remained nearly unchanged from 2010 at 8.9 percent of gross domestic product.

Together with Murcia, Valencia and Catalonia, Spain’s two most indebted regions, aim to use more than half of Rajoy’s last bailout fund, created to enable regions to face bond redemptions and finance their deficits in the second half.

“Everything depends on Andalusia now,” said Juan Rubio-Ramirez, an economist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “If Andalusia asks for aid, it could be a similar amount to Catalonia and that means the fund may not be enough.” Rubio-Ramirez co-authored a report this month forecasting the regions may run deficits as high as 4 percent of GDP this year, compared with 3.3 percent last year and a target of 1.5 percent for 2012.

Andalusia, one of the four largest contributors to Spain’s GDP along with Madrid, Catalonia and Valencia, doesn’t rule out making a request, a local official who declined to be identified said by telephone. Along with Castilla-La Mancha, Andalusia, Valencia and Catalonia in June tapped 68 percent of the 17.7 billion euros of loans set up by the government for the regions to settle their backlog of unpaid bills.

 

ECB Involvement

The four also used over two-thirds of another mechanism that prevented regional defaults in the first half, an approximately 5 billion-euro credit line from the Spanish government’s bank Instituto de Credito Oficial, or ICO. The region with the highest deficit last year, Castilla-La Mancha, hasn’t yet decided whether to tap the new fund.

Rajoy has said he’ll decide whether to request more aid after the European Central Bank details its involvement in a bond-buying plan aimed at lowering governments’ borrowing costs. Van Rompuy this week said European authorities are ready to assist.

Economy Minister Luis de Guindos yesterday said a European mechanism to lower spreads would be thrashed out at a meeting between EU finance chiefs in Cyprus Sept. 14-15. The yield on Spain’s 10-year benchmark bond yesterday fell 2 basis points to 6.46 percent, narrowing the gap with similar German maturities to 5.08 percentage points.

The government has budgeted for Catalonia’s needs, de Guindos told reporters in Madrid. “The government appreciates Catalonia’s efforts and has no doubt that it will continue to do what is necessary to meet this year’s and next year’s deficit targets.”

Catalonia may not be able to pay bills until it receives aid, news agency Efe reported, citing spokesman Francesc Holms. With their debt rated junk by at least one rating company, Valencia and Catalonia started losing access to capital markets in 2010, prompting them to rely on selling securities known as patriot bonds to their residents.

The regions have a combined debt load of 145 billion euros, which has doubled since 2008 to the equivalent of 14 percent of gross domestic product. Redemptions will amount to about 15 billion euros in the second half of this year, according to data from the Budget Ministry.

 

 

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