Spanish Property Bubble of 2008
Spains economy has been in an unprecedented decline since 2008. The average Spaniard found himself unemployed and had a huge mortgage bill to pay. An entire country has been bankrupted by the seemingly insatiable lust to acquire increasing quantities of real estate which drove the prices higher. This article will trace the beginning of this bubble from 1990s to its present day situation wherein it has left the Spanish economy in shambles.
The Spanish miracle started in the 1990s and intensified around the turn of the century. Real estate prices had really started heating up in Spain. Between 1990 and 2006, the prices increased by a factor of 3. This was incredible given Spains dismal economic growth in the recent past. Many onlookers started praising the Spanish economic system. However, very few were actually aware that the entire economy stood on shaky grounds and the fall was yet to come.
The Euro membership in 1999 gave a significant impetus to the Spanish property market. Spaniards were used to high interest rates being set by their central bank. However, when the European Central Bank took over, the interest rates were comparatively quite low. In fact, there was at least a 4% drop in the percentage points at which banks were willing to lend.
Also, Spanish banks started offering mortgages of longer duration. Thus, even though the price of the house was high, the monthly payment could be kept low. All this combined to create immense demand for housing in Spain. The real estate market was witnessing a sudden and unprecedented boom.
The Spanish miracle was further supplemented by large scale immigration to Spain. The Mediterranean climate and the beautiful landscape of Spain had always made it a preferred destination amongst retirees. The retirees from all over Europe started flocking to Spain as the property boom came into existence. They could now combine a retirement home with a smart financial strategy if they purchased property in Spain!
Also, the illusion of rising economic growth encouraged a lot of immigrants from developing countries to make their way into Spain. Spain witnessed its largest immigration during 1990s and the early 2000s. This immigration and the resultant demand for housing gave a further boost to the already rising housing sector.
The Spanish banks were creating more and more money as they made housing loans. This reflected in the macro-economic statistics of Spain during the period. Spanish banks witnessed an unparalleled credit expansion during the 1990s. The newly created money found its way into the real estate market further increasing its price and creating a self-reinforcing feedback loop of rising prices and increasing money supply.
Adjustable Rate Mortgages
An important fact regarding the Spanish real estate bubble is the fact that about 98% of the loans that were taken out during the bubble period were adjustable rate mortgages. These mortgages combine to form over 60% of the value of the Spanish GDP. This should give an indication that a lot of people owe a lot of money on their mortgages in Spain.
To compound the problem, as the crisis has erupted after 2008, people find that their interest rates have risen and so have their mortgage payments. However, rising interest rates are also contracting the economy and causing unemployment. Hence, a lot of Spaniards are defaulting on their mortgage loans, ending up losing their lifes savings in the process.
Supply and Price Rise
Another astounding feature of the Spanish bubble was that housing supply and prices both grew at an unprecedented rate during the 1990s and the 2000s. Usually, in a bubble scenario, the supply remains constant or drops. At best, there is a moderate increase in the supply. This helps create the image of scarcity which leads to price rise.
However, the Spanish case was markedly different with the number of housing units in Spain growing more than Germany, Italy, France and United Kingdom combined during that period. Spain virtually built itself many times over during that 15 year period. The seemingly insatiable desire for real estate caused prices to continue rising threefold even as supply was flooding the market.
Poor Job Growth
To top it up, the fundamentals of the Spanish economy had not changed. Most of the Spaniards were involved in low skilled jobs which paid a mediocre wage. The huge tracts of real estate that were being developed found no buyers! This is because most of the employment in Spain was in the form of menial employment provided by the real estate sector itself. Real estate contributed to over 25% of the GDP and was the largest employer. However, it certainly was not capable of creating a class of consumers who could afford to buy the end product that was being produced.
Securitization and Spread of the Crisis
Post 2008, the Spanish bubble burst. This burst happened as a result of the shocks received from the American subprime mortgage. However, the Spanish fall has been slow and less dramatic. Since 2008, real estate prices have been steadily dropping. Today the market finds itself 40% below the peak value that was quoted during the 2008 period. Some analysts believe that the fall has been much steeper and that there are areas within the country where prices have fallen by as much as 70%
To compound the problems, Spanish banks had securitized a lot of this real estate debt and sold it to pension funds, mutual funds and such other funds in the securities markets. Thus as defaults are happening, the Spanish banks are not the only ones that suffer. The life savings and pensions of people are being wiped out.
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