Economic Studies
Spain

Spain

Population 46.5 million
GDP per capita 29,993 US$
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

  2018 2019 2020 (e) 2021 (f)
GDP growth (%) 2.4 2.0 -10.8 5.3
Inflation (yearly average, %) 1.7 0.7 -0.3 1.6
Budget balance (% GDP) -2.5 -2.9 -11.4 -9.0
Current account balance (% GDP) 1.9 2.1 0.7 1.0
Public debt (% GDP) 97.6 95.5 117.1 121.0

(e): Estimate (f): Forecast

STRENGTHS

  • Strong comparative advantage in renewable energy (solar, wind)
  • Important reforms (labour market, banking sector, bankruptcy law, etc.)
  • Increasing financial support from European institutions
  • Important private-sector deleveraging (pre-pandemic)
  • Manufacturing sector has shown reinvention capacity in recent times

WEAKNESSES

  • High private and public debt, very negative international investment position
  • Dual labour market, high structural unemployment
  • Large quota of small, low-productivity companies
  • High exposure to pandemic-sensitive sectors
  • Fragmented and polarized political landscape, territorial unity threatened by the Catalan independence movement

RISK ASSESSMENT

Rapid but only partial recovery in 2021, due to moribund tourism

Among the countries most affected in health and economic terms in 2020 and the first part of 2021, Spain has implemented a particularly effective vaccination campaign, so much so that at the end of August it was the first country of comparable size to have fully vaccinated 70% of its population (8% had received a dose by then). As a result, the health consequences of the fourth wave should be more limited and the recovery should accelerate in the second half of 2021, thanks to the continued lifting of restrictions. This should allow a clear rebound in household consumption, which will also benefit from the fall in the unemployment rate, which fell to 14.3% in July 2021, after having peaked at 16.7% in August 2020. The unemployment rate was still higher than its pre-crisis level (13.7% in February 2020) and well above the Eurozone average (7.6%). Business investment, which has benefited from numerous measures (tax deferrals, short-time working, sectoral subsidies and access to state-guaranteed loans), will also pick up, albeit unevenly across sectors. Tourism (14% of GDP and 15% of employment) remains in great difficulty. Despite the improvement in the health situation, the number of foreign visitors in July 2021 was 55% lower than at the same period in 2019, and the emergence of new variants is a source of uncertainty for the end of the year. On the other hand, foreign trade should make a positive contribution to GDP growth in 2021, thanks to the strong rebound in exports of goods, which even exceeded their 2019 level in the first half of the year (+3%), driven by agri-food, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics and metals.

 

An expansionary European policy mix ensures fiscal sustainability

As in 2020, the fiscal policy stance is expansionary. Automatic stabilisers (unemployment insurance and other social transfers, income tax, etc.) accounted for two-thirds of the increase in the deficit in 2020, with the remainder coming from support measures, most of which have been maintained in 2021. As a result, the fiscal deficit will remain large. Despite this, the spread on government bonds remains at very low levels, and demand for Spanish securities strong. Indeed, the ECB intends to continue its accommodative monetary policy: the Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme, with a total envelope of EUR 1,850 billion, will be maintained at least until March 2022. Spain will also be the 2nd largest beneficiary of the Next Generation EU stimulus fund, with EUR 69.5 billion in grants between 2021 and 2026, 80% of which will be spent in the first three years. As long as this new consensus is maintained, Spain's debt can be considered sustainable, not because of good economic and budgetary fundamentals, but because the European institutions will do everything in their power to ensure that the debt remains repayable. This is all the more true because the ECB, by adopting a more flexible inflation target from July 2021, is signalling that it wants to maintain an accommodative stance in the short-term despite inflationary pressures.

Banks, which continue to have easy access to liquidity through the Targeted Long-Term Refinancing Operations (TLTRO III), are relatively fragile, but much stronger than on the eve of the 2008 crisis.

The pandemic will have a largely neutral effect on the current account balance, with imports and exports of goods and services both rebounding strongly.

 

PP, main opposition party, back in force

Since January 2020, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Party (PSOE, 120 seats out of 350) has led a fragile coalition government, supported by Unidos Podemos (UP, far-left, 35 seats) and a host of smaller parties, including regionalist parties. On the eve of the pandemic, the political landscape was increasingly polarised and fragmented, with the historic duopoly of the PSOE and the Popular Party (PP, centre-right) losing votes to extremist (UP and Vox on the far-right) and regionalist parties. However, the PP's victory in the regional elections of the Community of Madrid in May 2021 marked the comeback of the main opposition party, which has been steadily increasing in the polls throughout 2021, rising from 22% to 29% of voting intentions at the end of August, four points more than the PSOE. In this configuration, the PP could govern with the sole support of Vox, the country's third political force with 15%. Following his defeat in Madrid, Pablo Iglesias, the historic leader of the Podemos party and vice-president of the government until March 2021, put an end to his political career. While Pedro Sanchez has granted pardons to nine separatist leaders sentenced in 2019 for organising the referendum, Catalan independence remains on the table in a bid to appease the government. It is difficult to say whether the coalition government will complete its four-year term.

 

Last updated: September 2021

Payment

Cheques are widely used for corporate transactions in Spain. They offer similar legal safeguards under the juicio cambiario (Civil Prodecures Code) in the event of default. The same is true of promissory notes (pagaré), which, like bills of exchange and cheques, are instruments enforceable by law. If unpaid, they are recorded in the registry of unpaid acceptances (RAI, Registro de Aceptationes Impagadas). Attached to the Centre for Interbank Cooperation, the RAI is the country’s most important registry. It records all commercial payment defaults of over €300, thus allowing banks and other deposit institutions to verify a company’s payment record before extending credit.

In contrast, bills of exchange are rarely used commercially. In the event of defaults, they offer creditors certain safeguards, including access to special collection proceedings with instruments for negotiation under the civil procedures code (juicio cambiario). Bills of exchange that have been guaranteed by a bank can be somewhat difficult to obtain, but they do limit the risk of payment default by offering creditors recourse to the endorser of the bill of exchange.

Electronic transfers via the SWIFT network, widely used by Spanish banks, are a fast, fairly reliable and cheap payment instrument, provided the purchaser orders payment in good faith. If the buyer fails to order a transfer, the legal recourse is to institute ordinary proceedings, based on the unpaid invoice. Banks in Spain have also been implementing SEPA standards for euro-denominated payments.

Debt collection

Unless there are special clauses included in the commercial contract, the applicable rate of interest is that applied by the European Central Bank in its most recent refinancing operation (performed prior to the first calendar day of the half year concerned), with an additional eight percentage points. The rate is published by the Finance Minister every six months, in the Boletín Oficial del Estado. The statute of limitations for ordinary claims is five years.

 

Amicable phase

There are no formalities or conditions for the dispatch of a reminder to the debtor, but it is advisable to send a claim to the debtor first. The creditor can obtain guarantees for the payment of the debt.

 

Legal proceedings

If no settlement agreement is reached with the customer, the creditor can initiate a legal collection process, using civil procedure law (ley de Enjuiciamento civil).

 

Exchange proceedings

Exchange proceedings are used for claims based on bills of exchange, promissory notes and cheques. A judge of the first instance (juzgado de primera instancia) verifies that the ‘exchange title’ has been correctly implemented and then orders the debtor to make payment of both the principal amount and the late interests and costs, within ten days. The judge will also order a seizure for security (embargo preventivo) on the debtor’s assets, equivalent to the outstanding amount. The debtor has ten days to dispute the ruling.

If there is no payment received or opposition within the prescribed time, the judge will order enforcement measures. If necessary, the judicial representative will carry out attachment. When claims are contested, a court hearing is held to examine both parties’ arguments and a judgement should be handed down within ten additional days. Although this is time frame that is prescribed under Spanish law, it is rarely adhered to by the courts.

 

Ordinary proceedings

In addition to the juicio cambiario, creditors unable to reach a payment settlement out of court can enforce their rights through a civil procedure (juicio declarativo). Civil procedures are divided into ordinary proceedings (juicio ordinario) for claims of over €6,000 and oral proceedings (juicio verbal) – a more simplified system – for smaller claims. Both proceedings are initiated with a lawsuit served on the debtor.

The claimant is required to explain the facts of his claim and provide all supporting documents – either originals, or copies that have been certified by a public notary – on filing its initial petition. Prior to the investigation of the case, the judge will summon the parties during a first hearing (audiencia previa), using ordinary proceedings, to encourage a conciliation. If this is unsuccessful, the lawsuit will be pursued. The court can then order specific measures to clarify issues or facts that remain unclear, before passing judgment.

 

Monitory proceedings (Juicio monitorio)

For monetary, liquid and overdue claims, whatever the outstanding amount (previously limited to up to €250,000), creditors can now benefit from a more flexible summary procedure. The filing of a petición inicial is directly submitted to the judge of first instance (juzgado de primera instancia) where the debtor is located. After reviewing the supporting documents, the judge can order the debtor to pay within 20 days.

If the debtor does not respond, the judicial representative will inform the judge and request confirmation of the decision in favour of the initial request. The judicial representative then hands down a ruling confirming the conclusion of monitory proceedings, which is transmitted to the creditor. This allows the creditor to contact the Enforcement Office for the next phase. If the debtor disputes the ruling and provides motivated arguments for this within a written statement signed by a barrister and a solicitor, a full trial on the case will be instigated.

 

Enforcement of a Legal Decision

When all appeal venues have been exhausted, domestic court decisions become enforceable. If the debtor fails to satisfy the judgment within 20 days, the Court Clerk, upon request, can seek out the debtor’s assets and seize them.

Decisions on foreign awards rendered by EU countries benefit from enforcement conditions, such as EU Payment orders and the European Enforcement Order. Judgements rendered by non-EU countries are recognised and enforced, provided that the issuing country is party to a bilateral or multilateral agreement with Spain. If no such agreement is in place, Spanish exequatur proceedings will be followed.

 

Insolvency Proceedings

Pre-insolvency proceedings

A debtor has the possibility of negotiating a formal refinancing agreement (acuerdo de refinanciacion formal) with his creditors. This agreement must be signed by the court. Within this agreement, the parties are free to write off as much of the debt as they deem necessary.

 

Bankruptcy proceedings

Bankruptcy proceedings are launched by filing a petition for an insolvency order. After examination of the petition, the judge makes an insolvency order. Creditors are expected to notify their claims within one month of publication of the insolvency order. The court appoints an insolvency manager, who examines the debtor’s financial situation and establishes a report on its debts. If there is no opposition to the report, the insolvency manager submits the final version to the judge. The judge subsequently orders the commencement of the arrangement phase with its repayment schedule, viability plan and alternative proposals for repayment.

During these proceedings, the debtor may file for liquidation:

  • upon petition of the debtor, at any time;
  • when the debtor is no longer able to make the scheduled payments or the obligations incurred, as defined in the arrangement;
  • upon petition of a creditor, for breach of the arrangement;
  • upon petition of the judicial administration, upon termination of professional or commercial activity.

The judicial administration draws up a liquidation plan in order to realise (sell) the assets, consisting of the bankruptcy estate, which is submitted to the judge for approval.

 

Liquidation

Liquidation in Spain aims to sell the company’s assets. During this phase, the company retains its legal persona. Liquidators are appointed to execute the process and they can also take over the function of administrative body and company representative. The liquidator cannot redistribute the company’s assets among its associates until all of its creditors have been paid and payment demands against the company have been settled. Aggrieved creditors can contest transactions that they believe may have taken place illegally during the allocation of the assets.

The Government approved  Decree and Law 3/20 of September 18, with urgent measures in order to recover the judicial activity after the emergency stage. Recently, Law 3/20 has been modified. In a nutshell, debtors with an approved refinancing agreement are allowed to submit a modification proposal or a new application till 14 March 2021. Companies or freelancers that are insolvent will not have the obligation to request the bankruptcy declaration until 31 December 2020. Until 14 March 2021, the judges will not admit the necessary bankruptcy applications submitted from the state of emergency period to 14 march 2020. The new Law establishes that the debtor does not have the obligation to request a liquidation stage until 14 March 2021, if he has sent a modification proposal of agreement. Regarding the pre-insolvency stage, the new Law gives 6 months (used to be 4 months) to request insolvency since the date of the communication. Finally, to avoid the sure certain of insolvencies, the new Law established several changes in procedures accelerate the treatment of this insolvency process, i.e. deleting trials in incidents matters, trying to use more telematics systems, video conferences, etc.

Insolvency trend Spain
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