Rajoy's hesitation could hurt Spain

Oct. 15, 2012 at 4:06 PM
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MADRID, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Economists say Spain's hesitation to ask for international assistance could make matters worse when the government gets around to asking for help.

"If you wait too long, you will be forced into a program that will have much tougher conditions -- so better to ask for it now," said former economic minister Jose Manuel Campa, who is now an IESE Business School professor at the University of Navarra in Madrid.

The New York Times reported Monday that Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has several reasons for hesitating to seek an international loan, including a request from Germany, where taxpayers are weary of bailing out other countries.

The European Central Bank pledged in September to buy short-term government bonds on the secondary market from countries that have asked for assistance from the European Stability Mechanism, a $648 billion fund set up to buy bonds directly from governments.

That ECB pledge alone pushed the Spanish government's borrowing costs below 6 percent, which has bought Rajoy some time. But that only means Spain is potentially coming closer each day to a crisis, at which point the terms of an international loan would be even harsher than what they would be today, analysts said.

The government, so far, has managed to avoid cutting pensions in Spain. But that budget item accounts for $129 billion out of Madrid's $452 billion annual spending package and with that large a percentage of the budget it would be very difficult to make any more budget cuts without cutting into the pension program, an analyst said.

"The government will have to take additional measures to reach the 6.3 percent of gross domestic product target. They will need to freeze pensions or even reduce them," said economist Federico Steinberg at the Real Instituto Elcano research group.

Meanwhile, the economy is hard pressed to move forward without help. From a year earlier, car sales were down 38 percent in September, the first month a sales tax increased from 18 percent to 21 percent, adding about $850 to the price of a new car, the president of an automobile retail association said.

"We are worried about the market because sales are so dependent on the economy," said Juan Antonio Sanchez Torres, the president of Ganvam.

"The recent value added tax increase raised the cost of a car by $841 on average. That has an important psychological impact that can stop consumption," he said.

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