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Spanish Economy Continues to Falter

Posted by Admin on June 20, 2010

9 Reasons Why Spain Is A Dead Economy Walking

JUNE 16, 2010

in ANALYSIS,INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY

By Michael Snyder

Barring an economic bailout of mammoth proportions, the economy of Spain is completely and totally doomed.  The socialist government of Spain is drowning in debt, unemployment is running rampant and everywhere you turn there are major economic problems.  So will Spain be the next Greece?  No.  When the economy of Spain implodes it is going to be a whole lot worse for the world economy.  The economy of Spain is more than four times the size of the economy of Greece.  Spain accounts for 11.5 percent of eurozone GDP while Greece only accounts for approximately 2.5 percent.  Spain is the 4th largest economy in the 16 nation eurozone and it is the 10th largest economy in the world.  If the economy of Spain fails it will cause a shockwave that will be felt in every corner of the globe.  In fact, there are quite a few analysts that believe if Spain defaults it would ultimately lead to the breakup of the eurozone.

So will the EU step up and bail out Spain?  Well, there are rumors that EU officials have begun work on a bailout package for Spain which is likely to run into the hundreds of billions of dollars, but on Monday the European Commission, the Spanish government and the German government all denied that the European Union was preparing a bailout for the Spanish economy.

Of course we all know that politicians don’t always tell us the truth.

So who knows what is going on over there right now.

But the reality is that the economy of Spain is not going to make it much longer without serious help, and some EU officials are already using apocalyptic language to describe what an economic collapse in Spain would mean.

For example, EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso recently warned that democracy could completely collapse in Greece, Spain and Portugal unless urgent action is taken to tackle the burgeoning European debt crisis.

So could democracy actually fail in those nations?

Well, considering the fact that Greece, Spain and Portugal only became democracies in the 1970s, and that all three of those countries have a history of military coups, such a scenario is not that far-fetched.

Without a doubt there would be serious public unrest in those nations if public services collapsed because their governments ran out of money.

So are there signs that the economy of Spain is about to collapse?

Well, yes, there are quite a few of them.

The following are 9 reasons why Spain is a dead economy walking….

#1) Even before this most recent crisis, unemployment in Spain was approaching Great Depression levels.  Spain now has the highest unemployment rate in the entire European Union. More than 20 percent of working age Spaniards were unemployed during the first quarter of 2010.  If people aren’t working they can’t pay taxes and they can’t provide for their families.

#2) In an effort to stimulate the economy, Spain’s socialist government has been spending unprecedented amounts of money and that skyrocketed the government budget deficit to a stunning 11.4 percent of GDP in 2009.  That is completely unsustainable by any definition.

#3) The total of all public and private debt in Spain has now reached 270 percent of GDP.

#4) The Spanish government has accumulated way more debt than it can possibly handle, and this has forced two international ratings agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor’s, to lower Spain’s long-term sovereign credit rating.  These downgrades are making it much more expensive for Spain to finance its debt at a time when they simply can’t afford to pay more interest on their debt.

#5) There are 1.6 million unsold properties in Spain.  That is six times the level per capita in the United States.  Considering how bad the U.S. real estate market is, that statistic is incredibly alarming.

#6) The new “green economy” in Spain has been a total flop.  Socialist leaders promised that implementing hardcore restrictions on carbon emissions and forcing the nation over to a “green economy” would result in a flood of “green jobs”.  But that simply did not happen.  In fact, a leaked internal assessment produced by the government of Spain reveals that the “green economy” has been an absolute economic nightmare for that nation.  Energy prices have skyrocketed in Spain and the new “green economy” in that nation has actually lost more than two jobs for every job that it has created.  But Spain so far seems unwilling to undo all of the crazy regulations that they have implemented.

#7) Spain’s national debt is so onerous that they are now caught in a debt spiral where anything they do will harm the economy.  If they cut government expenditures in an effort to get debt under control it will devastate economic growth and crush badly needed tax revenues.  But if the Spanish government keeps borrowing money their credit rating will continue to decline and they will almost certainly default.  The truth is that the Spanish government is caught in a “no win” situation.

#8) But even now the IMF is projecting that the Spanish economy is going nowhere fast.  The International Monetary Fund says there will be no positive GDP growth in Spain until 2011, at which point it will still be below one percent.  As bleak as that forecast is, many analysts believe that it is way too optimistic considering the fact that Spain’s economy declined by about 3.6 percent in 2009 and things are rapidly getting worse.

#9) The Spanish population has gotten used to socialist handouts and they are not going to accept public sector pay cuts, budget cuts to social programs and hefty tax increases easily.  In fact, there is likely to be some very serious social unrest before all of this is said and done.  On May 21st, thousands of public sector workers took to the streets of Spain to protest the government’s austerity plan.  But that was only an appetizer.  Spain’s two main unions are calling for a major one day general strike to protest the government’s planned reforms of the country’s labor market.  The truth is that financial shock therapy does not go down very well in highly socialized nations such as Greece and Spain.  In fact, the austerity measures that Spain has been pressured to implement by the IMF have proven so unpopular that many are now projecting that Spain’s socialist government will be forced to call early elections.

So what is going to happen in Spain?

The truth is that nobody can predict for sure how things are going to play out over the coming weeks and months.

But what everyone can agree on is that the stakes are incredibly high.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, world famous economist Nouriel Roubini put it this way: “If Greece goes under, that’s a problem for the eurozone. If Spain goes under, it’s a disaster.”

But right now the entire population of Spain (along with much of the rest of the world) is completely distracted by the World Cup.  As long as the Spanish team does well, that is likely to keep the Spanish population sedated.  But if the Spanish team gets knocked out of the tournament early that will put the entire Spanish population in a really, really bad mood and that could mean a really chaotic summer for the nation of Spain.

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Fiscal Crises Threaten Europe’s Generous Benefits

Posted by Admin on May 26, 2010

Fiscal crises threaten Europe’s generous benefits

LONDON — Six weeks of vacation a year. Retirement at 60. Thousands of euros for having a baby. A good university education for less than the cost of a laptop.

The system known as the European welfare state was built after World War II as the keystone of a shared prosperity meant to prevent future conflict. Generous lifelong benefits have since become a defining feature of modern Europe.

Now the welfare state — cherished by many Europeans as an alternative to what they see as dog-eat-dog American capitalism — is coming under its most serious threat in decades: Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Deep budget cuts are under way across Europe. Although the first round is focused mostly on government payrolls — the least politically explosive target — welfare benefits are looking increasingly vulnerable.

“The current welfare state is unaffordable,” said Uri Dadush, director of the Carnegie Endowment’s International Economics Program. “The crisis has made the day of reckoning closer by several years in virtually all the industrial countries.”

Germany will decide next month just how to cut at least 3 billion euros ($3.75 billion) from the budget. The government is suggesting for the first time that it could make fresh cuts to unemployment benefits that include giving Germans under 50 about 60 percent of their last salary before taxes for up to a year. That benefit itself emerged after cuts to an even more generous package about five years ago.

“We have to adjust our social security systems in a way that they motivate people to accept regular work and do not give counterproductive incentives,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told news weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on Saturday.

The uncertainty over the future of the welfare state is undermining the continent’s self-image at a time when other key elements of post-war European identity are fraying.

Large-scale immigration from outside Europe is challenging the continent’s assumptions about its dedication to tolerance and liberty as countries move to control individual clothing — the Islamic veil — in the name of freedom and equality.

Deeply wary of military conflict, many nations now find themselves nonetheless mired in Afghanistan on behalf of what was supposed to be a North Atlantic alliance, shying away from wholesale pullout while doing their utmost to keep troops from actual combat.

Demographers and economists began warning decades ago that social welfare was doomed by the aging of Europe’s baby boomers. Some governments had been trimming and reforming, but now almost all are scrambling to close deficits in order to prevent a wider collapse of confidence in the euro.

“We need to change, to adapt … for the sake of the protection of our social model,” European Union Commissioner Joaquin Almunia of Spain told reporters in Stockholm Thursday.

The move is risky: experts warn the cuts could undermine the growth needed to pull budgets back on a sustainable path.

On Monday, Britain unveils 6 billion pounds ($8.6 billion) in cuts — mostly to government payrolls and expenses. The government has promised to raise the age at which citizens receive a state pension — up from 60 to 65 for women, and from 65 to 66 for men. It also plans to toughen the welfare regime, requiring the unemployed to try to find jobs in order to collect benefits.

Britain says it will limit child tax credits and scrap a 250-pound ($360) payment to the families of every newborn. Ministers are reviewing the long-term affordability of the country’s generous public sector pensions.

Funding for Britain’s nationalized health care service will be protected under the new government, however, and should rise each year to 2015.

France’s conservative government is focusing on raising the retirement age. Many workers can now retire at 60 with 50 percent of their average salary. Extra funds are available for retired civil servants, those with three or more children, military veterans and others.

A parliamentary debate is planned for September. Unions in France are organizing a national day of protest marches and strikes on Thursday to demand protection of wages and the retirement age.

In Spain, billions in cuts to state salaries go into effect next month, and the Socialist government has frozen increases in pensions meant to compensate for inflation for at least two years.

“They’ve hit us really hard,” said Federico Carbonero, 92, a retired soldier. He said he was unlikely to live long enough to see the worst of the pension freeze, but had no doubts he would have to start relying on savings to maintain his lifestyle.

Spain is cutting assistance payments for disabled people by 300 million euros ($375 million) and did away with a three-year-old bonus of 2,500 euros ($3,124.25) per new baby. It also has proposed hiking the retirement age for men from 65 to 67.

Countries in northern Europe have done a far better of reforming social welfare and have unemployment systems that focus on re-employing people instead of making their unemployment comfortable, said Gayle Allard, a professor of economic environment and country analysis at the Instituto de Empresa in Madrid.

Denmark and other Nordic countries are known for the world’s highest taxes and most generous cradle-to-grave benefits. Denmark has implemented a system known broadly as “flexicurity,” which combines flexibility for employers to hire and fire workers with financial security and training to prepare for new jobs.

Denmark had a 7.5 percent unemployment rate in the first quarter of this year, well below the EU average of 9.6 percent. Swedish and Finnish unemployment stood at 8.9 percent. Norway, with some of the world’s most generous unemployment benefits fully funded by oil for the forseeable future, has Europe’s lowest jobless rate, just 3 percent in April.

Southern European countries that have not moved toward reforming welfare in the same ways are paying a steep price.

After sharp cutbacks imposed as the condition of an international bailout this month, Greeks must now contribute to pension funds for 40 instead of 37 years before retiring, and the age of early retirement is set to 60 at the earliest.

Civil servants with monthly salaries of above 3,000 euros ($3,750) will lose two extra months of salary — one paid at Christmas, the other split between Easter and summer vacation.

In Portugal, seen as another potential candidate for bailout, the government is focusing on hikes in income, corporate and sales taxes and has avoided drastic changes to welfare entitlements. Unemployment benefits will be cut somewhat and the out-of-work will have to accept any job paying more than 10 percent more than what they would receive in unemployment benefits.

The government is also stepping up checks on welfare claims, freezing public sector pay and slicing public investment.

“There’s been a lack of willingness to shift away from welfare as purely social protection towards an approach which has been in much of northern Europe in recent years, which is welfare as social investment,” said Iain Begg, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s European Institute.

Otto Fricke, a budget expert for the Free Democrats, the coalition partner of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told The Associated Press that no decisions on cuts have been made, but everything is on the table except education, pension funds and financial aid to developing countries. At least one high-ranking CDU member has called for the idea of protecting education to be re-examined, however.

German public education, which was virtually free until 2005, when some of Germany’s 16 states started charging tuition fees of 1000 euros ($1,250) a year.

Virtually all Germany’s students pay that much or less to attend state-funded universities, including elite institutions. Education isn’t as cheap elsewhere in Europe but the 3,290 pounds ($4,720) per year paid by British students at Cambridge is still far less than Americans pay at comparable schools like Harvard, where annual tuition comes in just shy of $35,000.

The idea of cutting education is proving hard to swallow in the face of Germany’s promise to contribute up to 147.6 billion euros ($184.5 billion) in loan guarantees to protect Greece and other countries that use the euro from bankruptcy.

“I am worried that this crisis will also affect me on a personal level, for example, that universities in Germany will raise the tuition in order to pay the loan they give to Greece,” said Karoline Daederich, a 22-year-old university student from Berlin.

Associated Press writers Juergen Baetz and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin, Malin Rising and Karl Ritter in Stockholm, David Stringer in London, Veronika Oleksyn in Vienna, Harold Heckle in Madrid, Elaine Ganley in Paris, Elena Becatoros in Athens and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed to this report.

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