In January 2017 Spain’s three biggest banks, Banco Santander, BBVA and Caixa Bank, have issued bonds for 8.6 billion euros. This is a huge increase compared to January 2016. What do they know that we don't?
First of all, let's clarify that january is a usual month for debt issuance by banks and other companies. So there is nothing unusual about the timing per se. Although I will come back to this in a moment.
So let's focus on the emount. The total amount of debt issued by bankds and corporations in 2017 so far is almost 50 billion euros, therefore the 8.6 billion by the big banks doesn't look to be out of order compared to the rest of the company sectors. However, if we compare this number to the equivalent in 2016 it is almost double! I.e. all European companies have gone on a borrowing binge in 2017! I do not know as to the why, I can only speculate. But I do like to speculate, especially if it has the potential to affect property sales on the Costa del Sol or my house's value.
One reason is the low cost of borrowing. The ECB has maintained interest rates low for a while now while also buying corporate bonds, and over the last few weeks rates have fallen even more. For example Santander has issued a 1.25 billion euro bond with only 0.875% coupon. If only we could get a mortgage with that rate! So one reason could quite legitimately be that banks believe they won't get a better financing deal anytime soon. On the other hand, this could equally mean that they believe rates will rise soon because inflation is rising, so maybe we need to watch our side of interest rates for signs of increases.
Another possible reason could be something more sinister - perhaps they see instability in 2017. Perhaps the actual Brexit or the unpredictability of the Trump government or French/Italian elections etc, have caused them to increase their financial cushion. Santander effectively stated as much when it laid out its financing plans to 2018, in order " to meet the new requirements for loss-aborbency and capital".
I left the most optimistic reason for last. When companies (and banks) increase their borrowing and they do not use it to buy back their stock, it is a classic sign of positive expectations in the economy. The economic theory says that they want to be ready to expand, to grab a bigger share of their markets, and in the case of banks, to lend to more people than their competitors. As I said, all the above is speculation but increased borrowing by virtually the whole of the EU corporate world is a textbook indication of forthcoming expansion.
In conclusion, we simply need to watch for more signs, especially if interest rates stay low while the economy improves. That would be very beneficial for real estate markets in Spain. Watch this space and thanks for reading!