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Spanish Business News

The latest business, economic,property, stock market and financial news from Spain. Keep up to date with what is happening with the Spanish economy, stock market, the economic crisis, the euro zone debt sovereign debt crisis and the Spanish property market.

Ryanair rejects UK ruling over card charges
29 June 2011

RYANAIR HAS rejected a ruling by the UK’s consumer and competition authority that it should stop imposing a £6 charge on flight bookings that appears only after customers log their credit and debit card details, even though the regulator has warned that it could take legal action.

Following a three-month investigation, the Office of Fair Trading described the fees as “hidden rip- off surcharges”, pointing out that British customers paid out £300 million in such charges to airlines, including Ryanair and other travel companies, every year.

Such fees should be included in the price from the beginning of the transaction, the authority said, although it urged the British government to pass legislation quickly to block the imposition of any charges on debit card payments.

Credit card surcharges, properly flagged, should be allowed because they were more expensive to handle, said the authority.

Ryanair imposes a £6 charge for each flight. It said yesterday it would not yield to the authority’s threat because the existence of the charge was made clear on its web page.

The charge was not a fee for using debit or credit cards, a spokesman told The Irish Times , but rather was an “administration fee” required “to defray the substantial costs associated with our booking system”. In addition, the fee could be avoided entirely by using a Ryanair-approved debit card, he said.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the authority’s goods and consumer group, warned that legal action would be taken against any company that failed to comply, adding that internet retailing had brought massive benefits, “but people are frustrated about being asked to pay for paying.

“Consumers find it harder to shop around and find the best deal if they have to invest time and effort in discovering surcharges,” he added. “This also weakens competition between retailers which is bad news for the UK economy.”

Monarch Airlines has already scrapped its debit card fee following the Office of Fair Trading inquiry, which was prompted by a complaint from consumer magazine Which? Its chief executive, Peter Vicary Smith, urged companies “to be upfront and fair” and not “drag their feet” before complying.

Responding to demands for speedy action, British consumer minister Edward Davey said it would work with the authority and the European Union to ensure that customers were not faced with “excessive surcharges”.

Source: Irish Times

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Travel Firms Ordered To Scrap Card Charges
28 June 2011

Airlines and travel companies face the threat of legal action if they continue to spring hidden charges on customers who pay by debit and credit cards.

An investigation by the Office for Fair Trading (OFT) found "considerable evidence" of drip-pricing - where surcharges are added to the total price only after people have clicked through a number of web pages.

The watchdog described the practice as "misleading" as it released findings of a 90-day review following a super-complaint by Which?, the independent consumer body.

However, some airlines, such as Ryanair, said all "optional" fees are avoidable and that the investigation would not change the way it did business.

The OFT did not name the worst offenders, but pointed out that easyJet charges £8 per card transaction after customers pass through eight web pages. Ryanair adds £6 after four pages.

The OFT is asking the Government to change the law so that all debit card surcharges are scrapped.

It says that a number of rail, airline and ferry companies have already agreed to scrap them, but some firms have refused point blank.

The OFT said it would consider legal action if the situation does not change.

The review points out that in many cases the consumer has no option but to use a credit or debit card and they are effectively being made to pay for paying.

One of the airlines to scrap debit card charges is Monarch.

A spokesman told Sky News: "There is no justification for charging excessive fees on credit and debit cards.

"We had already taken the decision to cancel debit card fees some time ago following an intensive six month review.

"Our customers expect an up front and transparent pricing structure from their airline and it's good to see that in light of this important decision, other airlines will now have to follow our lead."

The OFT did not explore credit card charges because of the complex, multi-layered pricing structure.

However, the Consumer Rights Directive, which is currently going through the European Parliament, would, if successful, force governments to ensure that only the bare minimum is charged for credit card transactions.

Which? welcomed the OFT's review and urged all online companies to take the recommendations onboard.

Source: Sky News

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Dixons Hit By Losses In Greece And Spain
24 June 2011

PC World and Currys owner Dixons Retail has posted a fall in profits as it swallowed heavy losses from Greece and Spain.

Underlying profits fell to £85.3m from £90.9m in the year to April, although Dixons said it was encouraged by flat operating profits in the UK and Ireland, where it also gained market share from rivals.

However, the group made a loss of £224.1m after making large accounting write-offs on the value of businesses in Spain and Greece and European e-commerce venture PIXmania.

Dixons, which has 1,269 stores across Europe, said its 642 outlets in the UK and Ireland saw sales fall by 5% to £3.8bn, with demand for white goods and iPads propping up the performance.

Trading in the last quarter was much weaker and on a like-for-like basis, second-half sales fell by 7%, with sales of televisions particularly weak.

However, it said its programme to refit stores and increase focus on customer service was helping it weather the tough market conditions.

It has concentrated on developing its 2-in-1 Currys and PC World stores and said all high street and out of town superstores will be in the format, with a small number of standalone Currys megastores in larger catchment areas.

The group said it expected to reduce its portfolio in the UK and Ireland to 450 stores from 642, comprising 70 high street stores, 310 superstores and 70 megastores.

On Wednesday, Kesa said its Comet business had incurred a loss of £8.9m and added that it would consider the sale of the UK business.

Source: Sky News

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Spain's Bad Loans Hit 16-Year High
18 June 2011

MADRID—Spain's central bank Friday said bad debt at the country's commercial banks soared in April to the worst level in 16 years, a sign that a three-year property bust that's hit developers and households is hurting the financial sector even as Spanish economic growth recovers modestly.

As a percentage of total credit, Spanish non-performing loans rose in April to 6.4%, the highest reading since June 1995, from 6.1% in March.

The increase came even as total loans dropped to €1.813 trillion ($2.58 trillion) the lowest level since mid-2008. This is because non-performing loans jumped 3.5% in April from March to €115.4 billion, the highest mark ever and 10 times as large than it was at the height of the property bubble in 2007.

Still, Emilio Botin, chairman of Banco Santander SA and one of Spain's most influential bankers, said Friday that non-performing loan ratios are close to peaking, and margins are improving across the industry after they dropped in recent quarters. Mr. Botin made the remark at the bank's annual general meeting in Santander in northern Spain.

The data come amid indications that sliding property prices in the euro zone's fourth-largest economy will remain a problem for some time.

Earlier this week, the country's National Statistics Institute said the decline in house prices accelerated again in the first quarter, after the government eliminated generalized tax incentives for home purchases.

First-quarter housing prices fell at a 3.5% quarterly rate and a 4.1% annual rate. That was the fastest rate of annual decline since the fourth quarter of 2009.

Falling property prices and a rise in foreclosures have already left some of the weakest savings banks, or "cajas," in need of cash. The Spanish government is now preparing to inject as much as over €7 billion in several cajas that have requested state aid due to their inability to raise fresh funds in the international market.

That number may increase if other cajas that plan to list shares over the summer are forced to delay such plans due to poor market conditions after weeks of stock-market losses.

Source: Bloomberg

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VAT to go up in Spain again?
16 June 2011

There's been a lot of talk recently in the Spanish media that IVA (the Spanish equivalent to VAT) may be increased in the near future.  IVA had already been increased in July 2010 from 16% to 18%, and from 7% to 8% for the lower IVA rate.

It was the Bank of Spain that proposed this increase.  However, the Spanish government rejected the proposal yesterday, so it looks like there will be no rise in the IVA rate, al least for now...

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Barclays said to be looking at Spain's Caja del Mediterraneo
08 June 2011

Last week Evolution Securities issued a note predicting Barclays may make a move to buy one of the country's struggling banks, along with a cash call of up to £5bn. Today come reports from Spain that Barclays is looking at Caja del Mediterraneo, which Evolution says is one of the weaker cajas (regional banks). According to Evolution's Arturo de Frias, Caja del Mediterraneo was part of Banco Base before it collapsed, but is now independent and needs as much as €2bn of new capital. De Frias said:

El Confidencial (Spanish newswire) is saying that Barclays wants to buy Caja del Mediterraneo (CAM), and has asked Bank of Spain for an EPA (a bad loan guarantees scheme).

In our recent note we anticipated Barclays was very interested in buying a Caja, but we said it should NOT buy one of the riskiest Cajas. Bank of Spain is trying to sell CAM to other banks but no success so far. So, if Confidencial is right, Barclays is going for a very weak caja.

As at March 2011, CAM had €4bn equity and needs at least €2bn more. The deal can have many structures but even if Barclays were to buy at 0.5 times book, and inject another €2bn, the deal might be worth around €4bn. Also, having in mind that CAM has €50bn risk weighted assets, it seems very difficult to imagine how Barclays could consolidate €50bn more RWA in its own balance sheet without raising, at the very least, €3bn of new capital (and as we said in the note, Barclays could also use the opportunity and raise £2bn more in order to top up their own capital ratios)

Finally, the integration of a Caja like CAM in the culture of a bank like Barclays would be really, really hard.

He repeated Evolution's sell rating on Barclays, but at the moment the shares are up 1p at 265p.

Source: The Guardian

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Accusations of vote buying in Manilva
07 June 2011

POLICE and Guardia Civil are investigating allegations of votes being bought by members of the Izquierda Unida party in Manilva during the recent municipal elections. The allegations were presented by the PSOE, Partido Popular and Agrupacion Socialista de Manilva, and were passed on to the authorities.

The Marbella Area Electoral Committee reports that Izquierda Unida obtained eight councillors in Manilva, although an initial report put the number at seven.

Meanwhile, Izquierda Unida has come forward to deny the accusations, and claim that the votes were obtained legally. The party has said that the other groups are trying to get them out of the town hall.

Source: Euro Weekly News

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Spain’s Castilla-La Mancha Region Can’t Pay Salaries, Mundo Says
06 June 2011

The Spanish region of Castilla-La Mancha has no money and can’t pay the salaries of its workers, El Mundo reported, citing Vicente Tirado, regional secretary of the People’s Party in the region.

Tirado, number two to Maria Dolores de Cospedal, the recently elected president of Castilla-La Mancha, said the party would have to look for ways to pay 76,000 salaries next month as the region is “totally broke” and owes 2 billion euros ($2.9 billion) in unpaid bills to suppliers, the newspaper said.

Santiago Moreno, the outgoing Socialist head of the region, denied the accusations, saying they are “totally false,” the newspaper said.

Source: Bloomberg

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Stress-Test Results Delayed on Cajas Concern, El Economista Says
03 June 2011

The European Banking Authority delayed the publication of bank stress-test results because of concerns about Spain’s savings banks, El Economista said, citing unidentified people in the financial industry.

The EBA, which is conducting the stress tests, has expressed its “amazement” to the Bank of Spain that all the Spanish lenders in the tests would pass, the newspaper said.

Spain’s central bank has asked for public aid to savings banks, or cajas, to be included in the stress-test calculations, even though the money hasn’t been disbursed, El Economista said. The EBA has doubts about the consequences of publishing numbers that are too optimistic, the newspaper said.

A call and a voicemail left by Bloomberg News for Franca Rosa Congiu, a spokeswoman for the EBA in London, weren’t immediately answered.

Source: Bloomberg

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Monarch to compete with Ryanair and easyJet as it steers away from package holidays
01 June 2011

Monarch is to end nearly four decades as a charter airline and shift its focus to scheduled flights, as more tourists shy away from traditional package holidays towards cheaper internet deals.

The brand revamp, labelled 'Fly your way. Every day', will see the British carrier compete directly with budget airlines such as easyJet and Ryanair, as well as British Airways (Other OTC: BABWF.PK - news) in the scheduled market.

By next summer, Monarch expects 80pc of its business to be scheduled, compared with just 20pc five years ago. The company will continue to offer package holidays, but this will only form a small part of its business.

In a bid to differentiate itself from other budget airlines, Monarch has also scrapped all debit card booking fees from today, while payments by credit card will incur a flat fee of £10 per booking.

Monarch said it was in negotiations with credit card companies to reduce fees further, and pledged to pass any savings on.

Conrad Clifford, chief executive of Monarch Group, said: “Obviously, we would prefer not have to charge customers for using any payment cards at all. But by abolishing debit card fees and introducing a flat fee for using credit cards, we are doing everything we can to be transparent and fair to our customers.”

Ryanair currently charges £12 per return flight for paying with a debit or credit card, while easyJet charges £8 per booking, plus extra fees for credit card payments.

Monarch travellers can also take advantage of services such as six inches of extra legroom for £9.99, and the option of booking in-flight meals in advance.

Mr Clifford added: “The refreshed brand is the visual manifestation of a strategic shift in the business that will give consumers the widest possible choice of services both on the ground and inflight.”

Monarch suffered heavy losses of £30.3m in 2009. It only just managed to turn this around in 2010, posting pre-tax profits of £1.4m, in the year to October 31.

Source: The Telegraph/Yahoo Finance

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