Catalonia’s Political Crisis Snowballs into an Economic Crisis
Catalonia’s Political Crisis Snowballs into an Economic Crisis from Wolf Street
Independence would be “horrific” and amount to “financial suicide,” said Spain’s Economy Minister. But financial suicide for whom?
It’s not easy being a Catalan bank these days. In the last few weeks the region’s two biggest lenders, Caixabank and Sabadell, have lost €9 billion of deposits as panicked customers in Catalonia have moved their money elsewhere. Many customers in other parts of Spain have also yanked their savings out of Catalan banks, but less out of fear than out of anger at the banks’ Catalan roots.
Moving their official company address to other parts of Spain last week may have helped ease that resentment, allowing the two banks to recoup some €2 billion of deposits. But the move has angered the roughly 2.5 million pro-independence supporters in Catalonia, many of whom have accounts at one of the two banks. Today they expressed that anger by withdrawing cash en masse.
Many protesters made symbolic withdrawals of €155 — a reference to Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which Madrid activated today to impose direct rule over the semi-autonomous region. Others opted for €1,714 in a nod to the year 1714, when Barcelona was captured by the troops of King Felipe V, who then proceeded to suppress the rights of rebellious regions.
Some bank customers withdrew a lot more than that. The council of Argentona, a small town outside Barcelona, closed its accounts at Caixabank and Sabadell and transferred all €2.25 million of its funds to a branch of the Dutch lender Triodos. If other institutional or business customers follow Argentona’s example, Caixabank and Sabadell could have a big problem on their hands.
The fallout of political instability in Catalonia is being felt across the whole economy. Real estate investment in the region, both domestic and foreign, is drying up. Starwood European Real Estate Finance, the European subsidiary of the U.S. property giant Starwood Capital, has announced that it’s shifting its focus away not only from Catalonia but Spain as a whole, and toward more stable European markets.
It’s not just investments that have been put on hold. People are not spending much either. Important consumer purchases have been put on hold until some semblance of stability returns, and people are not going out as much as before. Based on my own observations, the bars are emptier and the streets are quieter.
Tourism to Catalonia, Spain’s most visited region last year, slumped by 15% in the two weeks following the referendum on independence, according toindustry experts. Catalonia received about 18 million visitors last year, and tourism accounts for around 12% of the region’s GDP, with industry and trade as the other main contributors.