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Title: Spanish House Prices Tumble
Author: Fraser Trevor
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  Spanish house prices tumbled at their fastest pace on record in the fourth quarter, a sign that a long-running property bust will continue...

 

Spanish house prices tumbled at their fastest pace on record in the fourth quarter, a sign that a long-running property bust will continue to weigh on Spanish households and banks. House prices fall over 11.2% in the fourth-quarter of 2011-the fastest contraction on record. WSJ's Sara Schaefer Munoz has been looking at the data and analyzes how this affects its efforts to deal with its debt crisis. House prices fell on average by 11.2% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, well below the 7.4% decline in the third quarter, while prices of used homes was down 13.7% in the period, the country's statistics agency INE said Thursday. Both readings are by far the worst since INE started recording countrywide prices in 2007, the peak year for Spain's decade-long property boom. Previously, annual price declines had bottomed out at 7.7% in 2009, and analysts say house prices have only rarely fallen year-to-year since at least the 1970s. The drop indicates Spanish property prices are now correcting at a similar pace to that seen in the U.S. soon after the 2008 financial crisis, and may fall further at least this year. In previous quarters, price drops were somewhat contained, the result of support efforts by the government and banks, fearful of the effect of a housing collapse. Spanish banks hold more than €400 billion ($521.32 billion) worth of loans to the construction and real-estate sector, backed by collateral that loses value as property prices slide further. The amount is equivalent to around 40% of Spain's gross domestic product. TK Raj Badiani, an economist at IHS Global Insight, said government data indicates Spanish house prices are down more than 20% from the 2007-2008 peak, even though other evidence points to a possible drop of more than 30%. "The continued imbalance between the supply and demand of housing suggests that house prices will continue to fall throughout 2012," Mr. Badiani said. "The outlook remains bleak, with the demand for housing expected to shrink throughout 2012 with debt-laden households struggling to cope with a devastated labor market and limited access to credit." Last month, Spain's Finance Minister Luis de Guindos presented a clean-up plan that will force banks to set aside an additional €50 billion this year to cover losses from souring loans, mostly property-related. The plan also seeks to allow a faster correction of the property market this year, so that lower prices trigger some demand in the moribund sector. Earlier this week, INE data showed Spain's property sales continued their recent slide in January, with a 26% annual decline. Last year, just over 361,000 homes were sold in Spain, less than half the number sold in 2007. The clean-up plan and other reforms may only have a delayed effect on the euro zone's fourth-largest economy, the Ernst & Young consultancy said in a report. A lack of demand amid an economic contraction that may stretch until 2014 should keep house prices falling for the next three years, Ernst & Young added. Meanwhile, Spain's bond auction was a mixed bag Thursday, with the Treasury selling slightly less than the maximum targeted amount but paying mostly lower yields to investors. The infusion of cheap cash from the European Central Bank has buttressed bond markets across the 17-nation euro zone, but not always equally. Spain's government bond market hasn't kept pace, while Italy, which at the end of last year had been lumped together with Spain as possibly becoming the "next domino," has swapped places with Spain as the country having to pay less of a premium on its debt. The contrasting fortunes also reflects the market's confidence in Italy's ability to make progress on the fiscal front while Spain falters. Italy's economy is likely to record a primary surplus in 2012. Spain unilaterally revised its budget deficit targets and analysts are skeptical if even those targets will be met.

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