Business

Spain's banks see bad debts hit new high

Anti-evictions protester
Image caption The high level of evictions, and a number of suicides, have sparked protests and government intervention

Problem loans at Spain's banks hit a new all-time high in September, as the collapse of the country's property bubble continued to hurt the economy.

Bad debts, mostly loans to home buyers and property developers, reached 182bn euros ($233bn; £146bn) or 10.7% of bank assets, according to central bank data.

Spain's government announced a two-year suspension of evictions for the most vulnerable people last week.

Meanwhile, industrial orders fell sharply in Italy, separate data showed.

Total orders in September fell 12.8% from a year ago, and a seasonally-adjusted 4% from August, according to the Italian statistical office.

The data suggests that Italy's recession may be deepening again, after appearing to stabilise over the summer.

Repossession victims

The latest Spanish bank data continues a trend that set in during 2008, with the bursting of the country's property bubble.

The banking system's questionable loans were equivalent to 17.4% of Spain's annual economic output in September, up from 17.0% in August, and 1.5% at the end of 2007.

An estimated 350,000 families have been evicted from their homes since Spain's property market crashed. There have been widespread news reports in Spain of suicides by some repossession victims, prompting public outrage at the banks.

The European Union has lined up a 100bn-euro rescue loan for the banking system, although Madrid has yet to draw on the loan, in part because it is still unclear whether the Spanish government will be obliged to guarantee the debts.

An audit of 14 of the country's banks carried out by US consultants Oliver Wyman announced in June that the banks would need to raise 59bn euros of extra capital - money owed to the banks' shareholders - in order to absorb potential future losses on duff loans and investments.

In August, the government created a "bad bank" to take over troubled loans from the banks.

In a further attempt to boost the housing market, the trade ministry said on Monday that it would offer residency permits to foreigners who buy houses for more than 160,000 euros.

The initiative is aimed at Chinese and Russian buyers in particular, according to the ministry. There is an overhang of 700,000 unsold properties in Spain.

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