With Spanish 10Y yields hovering at a ‘relatively’ healthy 5%, having been driven inexorably lower on the promise of ECB assistance at some time in the future, the market has become increasingly unsure of just who it is that keeps bidding for this stuff. Well, wonder no longer. As the WSJ notes, Spain has been quietly tapping the country’s richest piggy bank, the Social Security Reserve Fund, as a buyer of last resort for Spanish government bonds – with at least 90% of the €65 billion ($85.7 billion) fund has been invested in increasingly risky Spanish debt. Of course, this is nothing new, the US (and the Irish) have been using quasi-government entities to fund themselves in a mutually-destructive circle-jerk for years – the only difference being there are other buyers in the Treasury market, whereas in Spain the marginal buyer is critical to support the sinking ship. The Spanish defend the use of pension funds to buy bonds as sustainable as long as it can issue bonds – and yet the only way it can actually get the bonds off in the public markets is through using the pension fund assets. The pensioners sum it up perfectly “We are very worried about this, we just don’t know who’s going to pay for the pensions of those who are younger now,” or those who are older we would add.
Spain has been quietly tapping the country’s richest piggy bank, the Social Security Reserve Fund, as a buyer of last resort for Spanish government bonds, raising questions about the fund’s role as guarantor of future pension payouts.
Now the scarcely noticed borrowing spree, carried out amid a prolonged economic crisis, is about to end, because there is little left to take. At least 90% of the €65 billion ($85.7 billion) fund has been invested in increasingly risky Spanish debt, according to official figures, and the government has begun withdrawing cash for emergency payments.
Although the trend has drawn little public attention or controversy, it has become a matter of concern for the relatively few independent financial analysts who study the fund, which is used to guarantee future payments of pensions.
In addition, there are worries that Social Security reserves for paying future pensioners are running out much quicker than expected.
In November, the government withdrew €4 billion from the reserve fund to pay pensions, the second time in history it had withdrawn cash. The first time was in September, when it took €3 billion to cover unspecified treasury needs.
Together, the emergency withdrawals surpassed the legal annual limit, so the government temporarily raised the cap.
“We are very worried about this,” says Dolores San Martín, president of the largest association of pensioners in Asturias, a small region that has one of the highest percentages of retirees in Spain. “We just don’t know who’s going to pay for the pensions of those who are younger now.”
After the crisis began, some of those countries began using the pension reserves for other contingencies, such covering a drop in foreign demand for their government bonds. Since the collapse of Ireland’s property boom, for example, most of its pension fund has been used to buy shares of nationalized banks and real estate for which no foreign buyers could be found.
“Most of the [Spanish] fund is an accounting trick,” said Javier Díaz-Giménez, an economics professor in Spain’s IESE business school. “The government is lending money to another branch of government.”
Spanish officials defend the heavy investment of the Social Security Reserve Fund in their government’s high-risk bonds. They say the practice is sustainable as long as Spain can continue borrowing in financial markets, and they predict the economy will start to recover late in 2013, easing the debt crisis.
“With foreign investors staying away from the Spanish debt market, you’re going to need all the support you can get from domestic players,” said Rubén Segura-Cayuela, an economist with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.
Spain’s commercial banks already have increased their Spanish government-bond portfolio by a factor of six since the start of the crisis in 2008, and now own one-third of government bonds in circulation.
The percentage of Spanish government debt held by the Social Security Reserve Fund stood at 55% in 2008, according to official figures; by the end of 2011 it had risen to 90%. Analysts say the percentage has continued to rise, even as international agencies have lowered Spain’s credit ratings.
Spain’s continued use of those reserves to buy its own bonds appears to violate a rule set by government decree that mandates their investment only in securities “of high credit quality and a significant degree of liquidity.”
But with unemployment now above 25% of the workforce and fewer wage earners paying in, the Social Security System is about €3 billion in deficit, according to government estimates.
And in other news, and completing the picture, if not the circle jerk, is news from Libremercado that according to the Spanish Confederantion of Employer Organizations, some 60% of the Spanish companies are now losing money. Via Google translate:
The President of the Spanish Confederation of Employer Organizations (CEOE) has estimated that “60 percent of the companies are in losses. Thing is that entrepreneurs are more thoughtful and went outside.”
Joan Rosell responds well after being asked if he receives “Spanish citizens too negative” in an interview with the newspaper La Razon, who heads a special titled “2013, the recovery begins,” and says that “social unrest is evident and business world is no exception. “
The president of the CEOE has considered that the private sector “has already made ??all the restructuring that had to do and the decline in employment in the private sector has virtually stopped. now is the restructuring of the public sector.”
After defining the first year of Mariano Rajoy in government as a year of shock, Rosell has considered that the Spanish economy remains “superfluous fat by many sides.’s Central government, regional and local. Avoid duplication. We are a country hiperregulado “.
It is not exactly clear why google translate had a problem with that last word…