Spanish Banks Prefer ‘No Sale’ Above Paper Loss

A compelling tale of how Spanish banks refuse to acknowledge the true value of the repossessed properties on their books in an attempt to maintain the paper value of their business.

It is always reassuring for a writer when first hand experience meets gut instinct and ‘rumour’. This was recently the case when I became involved in the sale negotiations for a hotel in Spain together with an adjoining Spanish villa. Both these properties ‘belonged’ to the same owner who has sadly gone bankrupt – so the properties were the subject of formal repossession proceedings by a major Spanish bank.

I happen to know a lot about the two properties as the owner was a friend of mine and the properties are in my local area. Both properties were bought more or less at the height of the Spanish property boom and both were very heavily mortgaged. Indeed, the hotel had a 100% mortgage (as of December 2007) with the total debt to the Spanish bank – for both properties – some 1,265,000 Euros.

When (in September 2009) I was approached by someone who was interested in buying both properties I had to get in touch with the Spanish bank concerned to negotiate the possibility of a sale. Initially, I was told that the discount for a buyer would be 30,000 Euros off the bank debt. This, needless to say, was laughable – given the 1,265,000 sale price and the fact that Spanish property since 2007 has probably fallen, for the most part, in excess of 30%.

Grumbling, I was eventually passed onto the Spanish bank’s head office to the manager dealing with the repossession of both properties. After some bargaining I managed to get the initial discount bettered by around another 100,000 Euros. So, after a struggle, the sale price for both properties (if bought together) stood at very roughly 1,1,00,000 Euros. However, the 15% discount by the Spanish bank hardly made the properties a bargain – particularly as the hotel had not been open for almost a year and therefore had negligible ‘goodwill’.

My ‘buyer’ asked me to try again to negotiate down the price of the two Spanish properties. This I attempted but with a complete lack of success. I met an absolute barrier regarding the price. The Spanish bank said it was ridiculous to reduce the price further as the valuations (from 2007!!) for the two properties showed them to be worth pretty much the existing bank debt of 1,265,000. Finally, I was advised that the Spanish bank would not, under any circumstances, pay a fee or commission (to anyone) who introduced a ‘buyer’! This made any further negotiations pointless with a clear message attached…

The point of relating this is to illustrate that the ‘stories’ of the Spanish banks giving less away than they appear on their Spanish property sales appears to be true. Furthermore, clearly it is not in a Spanish bank’s interest to sell repossessed properties when the disparity of their debt to the current value of their properties is considerable. The reason is obvious:

If a Spanish bank has a repossession property on its books it will probably not show those properties as a ‘loss’ on the ‘books’ whilst it holds a valuation (albeit an old one!) that shows that the value matches, more or less (and very much in theory), the debt. However, should the Spanish bank sell the properties (almost certainly at a loss) then on the bank’s ‘books’ the loss is absolutely and irrevocably proven. In other words, it is better for a bank not to sell some properties which have big losses attached – whilst it can maintain that the loss does not exist.

Of course, this is a book keeping exercise. However, if I am right, then it may well suggest that the Spanish banks (as many suspect) are hiding far greater losses than they have so far admitted.