- Spain to Guarantee Catalonia Creditor Payments After Referendum
Lenders who may be holding their breath over Spain’s secessionist upheaval can sleep calmly.
The central government will guarantee payment to all creditors of the Catalan regional administration, according to a Budget Ministry official. Regardless of Catalan separatists’ attempts to hold an illegal referendum for independence on Sunday and possibly declare independence from Spain, the ministry will make sure banks, suppliers and civil servants keep getting paid on time, the official said.
The assurance is important to keep Spain’s largest regional economy running smoothly while it services its more than 75 billion euros ($88 billion) in debt. Continuity is crucial to the major rating companies, because Spain ultimately guarantees the debt of all of its 17 regions. On Friday, S&P Global Ratings is due to consider its sovereign rating.
The Catalan government that’s seeking its own sovereignty oversees an economy comprising one-fifth of the nation’s total output. It has given itself a 48-hour deadline to declare a republic if a “Yes” vote wins on Sunday, although regional officials have given somewhat contradictory statements on the threat over the past few days.
Disputes over taxes and debt lie close to the heart of the years-long tussle between Catalan separatists, based in the semi-autonomous region governed from Barcelona, and the central government in Madrid, 315 miles away in the country’s heartland.
This month the national Budget Ministry took control of payments away from Catalan authorities after they stopped providing weekly spending reports. The move makes it easier for Madrid to stop public money from being used for a vote that’s been ruled unconstitutional.
Despite the budget intervention, Catalan authorities in fact are cooperating with authorities in Madrid to ensure all legitimate payments are made, the ministry official said Thursday. The exceptional controls will stay in place for as long as the Catalan administration continues to defy the law, the official added.
The Catalan’s own tax agency in Barcelona this year asked to become an intermediary between local taxpayers and the central government tax authority, promising to reimburse taxpayers for any fines incurred if the money wasn’t duly forwarded to Madrid.
Should any of those tax payments be withheld, the central authority will go after those taxpayers directly, the ministry official said.
Despite the political turbulence, markets have taken calm view. The yield spread between Spain’s 10-year benchmark bonds over similarly dated bunds was at 115 basis points on Friday at 11:20 in London, compared with its six-month average close of 118 basis points, as the nation extends a four-year economic recovery, and the European Central Bank buys more than 5 billion euros of Spanish public debt each month under a stimulus program.
The suggestion of renegotiating or walking away from debt is not new to the separatist debate. It emerged again this month when the region’s Parliament passed a law that said a newly independent Catalonia’s economic and financial obligations will be set by “the terms that are agreed” with the nation it’s leaving, rather than offering a guarantee of full payment.
That Sept. 8 law, which is a road-map for transition to a republic, was quickly suspended by the high court.