Spain dodges fallout from Portugal bailout request

By Ciaran Giles

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 7 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Youths march during a demonstration in Madrid, Thursday, April 7, 2011. Spanish university students and youth groups are protesting against a youth unemployment rate of 40 percent and austerity measures taken to end Spain's debt crisis.

Paul White, Associated Press

MADRID — Spain dodged fallout Thursday from Portugal's request for a bailout, with Spanish Finance Minister Elena Salgado insisting that her nation is not next in line for international help — and markets appeared to agree.

Investors accepted lower interest rates in an auction of three-year bonds seen as a first test of Spain's financial health after Portugal announced Wednesday it would seek a long-predicted rescue package it was desperately trying to avoid.

The Spanish Treasury said it sold €4.13 billion ($5.9 billion) Thursday morning at an average interest rate of 3.57 percent, down slightly from 3.59 percent in the last such auction March 3.

Salgado told the Cadena Ser radio station that outside help for the eurozone's fourth largest economy "is absolutely ruled out" because the Spanish economy "is more diversified, more powerful with sound basics, and is much more competitive" than Portugal's.

Portugal's bailout request also appeared to have little impact on Spain's borrowing rates in the secondary market. In afternoon trading, the yield on Spain's 10-year bonds was at 5.27 percent, up marginally from 5.21 percent on Wednesday. The spread, or difference, with Germany's equivalent rate was stable at 182 basis points, indicating investors are not any more worried about the country's finances.

Spain's main stock index, meanwhile, was up 0.1 percent in afternoon trading.

Despite the positive news for the eurozone's fourth largest economy, analysts said Spain's outlook is still shaky and will depend largely on whether the country's troubled savings banks — called "cajas" — can raise money to meet new core capital ratios set by the government.

The Bank of Spain said in February that the cajas are holding about €100 billion ($143 billion) in "potentially problematic" property assets, the result of loans gone bad leftover from Spain's extended construction boom that turned bust two years ago.

"The coming weeks and months will be key in determining whether the market views Spain to be in the clear," said Jane Foley, an analyst at Rabobank International.

But few economists think Spain is in line to become the fourth member of the eurozone's bailout club anytime soon, thanks to a raft of unpopular austerity measures pushed through by the Socialist government, including tax increases, public sector wage cuts and the raising of the retirement age from 65 to 67.

"Spain will not have the same problems as Portugal has been facing because it has been addressing those problems for quite some time," said Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Dan Seiver, a finance professor at San Diego State University, said there is now a much lower risk that speculators will target other nations in the eurozone, because the weakest countries have received — or are about to receive — bailouts.

Nevertheless, Spain faces extremely difficult times in the years ahead. Unemployment stands at eurozone-high 20 percent with grim growth prospects.

Thousands of young Spaniards demonstrated Thursday night against the austerity measures in Madrid, waving signs that said "Youth With No Future, Youth With No Jobs, Youth With Nothing for Retirement."

"The measures they are putting in place to get out of the crisis are only going to increase inequality," said university student Enrique Valdivieso, 25. "This situation affects young adults the most, and we're stuck in the most precarious situation possible: We're studying but we have no future."

Protester Carlos Rodriguez said he's a trained graphic artist, but can't find a full-time job so he still lives with his parents while scrapping for freelance work.

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