Spain’s bad bank sees profits surge

Spain's last big nationalized bank, Bankia, said on Monday its first-half net profit rose by almost half as its losses from bad loans dropped amid a pickup in the economy.

Spain's bad bank sees profits surge
Demonstrators who took part in March's March for Dignity destroyed the façade of a Bankia branch in Madrid. Photo: Pedro Armestre/AFP

Net profit in the first six months of 2014 hit €431 million ($579 million) the bank said in a statement, compared to €291 million a year ago.

In the second quarter of the year, net profit almost doubled to €245 million, up from €126 million in the same period in 2013.

"These results confirm that the bank is on the right track," said BFA-Bankia Group chairman Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri in a statement.

"Core banking business revenue has improved, cost reduction efforts are continuing, and both the balance of non-performing loans and the non-performing loan ratio have been reduced."

Bankia's surge in profit comes amid growing signs that Spain, with the eurozone's fourth-biggest economy, is gaining momentum after a property boom burst and floored growth.

Earlier this month Spain's central bank said the economy grew at its strongest rate for six years in the second quarter, expanding by 0.5 percent from the previous three months.

Bankia said its ratio of non-performing loans — cases in which borrowers have fallen behind or defaulted on payments — to total loans fell to 14.03 percent in the second quarter of 2014, from 14.65 percent at the end of December.

First-half results was also helped by an 11-percent reduction in operating expenses in the first half compared to a year ago.

"The fact that Bankia managed to increase customer deposits in the quarter and gain market share with a smaller branch network marks a qualitative change," said Goirigolzarri.

Investors cheered the result, sending the bank's shares up 1.17 percent against a 0.24 percent decline in Madrid's main index.

Madrid sold a 7.5 percent stake of Bankia in February in its first step toward privatising the bank, which was formed by merging seven of Spain's troubled banks in 2010.

Chief executive Jose Sevilla said it was up to the state to decide when and how it would sell the rest of its 61 percent stake in Bankia.

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Spain has a new ‘mega bank’ as La Caixa and Bankia merger approved

Directors from CaixaBank and Bankia Thursday approved their merger into Spain's biggest lender in a move which will transform the landscape of Spanish banking.

Spain has a new 'mega bank' as La Caixa and Bankia merger approved
Photos: AFP

A source close to the deal said the board of directors of both banks approved the merger, details of which will be made public on Friday.    

The negotiations involved Bankia's biggest shareholder, the Spanish government.

The merger creates the country's largest bank with combined assets of around €664 billion ($787 billion) in Spain, Renta 4 Banco analysts say, putting the new entity ahead of Santander or BBVA, both of which have a more international presence.

Under terms of the deal, shareholders in CaixaBank, Spain's largest domestic bank, would hold 75 percent of the new entity, while Bankia shareholders would take the remaining 25 percent.

The Spanish state, which currently holds just under 62 percent of Bankia, will hold a 14-percent share in the new group, press reports said.   

In 2012, the Spanish government stepped in to save Bankia from collapse, spending 22 billion euros ($26 billion at current exchange rates) to bail out a bank that was seen as a symbol of financial excess at a time when the Spanish economy was mired in crisis.

The huge merger comes in a very difficult economic context for Spain which has been particularly badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with gross domestic product collapsing by 18.5 percent in the second quarter.

The deal should enable the two banks to reduce costs and offers them “a way of trying to improve profitability,” said Xavier Vives of the IESE Business School.


Job cuts loom

Another advantage of the merger is the geographical footprint of each bank, with Bankia more present in Madrid and in the centre of the country, while CaixaBank is well-established in the northeastern Catalonia region, said Robert Tornabell, a banking specialist at ESADE business school.

The financial structure of the deal will allow CaixaBank to access tax breaks worth “several billion” euros, thus providing the new bank the wherewithal to “finance staff restructuring and branch closures,” he said.

Press reports suggested the takeover would result in nearly 8,000 jobs being axed. The two banks currently employ 51,000 staff spread across 6,000 branches.

Despite the staffing issues and the competition concerns raised by the deal, which will create a bank that will manage nearly a third of all Spain's home loans, the Spanish government has welcomed the tie-up.

“There is a process under way,” Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said last week, pointing out that the European authorities have long been encouraging consolidation in the banking sector.


Recovering taxpayers' money

“With this deal, the government is getting rid of one big headache,” the Cinco Dias business daily said recently.

Since the Bankia bailout, the government has been trying to offload its 61.8 stake in the bank but economic context has never been right. For now, it has only managed to recover 3.3 billion euros of the 22-billion payout.   

Even if its stake in the new entity will be reduced to just 14 percent, that should bring in more money to the state coffers because the new bank will be much more profitable.

However, it will take “several years” for the state get back a sum which will not end up being very much, Tornabell said.   

The tie-up will mean the name Bankia disappears from the high street — a name associated with multiple scandals, particularly that of its floatation in 2011 which attracted thousands of small shareholders who faced ruin several months later when the share price collapsed.

Several months later, the government stepped in and the bank was nationalised.

Bankia's former management team is currently on trial for fraud and falsifying its balance sheet ahead of the failed floatation and if convicted over the scandal, former boss Rodrigo Rato is facing eight-and-a-half years behind bars.

The court is expected to reach a verdict soon.

By AFP's Emmanuelle Michel