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SPRING

What’s On in Spain: Top ten things to do in March 2018

Spring is just around the corner, and every region of the country is celebrating with festivals, exhibitions, marathons, and soccer matches. The Local put together a list of the best things to do in Spain this month.

What's On in Spain: Top ten things to do in March 2018

Semana Santa (Holy Week), Spain (March 25th – April 1st)


An effigy of the Christ of the “La O” brotherhood is carried during an Easter procession in Sevilla Photo: AFP

You’ve never seen the Passion of Christ celebrated quite like they do in Spain. Holy Week is one of Spain’s most authentic and elaborate celebrations, with each region of the country commemorating Easter week in it’s own way. If you’re looking for extravagant processions on the streets and colourful displays of religious fervour head to Seville for the week. If a traditional commemoration of the holiday is more up your alley, head to Castille and Leon where eight of the region’s cities have been declared sites of International Tourism for their holy week celebrations.

Parallel Visionaries Art Exhibition, University of Jaen (March 21st-24th)

Photo: Equipo Cronica “Homage to Picasso” (1967)

You don’t have to traverse Spain to see the art of Spain’s modern masters—the University of Jaen will feature a group exhibition of some of Spain’s most important artists including Pablo Picasso, Juan Antonio Guirado, Antoni Tapies, and Joan Miro. The exhibition will revolve around creation and humanity, with art as a reflection of a world ridden with conflict and social crises. It is free for students and seniors, with a regular entrance fee of €15. 

Sant Medir Festival, Barcelona (March 3rd)

Photo: [Photo: Etienne Le Cocq/Wikimedia Commons

If you can’t wait until Halloween to collect bucket loads of candy, check out the Feast of Sant Medir, known for a big musical parade where sweets and toffees are tossed to the crowds from large parade floats. The festival commemorates Saint Medir, who planted broad beans that miraculously grew overnight. Originally, the commemoration more accurately included the throwing of beans—but we like the candy better.

The Fallas of Valencia, Valencia (March 15th-19th)

A ninot representing US President Donald Trump burns on the last night of the Fallas Festival in Valencia, in 2017. Photo: AFP

The people of Valencia literally light up the city to celebrate the coming of Spring every March. The celebration begins on the night of the 15th, where artists work all night to erect large monuments that will fill the streets and compete for a winning prize. Once a winner is chosen, the monuments are paraded through the city until the last day of the festival in which all of the sculptures go up in flames. This strange expression of tradition, art, and the cycle of birth and rebirth one of the world’s most impressive firework displays, held on the Night of Fire on March 18th.

Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes, Madrid (Ends March 18th)

If a pair of Manolos is out of your price range, don’t worry—you can look at 212 of the designer’s most emblematic shoe designs for free until March 8th The exhibition, organized by Vogue Spain and presented at the National Museum of Decorative Arts, traces the evolution of a man who blurs the line between fashion and art, including 80 of his original drawings and a whole archive of photographs.

Festival de Jerez: Flamenco Festival (February 23rd – March 10th)

Dust off your flamenco shoes and get ready to channel your inner dancing girl emoji—the Festival of Jerez brings together the most famous flamenco artists of Spain to teach and participate in courses, as well stage performances. The best part? The festival encourages participation from flamenco novices with flamenco dance classes for beginners and seniors.

Auschwitz Exhibition, Madrid (Continues until June 6th)

Photo: auschwitz.net

You can still visit the Auscwitz exposition until early June where, for the first time in history, more than 600 original objects from Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi’s largest and deadliest concentration camp, are displayed in a travelling exibition with its first stop in Madrid.

Microtheatre in Madrid's La Latina, Every Sunday in March

What better way to spend Sunday afternoon than having a giggle while learning something about Spain, all in a bite-size production of less than half an hour?

Fracaso de Picasso is a surrealist sketch show in Spanish every Sunday in March at 19:00, 19:30 & 20:00 at the Esconditeatro, c/Estudios, 2 – La Latina.

Barcelona Marathon, (March 11th)

Runners in action at the Barcelona Marathon. Photo: AFP

Why stroll from one Gaudi masterpiece to another when you can run through them? Barcelona’s Zurich Marathon in the fourth most popular marathon in Europe and features a flat course through the city center, as well as smaller races that are free of cost and for children, and Europe’s most important Sports exposition for running, trail, and triathlon with more than 150 exhibitors. Registration closes March 5th.

Champions League: FC Barcelona Vs. Chelsea, Barcelona (March 14th)


Photo: AFP

If you haven’t been to Camp Nou yet, now is the time to do it. Two of Europe’s best soccer teams, FC Barcelona and Chelsea, will compete to see who will go through to the next round of the Champion League. Chelsea took the title last year, but Barcelona has the home advantage—will you be in the stands cheering on the some of the world’s best athletes?

Did we miss something exciting taking place this month? Making plans to head the the Flamenco Festival in Jerez or the Champions League match in Barcelona? Make sure to tag us in your Instagram photos with the #TheLocalSpain!

MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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