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THE LOCAL LIST

WINTER

Eight essential ways to tackle winter like a true Spaniard

From what to wear to what to order, we've got the tips to help you blend in like a true local as the mercury drops.

Eight essential ways to tackle winter like a true Spaniard
People walk through the snow in Burgos, northern Spain. Photo: AFP

Wrap up warm


Photo: Rodin/Flickr 

Spaniards are slaves to the seasons and even if the temperature feels warm, will be dressing  for winter until at least the end of February. That means hats, scarves, and – if you´re a woman of a certain age – a huge fur coat.

Dunk a churro in some chocolate


Photo: Flickr 

 

Winter must be the only time of year when the deliciously decadent chocolate con churros don´t taste quite as sickly. They are the perfect snack on a cold winter’s day, fortifying you against the chilly weather. 

READ MORE: Top ten heartiest tapas to enjoy when it's cold outside

Head to the slopes


Photo: Hourgade/Flickr

Ok, so during Covid times the likelihood is you are confined to your region. But if you are lucky enough to live near the slopes whether that is the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada or one of the smaller mountain regions where the resorts are open for locals, this season the snow is plentiful. And although restrictions are in place to limit Covid-19 infections this means fewer people on the pistes, barely any queues and all that fresh air can only be a good thing. 

READ ALSO: Eight amazing ski resorts in Spain

Don´t under any circumstances plan to go out if it’s raining


Photo: Juan José Aza/Flickr 

 

It rains so seldom in central and southern Spain that it is not uncommon for Spaniards to cancel plans at the first sign of precipitation. If you live in northern Spain, our best advice is to buy a strong, big umbrella.

Don´t order sangria


Photo: AFP

Or the more Spanish equivalent, tinto de verano. “Summer wine” is – as the name suggests – a tipple reserved for the warmer months so don’t look like a clueless tourist and order a beer or wine instead.

Taking a walk? Dress for Antarctica


Photo: mik_p/Flickr 

Spaniards are known for dressing appropriately, be it for the season or for the sport. If you are planning on going for a walk in the hills, make sure you take your walking boots and if there is likely to be snow, it is not uncommon for Spaniards to take walking poles and even crampons!

Stay home and watch TV


Still from the series Patria. Photo: HBO

With coronavirus placing some serious curbs on socializing and if you start shivering at even the thought of braving the cold for a low-risk socially distanced meetup on a terraza, then choose instead to stay home and snuggle up under a blanket to binge watch one of the latest Spanish series (and improve your Spanish at the same time!).

Catch up on critically acclaimed Patria on HBO and learn more about the Basque conflict, entertain yourself with the fast-paced La Casa de Papel (Money Heist) on Netflix or immerse yourself in the story of Spain's most powerful Queen, Isabel, with the eponymous series currently available on Amazon Prime. 

READ ALSO:  The ultimate binge-watch bucket list of Spanish box-sets

Brush up on your weather vocab


Photo: Javier Díaz Barrera/Flickr 

Spaniards love to talk about the weather as much as Brits so it's definitely worth brushing up on a few handy weather phrases, then you can moan about the inclement weather as well as any Spaniard. 

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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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