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What’s cheaper about life in Spain than in other countries?

People decide to move to Spain for a variety of reasons – the great weather, the culture, the food and the low cost of living among others. While it’s not necessarily true that everything in Spain is cheaper than the UK and other EU countries, these are the things that you definitely will find less costly.

Wine in Spain is cheaper than other countries
Photo: JAIME REINA / AFP

Generally, we found that everyday items such as grocery shopping and transport were cheaper in Spain, as well as more luxury items such as alcohol, tobacco, and clothes. 

Clothes

If you love fashion, then you’re in luck because Spain is the cheapest Eurozone country for clothing, according to a report by Eurostat. It was found that clothes were around eight percent cheaper than the EU average. In terms of the whole of the EU, only Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria were found to have cheaper clothing than Spain.

Shoes and other footwear, of which Spain is well known for, aren’t as cheap as clothes but were still found to be 3.2 percent below the EU average.

The UK, which was found to have a similar price for clothing as Spain in 2017, has increased its prices over the past few years. 

Alcohol

Data from the World Bank’s International Comparison Program shows that Spain is one of the cheapest countries for alcohol in the world. Spain ranked 150 out of 167 countries. In terms of other big wine-producing countries like Spain – Italy ranked number 125 on the list and France at number 132. Spain was found to have alcohol prices 14.6 percent cheaper than the EU average. It was discovered that the price of alcohol dropped even further because of the economic crisis due to the pandemic.

Spain’s low alcohol prices could be partly due to the fact that it has the most bars per inhabitant in Europe with one bar per 175 people or its wide range of wines and beers that are produced in the country. It’s very common to be able to buy a bottle of wine in the supermarket for around €2-€3. 

Tobacco

Like alcohol, Eurostat found that tobacco was also relatively cheap in Spain. Spain was listed as the seventh country with the cheapest tobacco in the EuroZone with a price equivalent of 83 percent of the EU average. Within Europe, the UK was found to have the highest tobacco prices, followed by Ireland and then France. The average price for a pack of cigarettes in Spain is around €4.50. 

Groceries

According to a report published by Eurostat, food shopping in Spain was found to be around five percent cheaper than the EU average. This is 15 percent cheaper than in France and 11 percent cheaper than Italy, which were found to be two of the most expensive countries for food shopping in the EU. Things such as meat, milk, cheese, and eggs were all cheaper in Spain than in other EU countries, but surprisingly bread and cereals were slightly more expensive. Spain compares favourably with other Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Portugal and was also found to be cheaper for food than the UK, whose prices were six percent above the EU average.

Transport

The Association of Collective Urban Transport Management Companies (ATUC) revealed that using public transport in Spain is 30 percent cheaper than in other European capitals. It also discovered that on average a transport ticket costs €1.50 in Spanish cities such as Madrid, Barcelona or Bilbao, while in other large European cities, a ticket cost just over €2.

And it’s not just for a single, one-way ticket. In Madrid, it was revealed that you pay 26 percent less for a monthly travel card than in other European capitals.

READ ALSO: Moving to Spain: What’s more expensive than in other countries?

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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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