While some investors are staying clear of Spain and its declining assets, Wilbur Ross wants to take the plunge and purchase some.
This isn’t the first time the billionaire has purchased stakes in distressed lenders. He’s already done it domestically and in other European countries.
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Through WL Ross & Co., he has a 10 percent share in the Bank of Ireland (NYSE:IRE), and has previously partnered with fellow billionaire Richard Branson to purchase a stake in Northern Rock Plc. Ross has been holding discussions “almost every week” with large Spanish banks, through their representatives, about investments, reported Bloomberg.
He did not identify any possible companies, but said to Bloomberg, “Maybe next year will be the year for Spain. We’ve been doing a lot of work in Spain. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into Spain, but haven’t put any money in yet.”
Currently, Spanish officials are organizing a “bad bank” similar to Ireland’s, which will assist lenders to get rid of bad real estate loans and to increase lending growth. The government is trying to get rid of 180 billion euros ($235 billion) of bad assets associated with property, which its central bank has said will stay on lenders’ balance sheets.
Ross added, “Spain has yet to go through the catharsis of real estate. I don’t know if it’ll be another six months or another 12 months or whatever, but at some point we might very well do something in Spain.”
On Tuesday, in its monthly bulletin, the Bank of Spain reported an estimate that for the fifth quarter, its economy has contracted with its gross domestic product falling 0.4 percent in the third quarter as compared to the prior one.
For Ross, he finds Spain to be a “very interesting country” and said, “But we’re thinking they’re just now beginning to recognize the magnitude of the problems. Until now they’ve been in total denial.”
Just how bad is it for Spain? In August, its bad loans (as a proportion of total lending in the country) rose to 10.5 percent–a record–up from July’s restated 10.1 percent, thanks to 9.3 billion euros of loans now being classified as in default, according to Bank of Spain website data. For 17 consecutive months, the ratio has risen since December 2006 , prior to Spain’s property bust, reported Bloomberg.
Spain has asked for European Union financial aid to help with its banks on rising worries about its increasing liabilities. On Oct. 10 the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded Spain’s debt to BBB- (just one notch higher than junk) from BBB+. Today, Moody’s Corporation (NYSE:MCO) downgraded five Spanish regions.
Ross said, “Bad assets are going to have to be removed from the banks. It’s very, very difficult to have a bank simultaneously managing a huge amount of bad assets and trying to grow its good assets. It’s just tough.”
He noted the firm could invest when a cash injection is needed after assets are taken away from the “bad bank” and the country’s regional banks have broadened into areas to “shrink” to its initial locales and increase core deposits.