I’m sure you’ve heard the quote from Warren Buffett: “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out”. The tide he refers to is cash. When the cash evaporates, there’s nowhere to hide. Be it an individual, a corporation, or a government – that’s when you are found out. And right now, cash is evaporating from Spanish banks.
This is as serious as it gets. With Europe it’s easy to get complacent. We’re all a little desensitised to the European problem – especially after a decent summer recess.
But we need to snap back into action. Because Spanish banks are now in deep peril.
Bankia had to take emergency funding this week. And more are sure to follow. Money is flooding out of the country and it will be very difficult for the Spanish authorities to contain this problem themselves.
What should we do? I think we need to take immediate action – it’s time to stock up on real assets. I’ll explain how today.
Money is flooding out of Spain
Spanish banking group Bankia was put together in December 2010. Seven faltering regional banks were rolled into one. It was a classic and ridiculous move that took banks small enough to fail and rolled them into one, too-big-to-fail institution.
As such, it wasn’t long (May 2012) before the Spanish government was called upon to part-nationalise it, and bung in a load of cash.
And now that the tide is going out on Spain. Cash is flooding out of the country. In July, Spaniards withdrew a record €75bn, from their banks — an amount equal to 7% of the country’s total economic output.
That has left Bankia looking highly exposed. This week the government put the patient on a drip – providing €4.5bn in stopgap rescue money.
But as I’ll explain in a moment, the patient is in terminal decline. The drip will be in place for a long time. And the problem is, the Spanish banks are much bigger than the government – Spain has already had to secure €100bn from partner states to help resuscitate this particular patient.
Deutsche Bank suggests that when (not if!) Bankia has bled the government for €120bn, the governments’ debt-to-GDP ratio will have reached 97%. And that’s just one bank!
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And it goes on...
Bankia’s problems come down to bad debts. Specifically mortgages. The Spanish property market is in freefall – particularly the highly leveraged coastal areas.
And with unemployment hitting 25%, it’s not just the second homes market that's in trouble. Last week I was talking to an old friend who’s just laid his hands on a villa for €175,000 – previously marketed at nearly a million.
That means a lot of individuals will be sitting on big losses. But so will the banks. Up until now, they’ve been able to gloss over the losses. So long as the banks had cash, they could be forgiving. Spanish banks have been in no hurry to foreclose. Repossessions would mean putting the properties on the banks' balance sheets. And to shift the properties to the banks, they’d have to revalue them at today’s prices. And that would mean big, fat losses.
But the tide is going out. Cash is disappearing out of Spanish banks. It’s getting harder for the banks to cover their private parts. And Bankia won’t be the last one to start the long and painful process of admitting its losses…
The con is on
Finance is a fascinating game. It’s a confidence game. Back in 2007/2008 when the con was about to be exposed, the authorities were left with a choice.
They could take the Icelandic approach and admit the con. They could let the banks go down, let the currency drop to the floor and let the losers (depositors, bond holders and shareholders) take their medicine.
OR they could keep the con going.
Needless to say, most of the authorities opted for the latter. They bundled the banks into bigger entities, backed them up with state guarantees and then crossed their fingers in the hope that nobody would notice.
In the case of Bankia, they even floated the new mega-bank and raised a load of new cash from fresh victims. Spanish newspaper El Pais cited a purchase form for €6,000-worth of shares signed by an 86-year-old woman's fingerprint. Old, illiterate, who cares?... take their money!
Well, it looks like the con may finally be in its last throes – in Spain at least. I suspect that many savers are looking to shift their cash somewhere safer...
The only real savings vehicle
The tide moves slowly. Almost unnoticed, it ebbs away. Many are busy playing on the beach, eating hotdogs and licking lollies. They don’t notice the naked swimmers frantically groping around for bathing attire.
But some notice the furore in the shallow waters.
In the case of the ebbing cash tide, the astute shift financial assets to real assets. Precious metals for sure. I recommend holding 5-10% of your savings in gold. I hold the popular UK-listed ETSF physical gold (LON:PHAU). You can read more about it here.
In time the less astute will see the con. An Icelandic-style reset of the system will be painful for them. Here at The Right Side we aim to be ready.
Gold is rallying towards $1,700... more and more beachside revellers see what’s going on. Don’t be the last person in!
• This article is taken from the free investment email The Right side. Sign up to The Right Side here.
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