On July 26, 2013, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) concluded the Article IV consultation with Spain.1
The Spanish economy accumulated large imbalances during the long boom that ended with the global financial crisis. Unemployment soared, the fiscal position deteriorated sharply, and funding conditions tightened for both the public and private sectors.
Key imbalances are correcting rapidly. Sovereign yields fell sharply since the European Central Bank’s announcements about Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT), the current account swung into surplus, the fiscal deficit fell sharply in 2012 despite the recession, private sector debt declined, and the banking system is stronger. But the adjustment process is proving slow and difficult. Growth has been negative in the last seven quarters, unemployment has reached unacceptably high levels, and financing conditions remain tight for small firms.
The reform process has accelerated and deepened. Decisive reforms in the labor, financial, and fiscal sectors, in line with past staff recommendations, is helping stabilize the economy. Determined action has been taken to help clean up banks in the context of a financial sector program from the European Stability Mechanism, for which the IMF is providing technical assistance. Provisions and capital were greatly increased following an independent stress test and asset quality review in summer 2012. Weak banks are being restructured and much of their real estate assets have been transferred to an asset management company (SAREB). Regulation and supervision was also enhanced.
Fiscal frameworks and transparency have been substantially upgraded. An independent council is being introduced and a commission of experts has issued a proposal to ensure pension system sustainability. Early and partial retirement rules were further tightened. Monthly reports are now available for all major levels of government.
On labor market policy, a major reform was instituted in July 2012 to improve firms’ ability to adjust working conditions (including wages), reduce duality, and promote job matching and training. Unemployment insurance was reduced by 17 percent after 6 months of benefits, and hiring subsidies were reformed. In February 2013, the government announced more flexible hiring arrangements for youth and tax incentives to support youth employment and entrepreneurship.
Product and service market reforms are underway. The government liberalized the establishment of small retail stores and retail business hours. Further reforms have been announced to remove regulations that fragment the domestic market, to liberalize professional services, and to foster entrepreneurship.
Under Article IV of the IMF's Articles of Agreement, the IMF holds bilateral discussions with members, usually every year. A staff team visits the country, collects economic and financial information, and discusses with officials the country's economic developments and policies. On return to headquarters, the staff prepares a report, which forms the basis for discussion by the Executive Board. At the conclusion of the discussion, the Managing Director, as Chairman of the Board, summarizes the views of Executive Directors, and this summary is transmitted to the country's authorities. An explanation of any qualifiers used in summing up can be found here: http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/misc/qualifiers.htm.