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Spanish news and property round up week ending 18th December
Spain goes to the polls and braces for El Gordo
Spanish national news
This weekend Spain goes to the polls to choose its new national government.
This election is the most uncertain in 40 years, with newcomer parties poised for big gains against the traditionally dominant conservatives and socialists if the last pre-election polls are to be believed, complicating efforts to form a stable government. The ballot will mark the end of the established two-party system that has held sway since the dictatorship of Francisco Franco ended in 1975, ushering in an untested and potentially volatile era of consensus politics.
Opinion polls show the governing conservative Peoples Party (PP) of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will win Sundays' vote, but fall well short of an absolute majority, and Sr Rajoy indicated on Wednesday that he would consider a cross-party pact to ensure a stable administration over the scheduled four-year term. However, for the time being all the main opposition parties have expressed their unwillingness to join the PP in a coalition.
Campaigning has been relentless, the PM and PSOE opposition leader Pedro Sánchez clashing in a live debate on TV in which neither party shied away from dealing brutal body blows in the topics discussed, although Prime Minister Rajoy was physically punched in the face during a campaign walkabout in Galicia.
Elsewhere, despite the election, it's a relief to be able to report that Christmas has not been cancelled, and appears to be going ahead more or less as usual. Nativity scenes are on display at Town Halls and other venues throughout the country, including the largest one in Spain which is now open in the Valencia town of Xátiva and a spectacular series of tableaux carved in sand in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.
Similarly, Christmas trees and ice rinks are adorning squares and public buildings throughout the country, and apart from the monumental trees which have recently been inaugurated in major cities, some of the most original ones are to be found in varied locations including a jewelry complex in Córdoba, where the decorations have a total value of a million euros. At the other end of the scale, the women of Notáez in Granada have taken a rather more low-budget approach to the task of decorating the village, and have painstakingly knitted their own tree for Christmas!
The festive spirit swept, or sprinted, through the centre of Madrid last weekend in a race featuring 10,000 runners dressed as Santa – the real Mr Claus, disappointingly, did not manage a podium finish – and as the big day approaches households are stocking up on food and drink for the next two weeks of family get-togethers and sumptuous eating. Seafood and lamb are among the traditional favourites, but the more intrepid might this year like to include an unusual variation on the typical “turrón” nougat, an option catered for by a Salamanca confectioner who has created a cured ham and chocolate turrón. Interesting…
Should that not be to your taste, those with quite a lot of extra cash to spare could always splash out on the exclusive eel-flavoured ice-cream which has been presented at a gastronomic event in the province of Girona.
If turrón and trees are indispensable elements of the Christmas festivities, then so too in Spain is the El Gordo Christmas lottery, which will be held as usual on the morning of 22nd December. This annual event is not only good fun (especially for those whose tickets turn out to be worth 400,000 euros), but also provides some interesting insights into how the human mind works when large sums of money are at stake, as an experiment carried out in Sevilla, Madrid and A Coruña showed on Wednesday. Ticket-holders were offered the chance to exchange their tickets, each of which cost 20 euros, for a cured ham worth far more, and most turned the offer down on the off-chance that they could be made rich by Tuesday’s draw. Only one man in A Coruña was apparently sharp enough to rush in to the lottery office, buy an El Gordo ticket he didn’t want, and then exchange it for a cheaply acquired top-quality ham!
If you still haven´t purchased your ticket yet, then does it really make a difference which numbers you pick for El Gordo?
One Christmas product always seen across Spain at this time of the year is the "polvorón", a crumbly shortbready type of sweet pastry sold in cloudy paper packaging. However, one well-known favourite will be packaged with different branding this year after animal rights protestrors targeted the manufacturer. Dulces Galicia specializes in “polvorones”, and has successfully marketed them for over 50 years under the brand name “El Toro Vega”, but has now acted on commercial advice to drop the work “Vega” from the name in future due to its similarity to the “Toro de la Vega” bull-killing event in the Valladolid town of Tordesillas every September, which attracts widespread condemnation for the manner in which the bull is hunted on foot and on horseback before being killed with a spear.
Staying on the subject of hunting, animal rights campaigners in Ávila have called for a court to reverse the decision of a local town hall to authorise the hunting and killing of hunting greyhounds which are roaming in the wild. Animal rights volunteers say town halls with a large number of hunters within their borders view the authorisation to shoot and kill stray greyhounds as being a cheaper way of disposing of stray animals then using municipal dog collection services, and are asking for the animals to be captured instead.
Cataluña still without a president
In recent weeks the political machinations surrounding the attempts of the separatist party JxSí to ensure that Artur Mas is re-elected regional president have occupied a large proportion of column inches in Spain, but this week has been a fairly quiet one on that front. No further developments are expected until next weekend, when rival separatist party CUP will debate whether to change their posture and support Sr Mas, and the headlines in Catalunya have for once been occupied by other matters.
These include the theft of 60 metres of copper cabling from the local rail network on Tuesday morning, and although the amount stolen may not seem much, the resulting chaos on commuter services affected thousands. Extra spice was then added to the incident by the Minister of the Interior, who commented that more copper is stolen in Catalunya than in any other part of Spain, and although he refrained from blaming the separatist movement directly there can be little doubt that his observation carried barbed implications.
The region of Catalunya also made the news through an announcement that online retail firm Amazon is planning to build its main logistics and distribution centre for southern Europe in the outskirts of Barcelona, close to the airport of El Prat. There have been worries expressed about businesses staying away from Catalunya due to concerns over the consequences of the drive for independence, but clearly Amazon do not share these fears.
Neither, apparently, does the New World Cities report, which lists Barcelona as the city with the eighth highest quality of life in the world!
On the subject of separatism, the same issue is still an important one in the Basque Country, where former ETA convicts were among those expressing their support for the EH Bildu party in the general election this week. At the same time, one of their former colleagues in ETA was sentenced to 51 years in prison, following his arrest in Belfast in 2010.
Compressed cocaine as pallets and Brits busted
Other criminals in the news this week include two UK nationals. One of them is Robert Dawes, considered by the police to be the most powerful drugs baron in Europe, whose arrest at his Costa del Sol home in November was confirmed at the weekend.
Dawes is now expected to spend a very long time behind bars, but the same is not true of Devinder Kainth, a property millionaire whose argument with a German man who took video footage of his daughter ended in fisticuffs and a kick to the groin in Sotogrande in February. The German died of his injuries, but it has since emerged not only that he was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver but also that he was a suspected pedophile, and the courts have decreed only a suspended six-month sentence.
Another major arrest which made the headlines this week related to a big drugs bust in the Valencia region in which charcoal was shipped to Spain from Colombia on pallets made from compressed cocaine. These were then cleaned and processed in a large industrial-scale lab in Valencia before being sold on throughout Europe. British nationals were amongst those arrested in a multinational drugs operation.
Record month for Spanish airports
As the year draws to a close the latest record airport passenger numbers for the month of November indicate that 2015 will most probably break all records in terms of visitors to Spain from abroad, with the number of people passing through airport terminal buildings in this country set to top 200 million for the first time by the end of December. Once again no other nationality (apart from the domestic market) comes close to matching the contribution made by those from the UK, and this has if anything become even more noticeable in recent months due to the strength of the pound against the euro.
One kind of tourism which could enjoy a positive 2016 is religious tourism, with routes such as the Camino de Santiago likely to attract more walkers than usual as a result of Pope Francis’ declaration of an “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy”. This event began in Spain last weekend at the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela with the ceremonial opening of the “Door of Mercy” (as the Holy Door has been renamed between now and November next year), and similar ceremonies have taken place at cathedrals and major churches all over Spain.
Other tourist attractions such as those in museums are always finding new ways to showcase their treasures and this week the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid opened a new exhibition featuring a remarkably preserved prehistoric Guanche mummy from the Canary Islands.
However, treasures need a great deal of maintenance and in Segovia emergency work is underway to repair the UNESCO listed city wall which forms a 3.4 kilometre long ring around the city centre.
As a bomb scare on a flight from Madrid to Brazil reminded us on Monday, the issue of national security currently a very important one, and this week it has been announced that the Spanish Ministry of Defence is to acquire 19 ground-to-air missiles at a cost of 23 million euros while selling off an aircraft carrier as scrap for 4.8 million. This may seem odd, but it should be borne in mind that the “Príncipe de Asturias” aircraft carrier is 27 years old and has close to half a million miles under its belt, and the costs of updating it would far outweigh the long-term benfits.
Finally, anyone planning on a Christmas party involving paintball next week should be warned about a change in Spanish law: it has been ruled by the Supreme Court that paintball guns are offensive weapons, and cannot be used without a licence. Fortunately, the licences required consist of no more than temporary authorizations signed by the local Mayor, but even so they should be obtained from the paintball company before combat begins.
Local news editions:
Local news, what's on and lots of useful information updated daily:
Region of Murcia: www.murciatoday.com
Alicante Province: www.alicantetoday.com
Spanish property news round-up 2015
Reasons to be cheerful and reasons to be careful as 2016 approaches
As 2015 draws to a close, this is a good time to reflect on what has been a momentous year for the Spanish residential property market, not because of any spectacular growth or price increases but simply because the bad news has been made up for by the good.
For the first time since the end of 2007, when the bubble created by over-inflated prices and wildly speculative construction projects finally burst, the year now ending can be described as one of relative stability. Prices are no longer in free fall, purchaser confidence is returning, and banks are in a position to offer attractive and sensible finance deals through mortgage loans, and a combination of all of these factors means that those working in the sector will begin the new year with a spring in their step for the first time in eight years.
The statistics themselves are far from spectacular, and yet encouraging in their own way. At the end of the third quarter the government reports that average prices across the country were 4.5% higher than a year previously, and although in the Balearics the increase in market value was an impressive 8.4%, in other areas, particularly in the north of Spain, the rise was closer to 1% or 2%. That might not seem much, but after seven years of decreases during which between 30 and 50 per cent was wiped off the value of homes throughout the country, the mere fact that price increases were recorded in all seventeen regions of the country is enough to cause sighs of relief.
Similarly, the number of sales this year has so far risen by 11.2% after ten months. Again this in itself is not an earth-shattering improvement, particularly since the figures in 2014 and 2013 were so low, but nonetheless it is sufficient to indicate that prices have now fallen far enough to become attractive to purchasers again. Much of the increase can be put down to foreign buyers from northern Europe gravitating towards coastal provinces, especially those of Alicante and Málaga, a phenomenon which has been accentuated by the recent strength of the pound sterling against the euro, but this alone is not enough to explain the whole of the increase.
Although the number of properties being sold is still only approximately a third of what it was ten years ago, the reality is that as employment becomes easier to find and more stable in Spain, so more and more Spaniards are also finding themselves able to clamber onto the first rung of the property ladder.
Much of this is due to the record low interest rates currently available on mortgage loans, and with the banks also regaining confidence far more mortgages are now being constituted than was the case a couple of years ago. Again, as with sales, the numbers are far lower than they were during the boom years prior to 2008 – close to a third of the levels recorded 10 years ago - but the feeling in the market is that this is a time for gradual consolidation and steady growth rather than embarking on another boom-and-bust cycle.
So, should we all be mortgaging ourselves up to the hilt and buying as much property as we can in order to make medium- and long-term capital gains?
Probably not. There are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in respect of Spanish real estate at the moment, but there are also reasons to be careful.
Firstly, while demand is growing and beginning to push prices back up, it has to be remembered that there is still a large proportion of the Spanish public who can’t afford to buy, imposing a ceiling on future demand. This accounts for the buoyancy of the rental market, where prices have risen by a reported 3.8% during the year.
Secondly, despite increasing sales there is still a large stock of unsold new-builds struggling to find purchasers, and this will continue to slow down any potential price increase. These new-builds are not necessarily the most attractive properties on the market, but as banks and promoters strive to sell them they will probably exert downward pressure on market prices.
In addition, while they are still lying empty they will deter promoters from embarking on new construction projects, and although the number of build licences issued has increased this year it is still at a worryingly low level.
Another deterrent for growth and increased demand is recent demographic trends in Spain: the population is currently falling and birth rates are at their lowest levels ever, meaning that in the long term there may be fewer homes required in this country.
On top of this, those taking out mortgages must be aware that the current interest rate cannot be maintained for the next twenty years or more, and that repayment instalments will definitely rise at some point in the future. Fixed rate mortgages may prove a popular option over the next twelve months for those who prefer to hedge their bets.
Further uncertainty concerns the results of the general election this Sunday, with polls suggesting that no party will come close to winning an overall majority in parliament and stimulating insecurity regarding future economic and fiscal policy.
The biggest caveat of all, though, is that the stabilization and recovery of the Spanish property market is still very localized, not only from region to region (Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura are not yet reaping the benefits, for example), but even from district to district within cities and towns. For those planning to invest in a home in Spain during 2016, the most important piece of advice is, as ever, to learn about the local market conditions in the area they are looking at and weigh up the different properties carefully before making a decision.
However, taking all of these factors into consideration, the industry can look forward to 2016 with considerably more optimism than at the beginning of 2015, with all indications pointing to a gradual improvement in the property sector during the next 12 months.
For the Region of Murcia go to: www.murciapropertypage.com
For the Alicante Province go to: www.alicantepropertypage.com
Exchange rate from Sterling to Euros still good for those buying Spanish properties
Anyone exchanging their pension from Pound Sterling to Euros or buying a property will be aware of just how much difference the rate can make to the amount they will have to spend and for major purchases, such as a property, transferring cash at the right moment can make a difference of several thousand Euros.
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