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Spanish News Today, property and news round-up 2nd May 2014
Good news at last as Spanish property sales figures shoot up!
Due to the inconvenience of a large number of local and bank holidays, it’s been two weeks since the last round-up of property news, which made for fairly grim reading: statistics showed that sales were down and prices were still falling. The only crumb of comfort was that the statistics often lag behind the reality of the marketplace, and that more encouraging news might be just around the corner.
And then it happened! The figures produced by Spain’s notaries, which are generally more up-to-date than those published by the central statistics unit, showed that in February there were almost 40% more sales than in the same month in 2013, reaching a total of over 26,000. The same source even identified a minimal increase in market price, and although this is just one incident which might turn out to be nothing more than a blip it represents a genuine cause for optimism at last, just when it seemed things would never improve.
If the theory is correct, then the next couple of months ought to see similarly positive statistics being published by Spain’s central statistics unit, based on the figures from property registry offices. Analysts will now await the next notaries’ report with some anticipation to see if the upward curve is repeated in the March statistics.
More guarded optimism was expressed last week by international credit ratings agency Fitch, whose report on the Spanish mortgage market includes the forecast that prices will finally reach stability in 2015, although not before at least 40% of the value of property as it stood in late 2007 has been wiped out. This prognosis takes into account the slight improvement in unemployment figures and the recovery of the economy as a whole, creating more domestic demand.
Much has been made recently of the importance in Spain of foreign buyers, who account for an increasingly significant proportion of all sales (as has been confirmed by the property registrars this week), but the Fitch analysts make the point that foreigners alone are unlikely to be sufficient to cause a genuine market recovery. The general economic situation of the country will have to improve before that can be achieved and construction activity can begin in earnest once more, however, in Alicante province, there are already cranes on the skyline and applications for building licences are once more on the up.
Following that, leading property valuation firm Tinsa have this week published data which seem to suggest that the slide in prices is definitely slowing down at last. For the third quarter in a row the rate of decline has slowed, and now stands at “only” 6.7% over the last twelve months. This had to happen at some stage: in four of Spain’s fifty provinces over half of the value of real estate has been wiped out over the last six and a half, and at least four more are dangerously close to crossing the same threshold.
Meanwhile, some important news on the rental market: in Andalucía a new law is being prepared to clamp down on undeclared holiday rentals. Those wishing to rent their properties out for under a month will have to register with the regional government and ensure that the property meets certain standards, the aim being to avoid harm to the hotel sector and encourage legal rentals. Similar legislation has already been implemented in Catalunya, and if successful it is likely to spread to the rest of the Costas.
At one point there had been fears that such rentals could be banned altogether, a scenario which has been averted, but even so the implications are far-reaching for those in the rentals business.
Other property news includes a slight hike in the Euribor, meaning that those whose mortgage reviews are due will be paying a little more every month from now on, and the revelation that rural and agricultural land has barely been affected by the crisis.
Talking about the crisis in property, the big question on many commentators’ lips this week has been: is Spain’s long-awaited economic recovery gaining momentum?
The answer, according to statistics published this week, appears to be yes and no. The Active Population Survey revealed that at the end of the first quarter there were both fewer people working and fewer people unemployed, a conundrum which is solved by explaining that there were simply fewer people of working age, due to demographic factors and emigration. The survey also showed, worryingly, that there are now almost 2 million households with no regular income, while the figures regarding youth and long-term unemployment also offer only partial support to the notion that the corner has definitely been turned.
It was also pointed out this week that the population of foreigners in Spain continues to shrink, the British population having officially declined considerably during the last year, due to a combination of factors, including a big clearout of municipal Padróns to account for all of those who had left the country over a period of years and failed to notify the authorities.
At the same time, public administration debt continues to rise, and now equates to well over 20,000 euros per person across the country. The effects of the crisis continue to filter through to all levels of society, and Catholic charity organization Cáritas reports that it is now supplying work insertion training programs to more people than ever, including both Spaniards and the immigrant population.
On the other hand, the decline in property prices appears to be slowing down, inflation is back up to 0.4% and the tourist sector, one of the pillars of the national economy, looks set for a record-breaking year, with spending by foreign visitors in the first quarter of 2014 reaching record levels
Elsewhere, in response to the mass assaults in the borders of the north African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla over the last few months the frontier fences are finally to be reinforced, and in parliament the mud-slinging has started in the run-up to the imminent European elections, with strong language flying in Congress as two Sorayas exchanged accusations and counter-accusations.
Despite public outcry, and the anger of customs officers, over the release of drug-smugglers arrested in international waters, the government has announced that it will not climb down over the new legislation which makes this possible, and continues to order the release of drug smugglers who have been detained with some huge, multi million euro hauls.
Far more widely accepted is new legislation prohibiting convicted child abusers from working with children, part of a wide ranging raft of legislation which sought to address many issues relating to children and their well-being. Its sad that most of this was ignored by the British press, who have homed in on only one small clause which seeks to establish guidelines for family life, the main aim being to address problems relating to truancy and aggressive behaviour towrds parents and guardians, not, as even the BBC reported, to force Spanish children to do housework.
On the subject of child abuse, there was widespread shock earlier this week as details emerged regarding a young father of two who murdered his 19-month-old son and severely injured his five-year-old brother last weekend. The motive for this incomprehensible crime, apparently, was revenge against the mother, from whom the murderer was separated.
Elsewhere, eye-catching stories include the release of another ETA terrorist following the overturning of the Parot doctrine by the European Court of Human Rights in October last year. Almost unbelievably, this news broke at the same time as the arrest of fifteen people for advocating a return to terrorism on the internet, using abusive language which caused a great deal of upset for the families of over 800 people who were blown up and killed in a 40 year terror campaign.
Meanwhile, international opera star Montserrat Caballé was accused of tax fraud, copper thieves made off with a 4,000-euro haul while causing 25 million euros’ worth of damage to the emergency water supply system in Cádiz, and the hunt is on for the mortal remains of Miguel de Cervantes, who died in 1616 leaving Don Quixote as his greatest legacy to world literature.
Iñaki Urdangarín, the Duke of Palma, failed to win damages of 1 euro from his former business partner and the press after emails revealing his marital infidelity were published, skiers donned beachwear in Sierra Nevada to mark the end of the season in the mountains, and in the sports news, many of the leading footballers in Spain appear to have gone bananas…
Topless policemen in Torrevieja, an alcoholic yacht burglar, flying bouncy castles and record temperatures all over
The Easter holidays are finally over but the Spanish appetite for fiestas is never satisfied, and we are now in the throes of another long weekend to celebrate 1st May. Local holidays are also in full swing, with the Romería de la Santa Faz on Thursday in Alicante, and last week the Valencianos trooped out to the countryside and the beaches to celebrate San Vicente Ferrer. Alongside the typical Spanish holidays in Torrevieja last weekend was the Nagar Kirtan Sikh festival, bringing colour and spectacle of a rather different kind to the streets of the Costa Blanca resort.
Easter brought the start of the beach season to the Costa Blanca, and along with it a boost to the hotel and catering sectors of the economy. Tourist spending in the Comunitat Valenciana is leading the way in what promises to be a very positive year for the industry throughout Spain, and figures just released show that spending by foreign tourists in the region was up by over 14% in March compared to 2013. And that’s without taking Easter into account!
More good news for tourism in Orihuela: apart from its beaches the city also boasts an abundant wealth of spectacular and historic monuments, and the future of free visits to some of these buildings appears to have been assured by a new agreement reached between the Town Hall and the main churches in the historic city centre. The only black spot for tourism this week was on the coast of Valencia, where a fuel spillage resulted in beaches being closed to the public while clean-up work was carried out.
There are also signs that the regional economy’s recovery is beginning to pick up momentum in spite of statistics published this week which show that there are 41,000 fewer employed in the region.
However, just as foreign visitors are contributing to the tourist boom so foreign buyers in the coastal property market are also maintaining demand at acceptable levels. In the south of the province of Alicante there are even signs that construction activity is beginning to return: the sight of building cranes dominating the skyline may not be a pretty one, but it’s generally good news for the economy!
Despite this, though property prices continue to fall, sharply in Valencia and Castellón and less so in Alicante.
Other stories hitting the headlines have been the Benejúzar woman who is to begin serving a jail sentence for setting fire to her daughter’s rapist in 2005 and the topless Torrevieja policemen who disrupted a Council meeting bared to the waist before being ejected by their colleagues. In Alicante an alcoholic luxury yacht burglar embarked on a spate of robberies during which he helped himself to drinks and snacks on board before making off with slippers and perfume, while nearby on the promenade last weekend five bouncy castles were torn free of their moorings by a sudden gust of wind. More than twenty people were injured, and enquiries are under way.
And now, as in all news bulletins, the weather: this is a very hot topic in regional news at the moment, as the winter drought seems to have extended seamlessly into spring, and the official meteorological agency Aemet has just confirmed that last month was not only very dry, but also “extremely warm”. In fact, the average temperature in the provinces of Valencia and Castellón was the highest ever recorded for April, and in Alicante it fell just 0.1ºC short of the 136-year-old record.
This is great news for sun-lovers, but high temperatures and no rain means a huge increase in the risk of fires in the countryside, and the regional government has already begun to issue warnings to that effect. Unfortunately the Town Hall of Cullera ignored a regional government ban last week, and set fire to its own hillside last weekend by setting off fireworks and will now face a stiff fine. Needless to say, council officials are now scrabbling around trying to decide which one of their number decided to over-rule the regional government and gave orders to light the fuses.
Finally, those looking to wind down with a relaxing cannabis cigarette will almost certainly have to do so without official approval in Alicante, where the Town Hall seems certain to block a proposal to introduce regulations admitting and regulating four cannabis clubs in the city.
Away from all the fiestas and sports activities, there hardly seems to have been time for any news to happen in Murcia recently, let alone for journalists to report it!
Fears that this year could be a disastrous one for forest fires are growing as the drought continues, and a blaze in the area of Zarzadilla de Totana served to illustrate the point earlier this week as the tinder-dry undergrowth combusted rapidly, alarming locals. The same dry conditions have contributed to the ban on using BBQ equipment or lighting any sort of fires in the regional parks being brought forward to the beginning of May and agriculturalists must also stop burning prunings: no risks are worth taking after the record dry winter and warm dry spring.
A different kind of fire risk was emptied from the streets of the city of Murcia on Sunday when municipal rubbish collectors dutifully removed 21 tons of litter from the capital following Saturday’s Entierro de la Sardina.
The topic of the new Region of Murcia International Airport in Corvera continues to occupy column inches in the Region’s newspapers, even though there is little new to report. While the new president, Alberto Garre, cautiously hopes that the airport could be open by next summer, Manuel Campos, the new minister for Development and Public Works, still optimistically maintains that a date towards the end of 2014 is “very possible”. Its also been announced this week that Antonio Sevilla, formerly in charge of the airport project is now to take the reins of the Cartagena Port Authority and deal with the tricky issues of the proposed El Gorguel macro-container port which is the subject of fervent campaigning by ecologists opposed to the project, oversee the remodelling of the waterside and cruise ship terminals in Cartagena and undertake the long-term project of making Cartagena a home port for cruise ship tourism.
At the existing airport in San Javier, meanwhile, the over-dependence on the British market (thirteen of the current nineteen routes are to and from the UK) has been identified as a source of concern: regional business leaders say it is akin to putting all the airport’s eggs in one basket, but Aena are unwilling to compete with their own larger facility in Alicante by attracting too much traffic to a sister airport just 70 kilometres away.
While the Corvera airport saga stumbles slowly on, the issues of the AVE high-speed rail service in Murcia also continues to stutter unconvincingly forwards. Or backwards, it sometimes appears: this week it has been announced that one of the tunnels through which the line from Murcia to Andalucía was to pass is being bricked up after costing 435 million euros to build. In conjunction with the dispute over whether the line in the city of Murcia should run underground or overground, this gives the impression that the arrival of the first AVE train is still “at least two years away”, as it seems to have been since around 2001.
Regarding the economy, there has been good news and bad news this week. The jobless total in the Region definitely seems to be falling, although the results of the Active Population Survey for the first quarter of 2014 are ambiguous in many respects. The population is also falling, due largely to non-Spaniards returning to their country of origin, and it may be that the decrease in the number of unemployed is down to the fact that many South Americans, North Africans and Eastern Europeans have simply given up and gone home. (This would hardly be surprising in the case of the fourteen Moroccans who were working long days in the fields illegally, for 20€ per day less travel expenses: they are now likely to be expelled from Spain anyway!)
Meanwhile, Murcia continues to rack up the highest level of regional government debt in the whole country – it had already used up almost half of its yearly deficit allocation by March – and although the fall in property prices is slowing down, houses and apartments in the Region have still lost an average of 8.2% of their value over the last twelve months, according to a Tinsa report published this week.
The only definite positive in the economic panorama is the increased tourist sector figures so far this year: spending by foreign visitors was up by almost a quarter during the first three months of 2014, and that’s not including the effect of the Easter holidays which fell later this year!
On a more local level, in San Pedro del Pinatar there are hopes that projects can be got off the ground to restore the Molino de Quintín and the Floridablanca bathing station, although this depends on the regional government making funding available. In Mazarrón, meanwhile, the protected status of the old mines of San Cristóbal has been upheld by the regional courts, and in the western part of the municipality of Cartagena, around Isla Plana and La Azohía, the “Catch the Tiger” program is under way to limit the population of tiger mosquitos. This campaign will run in parallel with the annual seagull cull in Cartagena itself.
Finally, in Torre Pacheco the multi-cultural nature of the Region’s society in the 21st century has been consolidated by the opening of Murcia’s first official mosque. Those running the Moslem temple aim to promote integration into Spanish society and increase the locals’ understanding of their religion and practices.
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