Spain's "bad bank" home sales pick up in sign of property revival

MADRID Wed Jun 4, 2014 1:24pm EDT

MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's "bad bank", where rescued lenders transferred soured real estate and loans, said its home sales had accelerated this year, pointing to a revival in the Spanish property market.

Sareb, as the vehicle created to help clean up the country's financial sector is known, had sold over 5,000 homes to individuals by the end of April - compared with 9,000 in the whole of 2013.

"It's time to invest in the property market because it is stabilizing in terms of price," Belen Romana, chairwoman of Sareb, said at an event in Madrid on Wednesday.

New mortgage lending in Spain grew 2 percent in March from a year earlier, the latest official data shows, marking the first annual increase in four years - and providing another sign of revival, according to Romana.

Spanish house prices have fallen up to 40 percent since a 2007 peak. The slump pushed many banks to the brink of collapse, and some needed European bailouts to cope, to the total tune of about 41 billion euros ($56 billion).

Rescued banks transferred about 200,000 assets to Sareb, 80 percent of which are loans to developers, while the rest is made up of housing, commercial buildings and land.

Increased revenues from sales will be crucial for government-backed Sareb this year, when it will likely take a hit from stricter Bank of Spain rules on how to account for assets which have fallen in value.

The vehicle, which has another 14 years to sell off its stock, might have to revise some of its business targets downwards as a result, two sources familiar with the matter recently told Reuters.

Sareb made a loss in 2013 - its first year - as it got going and faced high costs, but it had forecast this. However it had originally projected a profit for 2014.

The Bank of Spain's new rules are still at a draft stage, but they could push Sareb to revalue some of the 51 billion euros of assets it took on at zero, if they do not carry certain guarantees and have been in default for over 18 months.

Romana declined to comment on Wednesday on what the impact would be, saying only: "We will do what we have to do."

She added that Sareb had sold a portfolio of land worth over 80 million euros, the first time it has managed to shift some of these assets, though she did not name the buyer or the price.

Sareb put a package of land plots worth around 350 million euros on the market last October, and it has taken until now to dispose of part of it. The price of land was hit hardest during the crisis, and some plots in remote rural areas for instance are considered worthless by property experts.

(Reporting by Jesus Aguado; Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Pravin Char)

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