* Companies launch world tour promoting Spain
* Spain touted as platform for export to Latin America
* Investors sceptical
By Natalie Huet
LONDON, April 4 A group of Spanish
multinationals kicked off a global charm offensive on Thursday
in London, advertising the country to foreign investors as a
land of opportunities, despite a prolonged recession and rising
Representatives of Spain's Business Competitiveness Council
(CEC) said at an evening event in London that Spain was an
attractive country for business and would return to economic
growth at the end of the year thanks to strong exports.
"Spain is a solvent and reliable country that has made
significant reforms to enable its economy to return to a growth
path by the end of this year," Ignacio Galan, chairman of energy
company Iberdrola SA, told delegates.
After visiting Amsterdam on Wednesday and London on
Thursday, the CEC plans to tour 20 other major cities around the
world in the next three weeks.
Spanish exports are up 25 percent from pre-crisis levels and
Spain recorded its first ever trade surplus with the eurozone
last year, according to data shared by the CEC.
But harsh spending cuts imposed to achieve European Union
deficit targets have added to the fallout from a 2008 property
bust and the country is entering its second year of recession,
while battling an unemployment rate of 26 percent.
The CEC talked up Spain's links to the fast-growing markets
of Latin America and touted the country as a platform to produce
and export goods and services to the rest of the world.
Set up in 2011 to promote corporate Spain, the CEC groups 15
companies accounting for three quarters of Madrid's blue chip
index, including banks Santander and BBVA,
telecommunications company Telefonica SA and the
world's biggest clothing retailer, Inditex SA.
Spanish funding costs on markets have eased since the
European Central Bank promised to backstop struggling euro zone
countries last year and investors snapped up its high yielding
paper at an auction on Thursday.
Yet the country is experiencing a credit crunch, with
lending to households and companies still falling, despite the
41-billion-euro EU bailout of its ailing banks last year.
Earlier on Thursday, electrical goods retailer Darty Plc
said it would close its loss-making operations in
Spain, arguing that scaling up the business to a level where it
could become profitable would take too long and was too
"What will ultimately dictate whether Spain does recover is
whether it can re-energise the small and medium-sized businesses
that will be the long term drivers of growth," said Harold
Hutchinson, a London-based Investec analyst who attended the
Others were more negative, with one investor pointing to the
fact that Spain had recently reneged on long-term contracts
offering attractive terms for investments in solar and wind
"We don't like the macroeconomic risk and we don't like the
regulatory risk," said Tom Murley, head of renewable energy at
private equity fund HgCapital. "We will not put another penny in