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Economy of Spain

Economy of Spain
Cuatro Torres Business Area in Madrid
Currency 1 euro (€1) = 100 eurocent
Calendar year
Trade organizations
GDP €1.071 trillion ($1.358 trillion)(2013)[1]
GDP rank 13th (nominal) / 17th (PPP)
GDP growth
0.5% (2012)[2]
31.0 (2014)[3]
Labour force
22.9 million (December 2012)[4]
Labour force by occupation
services (70.7%), industry (14.1%), construction (9.9%), agriculture, farming and fishing (4.5%), energy (0.7%) (September 2009)[5]
Unemployment 25.8%
(4,890,7928 people) (May 2013)[6][7]
€18,679 ($24,293.98) yearly[8]
Main industries
machine tools, metals and metal manufactures, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, shipbuilding, automobiles, tourism,[9][10] textiles and apparel (including footwear), food and beverages.
Exports €268.15 billion ($359.3 billion) FOB (2011)[5]
Export goods
Machinery, motor vehicles, chemicals, shipbuilding, foodstuffs, electronic devices, pharmaceuticals and medicines, other consumer goods
Main export partners
France 16.8%
Germany 10.8%
Italy 7.7%
Portugal 7.1%
United Kingdom 6.5% (2012 est.)[12]
Imports €270.4 billion ($371.1 billion) (October 2009)[5]
Import goods
Fuels, chemicals, semi-finished goods, foodstuffs, consumer goods, measuring and medical control instruments, machinery and equipment
Main import partners
Germany 11.8%
France 11.5%
Italy 6.7%
China 5.6%
Netherlands 5.4%
United Kingdom 4.1% (2012 est.)[13]
FDI stock
$649.9 billion (31 December 2009 est.)
$1,283,184,000,000 (2013)
Public finances
92.10% of GDP (2013)
Revenues $515.8 billion (2010 est.)
Expenses $648.6 billion (2010 est.)
  • Standard & Poor's:[14]
    BBB+ (Domestic)
    BBB+ (Foreign)
    AAA (T&C Assessment)
    Outlook: Stable[15]
  • Moody's:[15]
    Outlook: Stable
  • Fitch:[15]
    Outlook: Stable
Foreign reserves
$47,171 billion (Aug 2014)[16]
Main data source: CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

Spain has the thirteenth-largest economy by nominal GDP in the world, and sixteenth-largest by purchasing power parity. The Spanish economy is the fifth-largest in the European Union, and the fourth-largest in the Eurozone, based on nominal GDP statistics. In 2012, Spain was the eighteenth-largest exporter in the world and the sixteenth-largest importer.

Spain is listed 23rd in UN Human Development Index and 30th in GDP(PPP) per capita by World Bank, thus it is classified as high income economy and among the countries of very high human development.[17] However, since the GFC, the Spanish economy's recent macroeconomic performance has been poor. Between 2008 and 2012, the economic boom of the 2000s was reversed, leaving over a quarter of Spain's workforce unemployed by 2012.[18][19] In 2012, the Spanish economy contracted by 1.4% and was in recession until Q3 of 2013.[20]

Despite the poor recent performance of the Spanish economy generally, Spain's international trade situation has improved. During the boom years, Spain had built up a trade deficit eventually reaching a record amounting to 10% of GDP (2007).[21] During the economic downturn, Spain has been significantly reducing imports, increasing exports and kept attracting growing numbers of tourists. As a result, in 2013 it achieved a trade surplus for the first time in three decades.[21] In their global forecast report dated October 2014, the IMF improved the 2015 GDP growth forecast for Spain, putting it ahead of the Eurozone major economies.[22]

Spain is a member of the World Trade Organization.


  • Recent developments 1
  • Growing reduction of European Union funds 2
  • 2008–2013 economic and financial crisis 3
  • Spanish banking system 4
  • The Euro debt crisis 5
  • Employment crisis 6
  • Prices 7
  • Economic strengths 8
    • Infrastructure 8.1
    • Exports grow steadily 8.2
  • Sectors of the economy 9
    • Tourism 9.1
    • Automotive industry 9.2
    • Energy 9.3
  • References and notes 10
  • External links 11
    • Statistical resources 11.1
    • Further reading 11.2

Recent developments

Torre Agbar, Barcelona

When Spain joined the EEC in 1986 its GDP per capita was about 72% of the average of its members.[23]

After a strong recovery from the global recession of the early 1990s, the centre-right government of former prime minister José María Aznar had worked successfully to gain admission to the group of countries launching the euro in 1999. Due to its own economic development and the EU enlargements up to 28 members, by 2007 Spain had achieved a GDP per capita of 105% of EU's average, which placed it slightly ahead of Italy (103%). Three regions were included in the leading EU group exceeding 125% of the GDP per capita average level: Basque Country leading with Madrid and Navarre.[24] According to calculations by the German newspaper Die Welt, Spain's economy had been on course to overtake countries like Germany in per capita income by 2011.[25] Unemployment stood at 7.6% in October 2006, a rate that compared favorably to many other European countries, and especially with the early 1990s when it stood at over 20%. Perennial weak points of Spain's economy include high inflation,[26] a large underground economy,[27] and an education system, beside UK and the United States, which OECD reports place among the poorest for developed countries.[28]

In particular, growth during the period 1997-2007 was led by a property boom fed by historically low interest rates, massive rates of foreign investment (during that period Spain had become a favourite of German and other European investment banks) and an immense surge in immigration. At its peak in 2007, construction had expanded to a massive 16% of the total gross domestic product (GDP) of the country and 12% of total employment. During that time Spain built up a massive trade deficit, financed by larger economies in Northern Europe. Such capital inflows –including short term speculative investment– was directed mostly to consumption and property rather than at long term fixed assets such as manufacturing plants and the like.[23]

The downside of the real estate boom was a corresponding rise in the levels of personal debt; as prospective homeowners had struggled to meet asking prices, the average level of household debt tripled in less than a decade. This placed especially great pressure upon lower to middle income groups; by 2005 the median ratio of indebtedness to income had grown to 125%, due primarily to expensive boom time mortgages that now often exceed the value of the property.[29]

Noticeable progress continued until early 2008, when the 'global financial crisis' burst Spain's property bubble.[30]

A European Commission forecast had predicted Spain would enter a recession by the end of 2008.[31] According to Spain's Economy Minister, "Spain faces its deepest recession in half a century".[32] Spain's government forecast the unemployment rate would rise to 16% in 2009. The ESADE business school predicted 20%.[33]

By 2013 Spain´s GDP per capita had fallen back to 95% of EU's average.[23]

Growing reduction of European Union funds

Capital contributions from the EU, which had contributed significantly to the economic empowerment of Spain since joining the EEC, decreased considerably in recent years due to the economic standardization in relation to other countries and the effects of the EU's enlargement. On the one hand, agricultural funds from the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union (CAP) are now spread across more countries (the Eastern Europe countries have a significantly large agricultural sector).

On the other hand, the structural and cohesion funds have declined due to the Spanish economic success (since income has progressed strongly in absolute terms) and due to the incorporation of less developed countries, lowering the average income per capita (or GDP per capita), so that Spanish regions which were considered to be relatively less developed, are now in the European average or even above it. Spain has gradually become a net contributor of funds for less developed countries of the Union as opposed to receiving funds.[34]

2008–2013 economic and financial crisis

Spain continued on the path of economic growth when the ruling party changed in 2004, maintaining robust GDP growth during the first term of prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, even though some fundamental problems in the Spanish economy were now becoming clearly evident. Among these, according to the Financial Times, was Spain's rapidly growing trade deficit, which had reached a staggering 10% of the country's GDP by the summer of 2008,[35] the "loss of competitiveness against its main trading partners" and, also, as a part of the latter, an inflation rate which had been traditionally higher than the one of its European partners, back then especially affected by house price increases of 150% from 1998 and a growing family indebtedness (115%) chiefly related to the Spanish Real Estate boom and rocketing oil prices.[36]

In 2011 the deficit reached 8.5%. In 2012, that percentage is expected to lower to 5.3% due to a set of tough reforms in the autonomous regions and the central government. Despite the difficulties, it is expected that the deficit will reach 3.3% in 2013.[37]

The Spanish government official GDP growth forecast for 2008 in April was 2.3%. This figure was successively revised down by the Spanish Ministry of Economy to 1.6.[38] This figure looked better than those of most other developed countries. In reality, this rate effectively represented stagnant GDP per capita due to Spain's high population growth, because of a high rate of immigration. Retrospective studies by most independent forecasters estimate that the rate had actually dropped to 0.8% instead,[39] far below the strong 3% plus GDP annual growth rates during the 1997–2007 decade. Then, during the third quarter of 2008 the national GDP contracted for the first time in 15 years and, in February 2009, it was confirmed that Spain, along other European economies, had officially entered recession.[40]

In July 2009, the IMF worsened the estimates for Spain's 2009 contraction, to minus 4% of GDP for the year (close to the European average of minus 4.6%), besides, it estimated a further 0.8% contraction of the Spanish economy for 2010.[41] The estimation of the IMF was proven to be somewhat too pessimistic, as Spain's GDP sank less than that of most advanced economies in 2009 and by the first quarter of 2010 had already emerged from the recession.

In 2008 the total Spanish public debt (government debt) relative to the total GDP was well below the European Union average, and in fact the government budget was in surplus. In 2012, public debt increased to 90.69% of GDP. Although this remains lower than other European countries such as Italy, Spain's financial problems stem from private debt equivalent to well over 98% of GDP.

Spanish banking system

Spanish private commercial banks played a central role in Spain's economic development, benefitting from their role as the state's creditor in the 19th century, from their ability to monetize public debt, and from state-sanctioned oligopolistic arrangements that lasted from the beginning of the 20th century until the late 1980s, when European rules forced a liberalization of the sector. It has been argued that the favorable treatment received by the main Spanish commercial banks and their close relationship to the Bank of Spain following the end of the Franco regime allowed for a public-private partnership to restructure the large commercial banks into two superbanks (Santander and BBVA) with the purpose of preparing the private institutions for international competition and external expansion once the European banking market was integrated in 1992[42] Alongside this financial mercantilism benefiting the commercial banking sector, Spanish regulators also allowed for the vast expansion of not for profit savings banks sponsored by regional governments who became heavily exposed to the housing mortgage and real estate development sectors during the Spanish economic boom of 1999–2007.

Prior to 2010, the Spanish banking system was credited as one of the most solid of all western banking systems in coping with the ongoing worldwide liquidity crisis, thanks to the country's conservative banking rules and practices. Banks were required to have high capital provisions and to demand various guarantees and securities from intending borrowers. This allowed the banks, particularly the geographically and industrially diversified large banks like BBVA and Santander, to weather the real estate deflation better than expected. Indeed, Spain's large commercial banks have been able to capitalise on their strong position to buy up distressed banking assets elsewhere in Europe and in the United States.[43]

Nevertheless, with the unprecedented crisis of the country's housing crisis, smaller local savings banks ("caja") even though representing a small portion of banking system, are known to have delayed the registering of bad loans, especially those backed by houses and land, to avoid declaring losses. This has occurred despite the fact that these credits are backed by the borrower's present and future assets.

CCM (Caja Castilla la Mancha), is still the only local savings bank to have suffered a run by depositors. The central bank Banco de España (equivalent of the US Federal Reserve) forcibly took over CCM to prevent its financial collapse.[44] The international accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCooper, estimated an imbalance between CCM's assets and debts of €3,500 million, not counting the industrial corporation. There were errors leading to the present situation. On 22 May 2010, the Banco de España took over another "caja", CajaSur, as part of a national program to put the country's smaller banks on a firm financial basis.[45]

In early June 2012, Spain requested European funding of €100 billion "to recapitalize Spanish banks that need it." It is not a "rescue" because a real rescue would reach ten or twelve times that amount. In return for aid, there will be no tax or macroeconomic conditions. The interest from the loan would pay the banks themselves. This plan will be overseen by the IMF, which would not place any money. According to the statement of European Ministers of Finance, the Eurogroup will closely monitor "the correction of economic imbalances." The news of funding led to a rise in risk premium Spanish to very high levels and a strong fall of the stock exchange in Madrid in June and July 2012. It was definitely an overreaction of the markets, according to what rightly stated by the Spanish economy minister. It almost certainly will come some very strong reactions from the markets, nevertheless in the medium term despite all these financial reactions must moderate and the economic performance of Spain and Europe should return to normal and growth.[46][47]

The Euro debt crisis

In the first weeks of 2010, renewed anxiety about the excessive levels of debt in some EU countries and, more generally, about the health of the euro has spread from Ireland and Greece to Portugal, and to a lesser extent in Spain and Italy.

Many economists recommended a battery of policies to control the surging public debt caused by the recessionary collapse of tax revenues, combining drastic austerity measures with higher taxes. Some senior German policy makers went as far as to say that emergency bailouts should include harsh penalties to EU aid recipients such as Greece.[48] It has been noted that the Spanish government budget was in surplus in the years immediately before the GFC and that its debt was not considered excessive.

At the beginning of 2010, Spain's public debt as a percentage of GDP was still less than those of Britain, France or Germany. However, commentators pointed out that Spain's recovery was fragile, that the public debt was growing quickly, that troubled regional banks may need large bailouts, growth prospects were poor and therefore limiting revenue and that the central government has limited control over the spending of the regional governments. Under the structure of shared governmental responsibilities that has evolved since 1975, much responsibility for spending had been given back to the regions. The central government found itself in the difficult position of trying to gain support for unpopular spending cuts from the recalcitrant regional governments.[49]

On 23 May 2010, the government announced further austerity measures, consolidating the ambitious plans announced in January.[50]

As of September 2011, Spanish banks hold a record high of €142 billion of Spanish national bonds. December 2011 bond auctions are "very likely to be covered" according to

  • Article: Investing in Spain by Nicholas Vardy – September 2006. A global investor's discussion of Spain's economic boom.
  • The Pain in Spain: On May Day, Nearly 1 in 5 are Jobless by Andrés Cala, The Christian Science Monitor, 1 May 2009
  • Alternatives to Fiscal Austerity in Spain from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, July 2010
  • O'Neill, Michael F.; McGettigan, Gerard (2005), "Spanish biotechnology: anyone for PYMEs?", Drug Discovery Today, News and Comment (London: Elsevier, published 15 August 2005) 10 (16): 1078–1081,  
  • The Catalan economy in the European context

Further reading

  • Banco de España (Spanish Central Bank); features the latest and in depth statistics
  • Statistical Institute of Andalusia
  • National Institute of Statistics
  • Statistical Institute of Catalonia
  • Statistical Institute of Galicia
  • OECD's Spain country Web site and OECD Economic Survey of Spain
  • World Bank Summary Trade Statistics Spain 2012
  • Tariffs applied by Spain as provided by ITC's Market Access Map, an online database of customs tariffs and market requirements.

Statistical resources

  • Spanish Banks Review
  • Comprehensive current and historical economic data

External links

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References and notes

Spain is one of the world leaders in renewable energies, both as a producer of renewable energy itself and as an exporter of such technology. In 2013 it became the first country ever in the world to have wind power as its main source of energy.[84]

In 2008, Spanish electricity consumption was an average of 6,523 kWh/person. Spanish electricity usage constituted 88% of the EU15 average (EU15: 7,409 kWh/person), and 73% of the OECD average (8,991 kWh/person).[83]


Apart from its domestic brand SEAT, which is the major contributor to the automotive sector of the country, many suppliers and foreign car and truck makers – like Volkswagen, Nissan, Daimler Mercedes-Benz, Ford, Renault, GM/Opel, PSA Peugeot/Citroën or Iveco – have major facilities and plants in Spain developing and producing vehicles and components both for the domestic and export markets,[81] In 2008 the contribution of the automobile industry rose up to 18% of the country's total exports, becoming the 2nd most exported industry.[82]

The automotive industry in Spain is a large employer in the country, employing 9% of the total workforce in 2009 and contributing to 3.3% of the Spanish GDP, despite the decline due to the economic recession over the past few years. In 2009, Spain was in the Top Ten of the largest automobile producers countries in the world.[80]

Automotive industry

The headquarters of the Madrid, Spain.[79]

By 2013, Spain was the third most visited country in the world: it was visited by 60.6 million tourists.[78]

During the last four decades Spain's foreign tourist industry has grown into the second-biggest in the world and was worth approximately €40 billion – about 5% of GDP, in 2006.[75] The total value of foreign and domestic tourism came to nearly 11% of the country's GDP and provided employment for about 2 million people.[76] In August 2012 Spain beat its own record of monthly arrivals, having registered 7.9 million visitors.[77]


Sectors of the economy

During the boom years, Spain had built up a trade deficit eventually amounting a record equivalent to 10% of GDP (2007).[21] During the economic downturn, Spain reduced significantly imports due to domestic consumption shrinking while – despite the global slowdown – it has been increasing exports and kept attracting growing numbers of tourists. Spanish exports grew by 4.2% in 2013, the highest rate in the European Union. As a result, in 2013 Spain achieved a trade surplus for the first time in three decades.[21] Export growth was driven by capital goods and the automotive sector and is forecast to reach a surplus equivalent to 2.5% of GDP in 2014.[74]

Spain Export Treemap by Product (2012) from Harvard Atlas of Economic Complexity

Exports grow steadily

The port of Valencia in Spain is the busiest seaport in the Mediterranean basin, 5th busiest in Europe and 30th busiest in the world.[73] There are four other Spanish ports in the ranking of the top 100 busiest world seaports; as a result, Spain is tied with Japan in the third position of countries leading this ranking.[73]

During 2013 Spanish civil engineering companies signed contracts around the world for a total of 40 billion euros, setting a new record for the national industry.[72]

The Spanish infrastructure concession companies, lead 262 transport infrastructure worldwide, representing 36% of the total, according to the latest rankings compiled by the publication Public Works Financing. The top three global occupy Spanish companies: ACS, Global Vía and Abertis, according to the ranking of companies by number of concessions for roads, railways, airports and ports in construction or operation in October 2012. Considering the investment, the first world infrastructure concessionaire is Ferrovial-Cintra, with 72,000 million euros, followed closely by ACS, with 70,200 million. Among the top ten in the world are also the Spanish Sacyr (21,500 million), FCC and Global Vía (with 19,400 million) and OHL (17,870 million).[71]

In the 2012–13 edition of the Global Competitiveness Report Spain was listed 10th in the world in terms of first-class infrastructure. It is the 5th EU country with best infrastructure and ahead of countries like Japan or the United States.[68] In particular, the country is a leader in the field of high-speed rail, having developed the second longest network in the world (only behind China) and leading high-speed projects with Spanish technology around the world.[69][70]


Spanish companies invested in fields like renewable energy commercialisation (Iberdrola is the world's largest renewable energy operator[66]), technology companies like Telefónica, Abengoa, Mondragon Corporation, Movistar, Gamesa, Hisdesat, Indra, train manufacturers like CAF, Talgo, global corporations such as the textile company Inditex, petroleum companies like Repsol and infrastructure, with six of the ten biggest international construction firms specialising in transport being Spanish, like Ferrovial, Acciona, ACS, OHL and FCC.[67]

Since the 1990s some Spanish companies have gained multinational status, often expanding their activities in culturally close Latin America. Spain is the second biggest foreign investor there, after the United States. Spanish companies too have expanded into Asia, especially China and India.[65] This early global expansion is a competitive advantage over its competitors and European neighbors. The reason may primarily due to the booming interest toward Spanish language and culture in Asia and Africa, but also a corporate culture that learned to take risks in unstable markets.

A map of Spanish export destinations in 2006.

Economic strengths

Due to the lack of own resources, Spain has to import all of its fossil fuels. In a scenario of record prices this means adding much pressure to the inflation rate. In June 2008 the inflation rate reached a 13-year high at 5.00%. Then, with the dramatic decrease of oil prices that took place in the second half of 2008 plus the manifest bursting of the real estate bubble, concerns quickly shifted over to the risk of deflation, as Spain recorded in January 2009 its lowest inflation rate in 40 years, followed shortly afterwards, in March 2009 by a negative inflation rate for the first time since the gathering of these statistics started.[63][64]


By the second quarter of 2014, the Spanish economy had reversed the tendency and started creating jobs for the first time since 2008.[60] The second quarter reversal was sudden and extraordinary considering that the number of jobs created set an absolute positive record since such quarterly employment statistics are maintained (the series starts in 1964).[61] Labor reform seems to have played an important role: one piece of evidence is that Spain is creating jobs at lower rates of GDP growth than before. In previous cycles, employment rose when growth hit 2%, this time the gain came during a year when GDP expanded by just 1.2%.[62]

In May 2012 began a radical labor reform that make more flexible labor market and facilitates layoffs. According to the minister for Employment and Social Security, Fátima Báñez, reforms and adjustments made by the Spanish Government are beginning to create a situation of economic growth, "creating jobs", while measures are "rationalization and austerity" in public spending, will show growth employment in the coming months.[59]

By July 2009, it had shed 1.2 million jobs in one year.[56] Spain's unemployment rate hit 17.4% at the end of March, with two million people losing their jobs; with the oversized building and housing related industries contributing greatly to the rising unemployment numbers.[52] In this same month, Spain had over 4,000,000 people unemployed,[57] an especially shocking figure even for a country which had become used to grim unemployment data.[52] Since 2009 thousands of established immigrants began to leave, although some that did continued to maintain homes in Spain due to poor conditions in their country of origin.[58]

After having completed large improvements over the second half of the 1990s and during the 2000s (decade), which put a few regions on the brink of full employment, Spain suffered a severe setback from October 2008, when it saw its unemployment rate surging to 1996 levels. During the period October 2007 – October 2008 Spain had its unemployment rate climbing 37%, exceeding the unemployment surge of past economic crises like 1993. In particular, during the month of October 2008, Spain feared its worst unemployment rise ever recorded and,[54] so far, the country is suffering a big unemployment crisis.[55]

Employment is a longtime weakness of the Spanish economy. In the current general frame, the structural unemployment rate is 18%.[53]

Torres de la Casería de Ossio apartment buildings in San Fernando completed in 2007. The collapse of the Spanish construction boom was a major contributor to the record unemployment.[52]

Employment crisis

Till Q2 2012, Spanish banks were allowed to report real estate related assets in higher non-market price by regulators. Investors who bought into such banks must be aware. Spanish houses cannot be sold at land book value after being vacant over a period of years.


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