June 11, 2023

Spanish Companies Look Abroad for Growth

While it is hardly a corporate exodus, the fear that trickle will become a flood if the Spanish economy worsens is already generating concern at a time when the government in Madrid is struggling to find additional revenue to close a gaping budget deficit.

Telefónica, the former public telephone monopoly, set off alarms in September when it said that it would create a new digital unit in London for its most promising mobile and online businesses.

The news came shortly after it announced major layoffs in Spain, where unemployment is already higher than 20 percent.

Other companies are taking smaller steps, like using foreign subsidiaries to circumvent punitive borrowing costs at home. At the same time, some multinationals, like the two biggest Spanish banks, Santander and BBVA, are playing down their nationality to reassure international investors as they seek to expand their business outside the country.

The value of Spain as a corporate brand has become “a lot worse,” said Pablo Vázquez, an economist at the Fundación de Estudios de Economía Aplicada, a Madrid-based research institute. The effect is felt not only in falling earnings, he said, but also “in terms of the intangible benefits that the Spanish brand transmitted before, those of a dynamic and youthful European society.”

Avoiding an exodus should be one of the priorities of the next government, following a general election Nov. 20, he added.

Company executives have been reluctant to discuss publicly their concerns about being located in Spain, particularly before the election.

Telefónica insisted that the decision to shift the digital unit, which includes its popular social network Tuenti, should not be viewed as an abandonment of Spain, even though the reorganization also involved folding its Spanish unit into a broader European business.

Guillermo Ansaldo, a Telefónica executive, told a conference a day after the relocation announcement was made that the group would continue to invest heavily in Spain, after spending €24.5 billion, or nearly $34 billion at the current exchange rate, in the country over the past decade.

Still, since the onset of the financial crisis, the proportion of Telefónica’s investments in Spain has fallen to 24.5 percent of its global capital investments in the past financial year, from 27.6 percent in the 2007 financial year.

In a surprising U-turn, the fashion retailing giant Inditex announced last month that it would move the online sales subsidiary of Zara, its flagship brand, back to Spain from Ireland. It made that statement shortly after reports in the Spanish media highlighting the tax savings that the Zara unit had made in Ireland.

Inditex, however, is among the few Spanish companies to have been relatively unscathed in the financial crisis.

On average, Spanish companies in the main Ibex stock market index have been trading recently at price-earnings ratios below those of their counterparts in Greece, which has suffered the most during the debt crisis, said Pankaj Ghemawat, professor of strategic management at the IESE business school in Spain.

“Spanish companies are really getting hit very hard in terms of their ability to issue shares and raise financing in general,” Mr. Ghemawat said. “It might not boost the market capitalization immediately, but it does make sense to shift assets to safer jurisdictions, should things really get more sour here.”

However, given the public outcry that any full-fledged departure could generate, Mauro Guillén, a Spanish professor of international management at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said that companies were instead likely to use “lots of intermediary solutions.”

A company that followed Telefónica’s lead would be likely to benefit, since “being based in London would give them more favorable access to financing,” said Luis Garicano, a Spanish professor at the London School of Economics.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0e0d14ef6377e817d303b9f88fa5d9fc

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