Statistics Office Confirms Spain Back In Recession

CIARAN GILES

MADRID (AP) â¿¿ As their losses from mortgages grow, Spanish banks have begun discussions about creating a separate entity â¿¿ a "bad bank" â¿¿ to take on these assets and relieve pressure on the country's financial sector.

The goal of the new organization would be to reduce the financial strain on banks and prevent the need for either a more costly government bailout or an international rescue along the lines of Greece, Portugal and Ireland.

News of the bank talks on Monday emerged as ratings agency Standard & Poor's downgraded the debt of 11 Spanish banks â¿¿ including Banco Santander SA, the eurozone's largest by market capitalization â¿¿ because of growing concerns about the effects of Spain's shrinking economy on the banking industry. S&P warned that five other Spanish banks are at risk of a similar downgrade.

The official for Spain's Economy Ministry confirmed Monday that the Spanish banking industry is discussing creating a private entity that would assume their toxic assets. The new asset management organization is designed to take the burden of trying to sell foreclosed properties off the banks and allow them to concentrate on providing credit to the private sector.

The official added that banks would be able to transfer toxic assets only if they had already set aside provisions under existing government rules. The government would not inject any taxpayer money into the creation of such an entity and its role would be limited to setting up rules for how it would work. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with ministry rules.

Spain's National Statistics Institute added to the country's worries Monday by announcing that it was officially back in recession as the country's economy shrank 0.3 percent in the first quarter compared to the previous three months. This is Spain's second recession in three years. The contraction follows a similar decline in the final quarter of last year.

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