Banco Santander Helps Spain Ride Out the Storm

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- After years of crippling economic recession, the Spanish economy is slowly beginning to turn the corner. The recovery is slow and analysts don't have any high expectations at this stage of the game.

But one way to look at the improvement is to look at the stock performance of Banco Santander (SAN). The stock, at $8.98 on Thursday, is up 21% for the past 52 weeks.

In late 2012 many economists were making the case that the Spanish economy had reached its nadir and -- barring a full collapse of the euro -- would begin to claw its way out of the recession.

This appears to be the case as Spain has witnessed three quarters of positive economic growth.

From July 2013 until the present day, the Spanish economy has witnessed positive GDP growth. The fourth-quarter growth for 2013 was 0.2%, and the first quarter growth for 2014 is expected to be in the same range.

Investor confidence is returning to Spain and particularly Banco Santander.

The country has been reeling with massive outflows of foreign capital but that, too, is changing. Foreign direct investment in Spain is increasing, as evidenced by George Soros and John Paulson backing the Spanish property fund Hispania.

But the true litmus test of the economic recovery can be seen with Banco Santander. The bank suffered immense losses between 2010 and 2012 owing to its heavy investment in the Spanish economy.

Banco Santander Profitability

Pre-tax profits dropped from 12 billion euros in 2010 to 3.5 billion euros in 2012. By 2013, the bank had posted strong pre-tax profits to the tune of 7.3 billion euros.

The recovery in Spain is evident in the bottom line that is being reported by major corporations, banks and stock prices.

Banco Santander reported that 24% of its net loans to customers are in Spain. Massive provisions were made against its domestic asset base to finance the percentage of nonperforming Spanish loans.

While Banco Santander continues to power its way ahead in the global markets, its performance in Spain has been muted by a mere 7% profit in 2013. Contrast that figure with 17% profit from the United Kingdom.

The bank's shareholders would likely enjoy increased earnings if the deterioration of Spanish loans was halted, and became as lucrative as the UK loans held by the bank.

Investors who have been following the performance of Banco Santander have been pleasantly surprised by the positive news emerging from Spain. For the most part, it has been the global operations of this massive banking corporation that have been responsible for its continued prosperity.

It is now expected -- given three quarters of positive GDP growth in Spain -- that Spanish economic performance will bolster the earnings already being enjoyed on a global scale.

Presently, Banco Santander's shares have provided investors with a dividend yield of 9%. The company certainly has a big part to play in the ongoing recovery in Spain and across Latin America.

Banco Santander Performance

The share price is markedly off the highs of October 2007. The precipitous drop came between July 2008 and March 2009.

Post-March 2009, Banco Santander shares rallied to $17.30 before continuing their sustained losses through June 2012 when the trend became bullish.

The stock is moving into its second year of growth which is certainly in line with the global economic recovery and the Spanish economic turnaround, too. The stock currently has a market cap of $103.1 billion.

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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