There was a small uptick in Spanish housing sales during the fourth quarter of last year, according to data released today by the Ministry of Housing. Small, maybe, but enough for the Government to get excited about. “The transactions in the fourth quarter represent a rise of 4.1% with respect to the same period last year, this being the first year-on-year rise since the fourth quarter of 2006,” goes the first sentence, in bold, of the Ministry’s press release.
In fact, if you just look at the ordinary housing market, the uptick was even better. Excluding social housing there were 116,664 house sales in Q4, a rise of 5.5%. Regrettably, that’s where the good news ends.
Take the year as a whole, there 413,112 transactions last year, a fall of 19% compared to the previous year, and a whopping 46% down on 2007. Even the Q4 was down 33% compared to 2 years ago.
As you can see from the following table some regions did better than others. Looking at a selection of regions popular with holiday home buyers, the inland province of Teruel suffered the most in 2009, down 36%, followed by Las Palmas in The Canaries, down 32%. At the other end of the scale, Spain’s two big cities did the best, down just 1.7% in Madrid and 3.9% in Barcelona.
Look closely at the table and you will see that the small national uptick in Q4 that got the Ministry excited was almost entirely driven by big increases in Catalonia and Madrid (Barcelona +35%, Madrid +41%). Why the big surge in home sales in those two cities in the last quarter of 2009? I don’t know. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it had more to do with banks shifting properties around their balance sheets than families buying homes to live in.