The health crisis has had a strong impact on the economic and financial situation of Spanish companies, albeit its impact has been limited thanks to the measures adopted, notably the ECB's monetary stimulus and the ICO's public guarantee programmes.
Despite the recent improvement in economic activity, the sharp fall in revenues and greater indebtedness have increased the financial vulnerability of the business sector, particularly affecting smaller companies and those sectors that were hit the hardest by mobility restrictions during the pandemic. According to data from the Bank of Spain, despite the fact that activity and employment have recovered significantly, the gross value added of all companies in the Bank of Spain's Central Balance Sheet Data Office as at September 2021 was still 13.8% below the levels of the same period in 2019.
In the short term, the priority is to continue to focus public assistance on reversing the deterioration in solvency generated by the crisis and to concentrate support on those viable companies that are most vulnerable.
However, in the medium and long term the measures must be geared towards improving the productivity of our productive fabric. There are several reasons that explain the lower productivity of Spanish companies over the last decade, but undoubtedly, a differential factor, which underlies the lower potential growth of our economy compared to the Eurozone average, is the reduced investment in R&D&I, and its lower capital and infrastructure endowment. Thus, according to data from the Bank of Spain, our country is below the European average in variables such as the stock of technological capital in relation to GDP (66.1% lower), or productive capital per employee (29.9% lower).
If there is anything positive to be drawn from the health crisis, it is that it has accelerated the digitalisation of the economy, which, supported by the contribution of funds from the NextGen EU programme, represents a significant opportunity to transform the Spanish productive fabric and drive its internationalisation (particularly that of SMEs) using the new digital channels.
However, this programme faces a major challenge, namely the need to allocate efficiently a large sum of resources (€70 billion in transfers, to which a further €70 billion can be added if the financing tranche is used), within a limited period of time. It is therefore essential to design a project selection and allocation process that is capable of channelling European funds towards the companies and projects with the greatest capacity to drive development.
The role of banks is fundamental in this task, due to their high degree of capillarity, supported by a network of more than 23,000 branches (half of which belong to the CECA sector), their expert and intimate knowledge of both large companies and SMEs in the different sectors of activity, and an advanced digital infrastructure at the service of customers.
On the financial side, it has the capacity to frontload funds and to provide additional financing to complement the assistance, generating a multiplier effect that maximises the impact of the plan on the national economy. The recent collaboration with ICO for the channelling of guaranteed loans (which at the end of 2021 exceeded 135,000 million in financing provided by banks) is a clear example in this regard.
Public-private sector collaboration is undoubtedly one of the keys to ensuring the success of the national plan. We should not forget that public administrations face the coordination challenges posed by the decentralisation inherent to the Spanish devolved state. In this regard, banking networks can help to ensure homogeneous distribution throughout the territory, favouring equal opportunities for those affected by the crisis, irrespective of their geographical location.