Madrid: Spain's 2012 public sector debt rose less than forecast by the European Commission, lending support to Premier Mariano Rajoy's view that the euro region's fourth-largest economy is past the worst of a six-year slump.
Borrowings rose 20 per cent to 884.4 billion euros ($1.15 trillion) at the end of December from 736.5 billion euros a year earlier, according to the Madrid-based central bank's estimate. That represents 84.1 per cent of gross domestic product, up from 69.3 per cent a year earlier and 77.3 per cent in the third quarter. It is less than the commission's forecast of 88.4 per cent.
"This is another positive surprise after the deficit numbers," said London-based senior economist at Berenberg Bank Christian Schulz in a telephone interview. "We may see revisions, but the key point is that progress is showing up in data, not only on competitiveness and exports, but also on the fiscal side."
Rajoy is trying to persuade investors and euro zone peers he can foster a recovery in the second half this year after overshooting his budget-deficit target by more than 50 per cent in 2012. The EU last month predicted Spain's contraction will be almost three times the government's 0.5 per cent forecast.
"Unlike last year, we're not getting negative surprises and that should improve confidence and ultimately drive down borrowing costs for the government as well as the rest of the economy," Schulz said.
A political stalemate in Italy hasn't dented a rally in Spanish bonds, supported by Rajoy's claim the budget gap fell to 6.7 per cent last year, excluding bank aid, from nine per cent in 2011. That is less than an EU forecast of seven per cent. The yield on Spain's 10-year benchmark bonds fell one basis point to 4.85 per cent at 12:02pm in Madrid, compared with a euro-era high of 7.75 per cent in July. The spread with similar German maturities was at 339 basis points.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has said restarting the euro-region economy is his biggest challenge in 2013 after stabilising the bloc's financial system last year by pledging to defend the euro.