• Spain's real estate sector after the shock of COVID-19

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    The COVID-19 pandemic is severely impacting economic activity and the real estate sector is also feeling the effects, albeit not as much as other sectors. Specifically, at CaixaBank Research we expect GDP to fall by between 13% and 15% in 2020 and not to return to pre-crisis levels until the end of 2023. However, despite the seriousness of the situation and the high uncertainty regarding how the pandemic will develop, it is important to note that the sector is supported by a much stronger foundation than in the previous crisis of 2008.

    Before the outbreak of the coronavirus, the financial situation of Spanish households and companies in the sector was generally healthier than it was 12 years ago. Moreover, the number of new properties being built was not excessive in relation to the demographic trend. Banks also have much better solvency and liquidity ratios. All these factors make us more confident in the sector's ability to weather the current crisis.

    Nevertheless, the scope of the economic impact of COVID-19 will significantly affect the labour market and, consequently, the demand for housing. House sales fell by 39.2% year-on-year in April and we expect a drop of between 30% and 40% for 2020 (with a gradual recovery in 2021). Household income is being eroded and uncertainty about future employment prospects may lead to an increase in precautionary saving by households and the postponement of long-term investment decisions. House sales to foreigners, who accounted for 12.5% of the total in 2019, will be particularly affected.

    Construction activity was directly hit during the state of emergency but resumed relatively quickly as restrictions were lifted. All the same, a significant slowdown in the initiation of new building projects is highly likely due to the uncertain climate. New building permits could decline by 20% to 40% by 2020.

    Given the drop in demand, house prices will undergo a significant adjustment and, by the end of 2021, could be 6% to 9% below their pre-crisis levels in Spain as a whole. Nevertheless, there will be considerable differences, both geographical and in the type of housing, with all the evidence pointing to tourist areas and second-hand properties suffering the biggest decline.

    The rental market is likely to be less affected as it is supported by higher demand given the difficulties faced by households to buy a home. In fact, we have devoted the article «To buy or to rent? A question of income but particularly of savings capacity» in this Sector Report to an analysis of housing affordability for renters.

    Finally, we should also note that the current crisis is triggering changes in many different aspects of our lives, a large number of them related to our residential preferences (never have we spent so much time in our homes!). The pandemic could also accelerate some changes in areas such as the modernisation of homes, which would support the transition to a more sustainable economy.

    Once the peak of the epidemic is over, we must focus all our efforts on recovery. The resulting economic and social changes may be far-reaching and will entail a transformation of the real estate market. Given this situation, we must be able to turn the challenges into opportunities. Only then will we #ComeOutStronger.

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  • Foreign demand for housing, key to the sector's recovery

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    The COVID-19 crisis is severely affecting house purchases. Once the slump in transactions during the lockdown has been overcome, the evolution in demand will largely depend on the recovery of the labour market and international tourism over the coming months. Our forecast scenario predicts a gradual recovery in demand, although the more than half a million transactions recorded in 2019 will not be repeated, even in 2021.

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    House sales were severely hit by the coronavirus crisis in the first half of 2020

    During the weeks the state of emergency was in place, the buying and selling of property was in hibernation. Restrictions on non-essential movements and the temporary closure of physical real estate agencies and notary offices except for urgent, pressing cases paralysed new real estate transactions. According to figures from the National Statistics Institute, in April sales slumped by 39.2% year-on-year while credit to purchase housing was down by 51.0% year-on-year. Similarly, national accounting data show that residential investment fell by 9.0% quarter-on-quarter in Q1 2020, a drop of around 50% in the second half of March if we assume that residential investment had remained stable until 14 March.

    Thanks to digital technologies the sector has remained operational

    Despite these very large figures, thanks to digital technologies the sector has remained operational throughout the state of emergency. According to the information published on several real estate portals, online property searches increased significantly during the weeks of lockdown (especially related to homes with more outdoor space, pointing to changes in demand preferences) and real estate agencies have continued to offer their services online (with virtual visits to apartments, etc.). With regard to new builds, market data indicate that the rate of deliveries has followed the planned schedule except for some occasional delays (at present, houses are being delivered whose purchase decision was made approximately 18 months ago), although the sale deadlines for new developments are being extended.

    Once this first stage of hibernation has been overcome and the economy adapts to the «new normal», one question comes to the fore: how will housing demand evolve in the medium term? To answer this question, we will examine the main factors that determine demand for housing: the gross disposable income of households, the formation of new households, financial conditions, foreign demand and the demand for second homes.

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    Gross disposable household income

    The COVID-19 crisis is having an unprecedented impact on the labour market. Social Security registration data showed a decrease of almost 950,000 workers between 12 March and 30 April (the period with the greatest restrictions on activity), most of these workers being on temporary contracts (approximately 70% of the total). This figure does not include employees affected by Spain's furlough measures or ERTE (around 3.4 million in April)1 as they are still registered as employees with Social Security even though they are not working, nor the self-employed whose work has been interrupted (1.3 million in April). In other words, if we take into account the workers leaving the Social Security registration system, those affected by furlough measures and self-employed workers who have requested the extraordinary allowance for business interruption, we calculate that more than 30% of workers were unable to work on 30 April.

    However, as economic activity returns to normal, furloughed workers are gradually starting to return to their jobs and employment is being created again (in May, Social Security registration increased by 188,000 and the number of furloughed employees fell to just under 3 million). We expect this improvement to continue in the second half of the year, although 2020 could still end with an increase in unemployment of between 1.7 million and 1.9 million compared to Q4 2019.2 The unemployment rate would rise in Q3 2020 to an interval of 21.5% to 22.7%, falling again in 2021 (between 18.1% and 19.8% by the end of 2021).

    The bleak outlook for the labour market has had a severe impact on household income. The various social and economic support measures adopted by the government aim to offset part of these losses by, for example, relaxing the conditions to receive unemployment benefit, providing assistance for the self-employed and specific allowances for temporary workers who are not entitled to unemployment benefit, as well as approving a minimum living wage and other measures, such as guaranteeing basic supplies and the moratorium on mortgages and consumer loans for vulnerable families.3  The banking sector has also taken the initiative to complement several of these measures, for instance by extending the mortgage moratorium from 3 to 12 months.4 Moreover, the property development sector has implemented supportive measures such as moratoriums on the payment of deposits normally put down before a property is delivered.

    Increased uncertainty about the economic and employment outlook is likely to affect housing demand over the coming quarters. Generally speaking, in economic crises consumers tend to increase their precautionary savings and postpone their consumption of durables and long-term investments, such as buying a home. This is being borne out by the available data: investment in residential housing construction fell by 9.0% in Q1 2020, the largest decline since the series started in 1995. Furthermore, European Commission data for Q2 2020 show that the percentage of households intending to buy a home in the next 12 months is very close to its historical minimum.

    • 1. Workers affected by furlough measures (ERTE) tend to be on a permanent contract.
    • 2. These forecasts assume that, in Q4 2020, approximately 15% of workers affected by furlough measures or by their business closing will become unemployed.
    • 3. For more details, see the article "Economic measures to counteract the impact of COVID-19 in Spain", available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/labour-market-demographics/economic-measures-counteract-impact-covid-19-spain.
    • 4. See the communiqué (in Spanish) by the Spanish Banking Association at: https://www.aebanca.es/noticias/comunicados/los-beneficiarios-de-la-moratoria-aprobada-por-el-gobierno-podran-complementarla-con-la-moratoria-sectorial/.
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    Job losses among the younger population and the decline in immigration

    will slow down the formation of households and consequently the demand for a main residence.

    Creation of households

    Household formation will most likely slow down during the crisis. On the one hand, the deteriorating employment situation of young people, who are more affected by job losses since many of them are often on temporary contracts, may lead them to postpone the decision to form their own household. On the other hand, it is very likely that the restrictions on international movements established by many countries as a result of COVID-19 will curb the number of immigrants entering Spain in 2020. It should be noted that, since 2015, Spain has once again become a net recipient of immigrants after years of crisis in which there were many more immigrants departing than arriving.5 Indeed, of the 322,600 new households that have been formed in the past five years,6 a large share include foreign nationals (76% of the total), either exclusively or in mixed households. In fact, in the past two years (2018 and 2019), households made up solely of Spanish nationals have decreased, highlighting the importance of immigration in maintaining Spain's population dynamics.

    The composition of households in terms of nationality is relevant to the housing market, as the propensity to rent is much higher among foreigners: 65.6% rented their main residence compared with 12.5% of households comprised exclusively of Spaniards. Despite lower immigration inflows, demand for rental housing is expected to continue to rise as increased uncertainty about job prospects may affect the decision to buy, as already mentioned.

    • 5. See the article «The return of immigration to Spain» available at https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/labour-market-demographics/return-immigration-spain.
    • 6. Figures from the continuous household survey (ECH). The data from the Labour Force Survey (EPA) show a slightly higher increase in the number of households between 2014 and 2019, of 384,900. We have used the ECH data because it provides a breakdown by nationality of household members and whether the main residence is rented or owned.
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    Financial conditions

    The COVID-19 crisis initially led to global financial conditions becoming notably tougher due to marked volatility in financial markets and risk aversion on the part of investors. The major central banks were quick to respond, however, acting rapidly and decisively. The ECB adopted a package of extraordinary measures in March, extended in April and June, aimed at ensuring abundant liquidity, easing credit conditions for households and businesses and anchoring a low interest rate environment.7

    The low interest rate environment provides an important breathing space for families since it helps to ensure the financial burden borne by households due to debt interest payments remains very low (0.6% of gross disposable income in 2019).8 Benchmark interest rates are expected to remain around their current level for several years.

    • 7. The measures adopted by the ECB include a series of Pandemic Emergency Longer-term Refinancing Operations (PELTRO), reducing the cost of TLTROs and increasing their volume, relaxing the various regulatory requirements on the financial sector, broadening the universe of assets accepted as collateral in liquidity injections in several markets and expanding the asset purchases planned for 2020.
    • 8. The financial burden of debt has also been reduced, albeit to a lesser extent, by the decline in household debt: this represented 91% of gross household disposable income in 2019, slightly below the average household debt in the euro area and far below the peak reached in 2009 (132%).
    Part of the decline in demand, related to tourism and foreigners, will last longer

    However, demand for second homes by Spaniards might be less affected in relative terms.

    Foreign demand

    In recent years, purchases by foreigners have been fundamental in boosting Spain's real estate sector, especially in large cities and tourist areas. In 2019, foreigners bought almost 63,000 homes in Spain, accounting for 12.5% of total purchases according to the College of Registrars. The geographical distribution is very uneven: while foreigners are barely present in some provinces, in other, more tourist-related provinces their share is highly significant, as in the case of Alicante with more than 40%.

    As expected, COVID-19 has had a severe impact on foreign purchases. The global nature of the pandemic has meant that many countries have imposed restrictions on people's movements. In particular, the countries that tend to buy most Spanish properties (UK and France) have taken steps similar to Spain. We can therefore observe that Q1 sales to foreigners totalled 14,850, down by 6.4% year-on-year. The decline in property purchases by UK citizens (–14%) is particularly large, accentuating a downward trend that was already noticeable. On the other hand, French and German buyers, the second and third largest nationalities, held up fairly well in the first quarter, although the closing of borders and paralysis of the real estate market in the second quarter will slow down the trend for this variable.

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    Given the gradual recovery expected for international flows of people, the decline in foreign demand for housing (in many cases for holiday purposes or investment in tourist rental accommodation) will probably be more persistent and take considerably longer to recover. Nevertheless, in May and June Google Trends data show an increase in the popularity of searches for «property Spain» in the United Kingdom, «acheter maison Espagne» in France and «Haus Spanien» in Germany, suggesting international buyers are still interested. In addition, the low interest rate environment and volatile financial markets increase the attractiveness of the real estate sector compared with other investment alternatives. In this respect, domestic and international investors continue to show an interest in the Spanish market.

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    Demand for second homes

    Second homes have a significant weight in the Spanish real estate market: they represent 14.6% of the stock of housing and in 2019 accounted for 13.6% of all sales (about 75,000).9 During the state of emergency, second homes unfortunately made the headlines because of unauthorised travel to these properties and the risk this posed by spreading the virus to less affected regions and populations. But it also highlighted the fact that owning a second home is a widespread practice in Spain.

    • 9. Sales of second homes are estimated based on the sales carried out in a province other than the buyer’s residence.
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    A household's age and economic situation are the main factors that influence the decision to acquire a second home.10 Despite the fact that the crisis is affecting all households to a greater or lesser extent, the population aged over 40 with a medium-high income level, who are the potential buyers of second homes, are suffering less from its consequences. It is therefore to be expected that second home sales will decline less than sales overall, a pattern already observed in the previous recession: the share of second home sales increased from 13.4% in 2006 to 17.3% on average between 2008 and 2013.

    • 10. See the article «Second homes in Spain: seaside or sierra?» available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/sector-analysis/real-estate/second-homes-spain-seaside-or-sierra.
    Outlook for house sales in 2020-2021

    The following are the prospects and main aspects regarding the real estate sector in 2020-2021 according to CaixaBank Research, with the proviso that forecasts are subject to a much higher degree of uncertainty than usual:

    • Job losses among the younger population and the decline in the number of immigrants moving to Spain will slow down the formation of households and, consequently, the purchase of main residences. Rented accommodation might be boosted by this situation.
    • Higher uncertainty could increase precautionary savings and delay long-term investment decisions. However, financial conditions will support the recovery in demand.
    • Part of the decline in demand, related to tourism and the foreign market, will be more persistent. On the other hand, demand for second homes by Spaniards might be less affected in relative terms.
    • The combination of these factors leads us to estimate that real estate sales could fall by 30% to 40%, totalling 300,000 to 350,000 properties in 2020. The uncertainty is even higher in 2021 and we have therefore projected an interval of 310,000 to 450,000 properties.
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  • A severe blow for a well-positioned sector

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    It is inevitable that the property development and construction sectors, which are very sensitive to economic conditions and confidence levels, will contract significantly this year. We expect a notable decline in new building permits and a severe impact on employment in the construction industry. However, the nature of the shock and the state of the sector before the appearance of COVID-19, much more favourable than a decade ago, suggest it should be able to recover.

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    Impact on construction activity

    Construction activity was directly affected throughout the state of emergency, especially during the two weeks when all non-essential work was restricted. The slump in cement consumption in April, –50% year-on-year, bears witness to this. However, as restrictions on economic activity have been lifted, construction work that was already underway has resumed relatively quickly and, despite some supply chain disruptions, no significant delays are expected in the delivery of new housing in 2020. The latest data available on completion certificates, for March, show that 81,700 homes were finished in the past 12 months (+17.6% year-on-year). Given that more than 100,000 homes were granted permits in 2019, we predict that between 80,000 and 100,000 could be completed this year.

    The uncertain climate will affect the rate at which new real estate projects are started
    Nueva edificación

    On the other hand, it is very likely that the start of new building projects will slow down this year due to the uncertain climate and greater risk aversion, which would affect the number of homes completed in 2021. New building permits fell by 37% year–on–year in March compared to an increase of 5.5% in 2019. The impact COVID-19 may have on new construction will largely depend on expectations regarding the persistence of the economic shock. Real estate development is a long-term business and requires an environment of relative price stability to ensure the development returns a profit within two years. In this respect, the decrease in the construction sector's economic sentiment index to –32.4 points in May (compared to an average of –7 points in 2019) points to further declines in activity over the coming months.

    We therefore expect the number of new building permits to fall significantly in 2020. Uncertainty is very high and this is reflected in a relatively wide range of forecasts: we predict a decline of between 40% and 20%; i.e. 65,000 to 85,000 new building permits. 2021 should see a gradual recovery in new building permits thanks to less economic uncertainty and developments in the pandemic (between 75,000 and 95,000 homes).

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    Effects on the labor market

    The labour market has been hard hit by the pandemic. Between 11 March and 31 May, the number of workers registered with Social Security as employed in the construction sector fell by 5.9% (–75,000).1 In addition, 93,400 construction workers were affected by furlough measures and 168,647 self-employed persons had applied for the extraordinary allowance due to business interruption as of 31 May. Therefore, 26.4% of the sector's registered workers at 11 March were not working by the end of May. This high percentage, however, is lower than the average for the economy as a whole (29.1%), since there are sectors such as hospitality (79.7%) and retail (36%) that have been much harder hit by the crisis (see the following chart). Real estate activities, on the other hand, have suffered relatively less in terms of Social Security registered workers (-6,700 workers between 11 March and 31 May, –4.5%) although a large number of workers have been furloughed (16.7%) and 43% of self-employed workers in the sector have requested the extraordinary allowance for business interruption.

    Over the coming months, the expected number of jobs to be created by firms in the construction industry is not encouraging. In May, the European Commission's indicator for the sector's recruitment prospects stood at –30 points, 10 points better than the minimum reached in April (–40 points) but well below the average of –7 points recorded in the 12 pre-crisis months.

    The big job losses seen in construction are due to the sector's typical employment system and company structure. Specifically, the larger number of jobs lost in an economic shock can be partly explained by a high degree of temporary employment (40% of workers in the construction sector were on a temporary contract in 2019), by a high proportion of self-employed workers (30% of the total) and by small companies (55% of construction companies in Spain have no employees and an additional 40% have fewer than 10). This situation highlights the sector's structural problems, which become more visible at times of crisis. In this respect, the strategy followed to exit the recession should promote company growth and human capital management, for instance via measures to retain skilled labour and invest in personnel training and education.

    • 1. Construction lost 157,000 registered workers in the second half of March, although the figures for April and May were more positive and showed a notable recovery in the jobs lost.
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    The current economic shock is of a very different nature than the one causing the previous recession, as it has not originated in the real estate sector

    The starting point for economic agents is much more solid than in 2008.

    Sector situation regarding the 2008 crisis

    However, it is also very important to stress that the sector's starting point is much more solid than when the previous crisis erupted in 2008, suggesting it might recover more readily:

    • Construction companies and developers have significantly improved their financial position. The considerable reduction in the share of short-term debt on company balance sheets is a determining factor in preventing liquidity problems from leading to solvency problems.
    • The production of new builds does not seem excessive in relation to the structural need for housing. In 2019, new building permits totalled 106,266 homes (one eighth of the permits in 2006) compared to the 134,176 new homes created last year according to the EAP. In addition, new homes are being built in areas with proven high demand and a more dynamic demographic profile.
    • Banks are less exposed to the development and construction sector. The share of credit for the real estate sector on bank balance sheets has been significantly reduced. Moreover, the non-performing loan ratio for bank loans to the sector has fallen dramatically since 2013 (the peak) and, in general, banking's solvency and liquidity situation is more robust and comfortable.
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  • House prices will be affected by the crisis but with notable differences depending on the geographical location and type of property

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    Given the dramatic decline in demand, house prices are likely to undergo some adjustment in the period 2020-2021, although there will be significant differences depending on the property's location and type. Specifically, we expect house prices to fall more sharply in the second-hand market and tourist areas, which have been severely affected by the restrictions on international travel.

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    House prices were already slowing down before the COVID-19 shock

    According to data published by the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda (based on valuations), house prices fell by 0.8% quarter-on-quarter in Q1 2020. In year-on-year terms, progress was still positive with a slight increase of 0.3%, albeit a marked slowdown compared with the 2.1% year-on-year growth recorded in Q4 2019. The house price data published by the National Statistics Institute (based on transaction prices) also posted a slowdown to 3.2% year-on-year in Q1 2020 compared with an increase of 3.6% in Q4 2020. This deceleration was caused by lower growth in the price of second-hand housing (0.4% quarter-on-quarter), while new builds recorded a significant rise (5.1% quarter-on-quarter).

    House price indicators from different real estate portals (based on the sale prices on offer), which are published more frequently and with less time lag, are gradually starting to reflect the impact of the crisis. For example, the Fotocasa index, which reflects the trend in the price per square metre of second-hand housing, fell by 1.1% year-on-year in May, while the Tinsa index showed a tiny increase on the Mediterranean coast (0.3%). However, significant growth is still being recorded in large cities (3.6%) and the Balearic and Canary Islands (3.8%), although in both cases a slowdown can be observed compared with the growth posted in 2019. Lower prices are also starting to be seen in apartments offered for sale on real estate portals, although the impact on transaction prices is still small, for the time being.

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    In the second half of the year, the negative trend in house prices is expected to increase

    In the second half of the year, the negative trend in house prices is expected to increase. Typically, after a significant drop in sales, prices tend to adjust a few months later. On this occasion the decline in sales has been very sharp due to the lockdown measures restricting people's mobility. It is therefore to be expected that house prices will gradually react to the new environment.

    There is considerable uncertainty regarding the extent of the adjustment in house prices during this recession. We believe it very unlikely that prices will adjust as much as they did during the previous recessionary period and the price adjustment period is also likely to be significantly shorter. As already mentioned in the previous article, the real estate sector is not the cause of the current shock nor has it accumulated imbalances that would require price adjustment mechanisms to be implemented to regulate and control the system. In particular, real estate was not overpriced in general before COVID-19.1 All this has led us to produce scenarios in which the adjustment in house prices will be more contained than in the last crisis. Specifically, we predict that house prices could fall by between 6% and 9% during the 2020-2021 period in Spain as a whole. While house prices would start to show positive growth rates in the second half of 2021, we do not expect them to return to the pre-crisis level before 2024.

    • 1. See the article «The widening gap between Spain's house prices» available at: https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/sector-analysis/real-estate/widening-gap-between-spains-house-prices.
    In 2020-2021, house prices will adjust to some extent,

    this correction being larger in tourist areas and for second-hand housing.

    The trend in price will vary greatly depending on the location of the property

    Those markets that already had more price tension, such as the centre of big cities and tourist areas, will see a bigger adjustment. The size of the adjustment will partly depend on how investor interest in these areas evolves because, in recent years, such investments have contributed to the increased dynamism of these markets.2 Changes in residential preferences in terms of where and how to live, encouraged by, for instance, the greater prevalence of working from home in the «new normal», may reduce pressure on residential prices in the most congested cities and shift some of the demand to conurbations with the best connections to workplaces.

    On the other hand, the house price trend in tourist areas will be highly dependent on the recovery in international travel. Although restrictions were partially lifted at the end of June, the recovery in tourist flows is expected to be incomplete as long as there is no vaccine or effective treatment against the disease.

    • 2. See Álvarez, L, Blanco, R. and García-Posada, M. (2020), «La inversión extranjera en el mercado inmobiliario residencial español entre 2007 y 2019», Boletín Económico del Banco de España 2/2020.
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    There may also be significant differences in price trends by housing type

    The decline in house prices is likely to be greater in the second-hand market, which accounts for the bulk of transactions (over 80% in 2019), since this is usually more sensitive to the economic cycle. The decline in the price of new housing will be smaller as supply is more limited in this segment. This dichotomy in the evolution of the price of new and used housing was also observed in the previous recession: from its peak in 2008 to its lowest point in 2013, the price of new housing fell by 32% in cumulative terms while second-hand housing saw a much bigger cumulative drop of 43.7%. Moreover, this pattern was observed in all the autonomous regions.

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  • The COVID-19 crisis will speed up the transformation of the real estate sector

    CatalanSpanish

    The current crisis is triggering changes in many aspects of our lives, a large number of them related to our residential preferences. For example, working from home can transform how and where we live. The pandemic has also boosted the digitisation of the real estate sector and could speed up certain changes in other areas such as house modernisation, supporting the transition to a more sustainable economy.

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    The crisis as a promoter of telework

    Beyond a short-term analysis of how the economy and real estate sector will evolve this year and next, it is important to ask whether, once this pandemic is over, we will return to a situation similar to before the shock or whether there will be substantial changes in our society and in the way we live and relate to each other. These changes can permanently affect our consumer habits and preferences and cover a wide spectrum, from how we are educated or work to how we shop and play sports, for example. Although it is difficult to provide any definitive answers to this question, some transformations were already underway before the pandemic which may have been speeded up by the crisis and precipitate a permanent change.1 

    The crisis has boosted working from home. During the pandemic, those with the opportunity to do so have preferred to work from home to enable social distancing and avoid unnecessary travel. However, even before the pandemic an increasing number of companies were encouraging their employees to work from home by creating the necessary infrastructure for remote connections, providing workers with mobile devices and offering them the necessary training in digital tools. A recent study by CaixaBank Research estimates that, at present, 32.6% of all employees in Spain could potentially carry out their work remotely, a percentage similar to that of most advanced economies.2 In this respect, it is very likely that working from home was one of the changes that were already taking place and will accelerate as a result of the crisis.

    • 1. See the Dossier «The world after COVID-19» in MR05/2020 available at https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/monthly-report/445/may-2020/world-after-covid-19, which comments on the changes the pandemic will bring to the economy and society.
    • 2. See the article «La COVID-19 outbreak boosts remote working» available at https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/labour-market-demographics/covid-19-outbreak-boosts-remote-working. And Dingel, J. and Neiman, B. (2020), «How many jobs can be done at home?». NBER Working Papers.
    Telework influences the preferences of buyers when choosing a home

    The increase in remote working has important implications for the real estate market as it directly affects buyer preferences regarding the location of the property  (people can live further away from their workplace if they have to commute fewer days a week) and the size and layout of the home (with demand for larger, more versatile homes, with different uses of the space, for instance).3 This transformation has an impact that goes beyond the real estate sector itself, seeing as urban, transport and public service planning will also have to adapt to the new situation.

    Changes in the way we work will affect our way of life and can help to speed up the economic transition to a more sustainable, environmentally friendly system. Buyers are increasingly paying attention to issues related to the sustainability of homes and their energy efficiency, a change that was already taking place but may accelerate in the wake of the pandemic. The crisis has also exposed the shortcomings in some housing that does not meet the minimum health requirements. In this respect, the modernisation of existing housing may become more important, as such properties tended to be built based on very different sustainability standards to those now required for new builds.

    • 3. Likewise, the long lockdown has made consumers more appreciative of having a terrace or some outdoor space for private use, although it is not yet clear whether this change in preference is temporary or a more persistent phenomenon, should it be necessary to reintroduce some lockdown measures due to outbreaks, for example.
    The crisis has also shown that the most digitised companies are coming out stronger

    Firms that had already invested in adopting new digital technologies have been able to continue offering their services remotely, for example through virtual tours of properties. Potential buyers have also been offered better conditions, for instance by being able to book an apartment for longer than usual during the state
    of emergency and with no cancellation charge. In many cases, the client's experience may have improved. Once the pandemic is over, this could lead to further client demands for greater flexibility and more personalised services.

    Another aspect the coronavirus crisis has exposed is the huge difficulty of building houses while complying with social distancing measures on site. This is partly due to the very nature of the activity. But it also highlights the fact that the construction sector is lagging behind in adopting new digital technologies and robotisation. For example, the number of workers could be reduced on sites with more industrialised production processes, where many of the specialised jobs are more automated and performed at another location.

    The rental market and accessibility to housing

    The crisis has also brought about changes in the rental market. In recent years the number of flats used for short-term tourist rental has grown exponentially. With the collapse of tourism, these properties have become vacant and many private investors have decided to transfer them to conventional rentals. This process is likely to alter as international tourism recovers but it may not be completely reversed if investors perceive greater risk in the short-term market (e.g. more volatile returns).

    On a more negative note, the crisis has also exposed problems of housing affordability, especially among the most vulnerable people who tend to live in rented accommodation.14 The government has adopted several measures to support renters in the face of the COVID-19 crisis, such as suspending evictions until the end of the year, the automatic renewal of six-month rental contracts and the provision of micro-credit to cover rent payments. Such measures will help to address the current social emergency. However, the rental market suffers from structural problems which require stable regulations that encourage investment. One of the priorities in this respect should be the creation of a significant amount of accommodation at affordable rents.

    In short, COVID-19 has not only brought us a profound economic crisis. Once we get over this calamity, and we will, the resulting economic and social changes may be far-reaching with a huge impact on the real estate market in the long term. There's no turning back.

    • 4. The next article «To buy or to rent? A question of income but particularly of savings capacity» in this Sector Report analyses to what extent those renting a property can afford to buy.
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  • An unprecedented global economic recessio

    CatalanSpanish

    The spread of the coronavirus throughout the world has come as an unprecedented shock to the global economy. The Spanish economy has been particularly hard hit, partly because of its greater dependence on international tourism. In the second half of the year, we expect the economic recovery to take hold thanks to the easing of social distancing measures and the boost provided by the wide range of fiscal and monetary measures adopted. However, we believe the economy will continue to operate below potential over the next few years.

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    Global activity will fall sharply in 2020

    At the beginning of the year, the forecasts pointed to Spain's real estate sector continuing to expand in 2020, albeit at a more moderate rate than in previous years. However, these scenarios were soon overtaken by the global spread of the coronavirus. Although it is still very difficult to calculate the precise economic consequences of this crisis (uncertainty remains very high), they will most probably be of an unprecedented nature, both for the world and for the Spanish economy and, specifically, for the real estate sector.

    Global activity will fall sharply in 2020 (by around 4%), a far greater decline than the slump experienced during the Great Recession of 2009, due to the economic effects of the social distancing measures implemented by most countries to counteract the spread of the virus. To cope with this severe economic shock, a battery of fiscal and monetary measures of extraordinary scope and depth have been rapidly deployed, with the aim of protecting the balance sheets of both households and businesses. The major central banks are also acting quickly and decisively, ensuring abundant liquidity and easier access to credit, as well as anchoring a low interest rate environment. These measures will help to boost economic recovery as from the second half of 2020, a process that should culminate in strong growth in 2021 which could exceed 6% globally.

    The global and Spanish economy are contracting dramatically, a slump that will affect the real estate sector in 2020

    The economic measures being implemented will support the recovery in activity

    The Spanish economy is one of the developed economies with the largest decline in activity

    The Spanish economy is one of the developed economies with the largest decline in activity in the first half of 2020 due to the severe impact of the pandemic and the country's greater dependence on tourism, a sector that has been seriously affected by the crisis as a result of restrictions on the international movement of people. Consequently, after plummeting by 5.2% quarter–on–quarter (-4.1% year-on-year) in the first quarter of the year (the biggest quarter–on–quarter drop since the National Statistics Institute's historical series began in 1995), all available indicators suggest that, in Q2, economic activity suffered a much bigger decline as more weeks were affected by the restrictions associated with the state of emergency. However, from May onwards the initial phases of the lifting of the lockdown helped to gradually reactivate economic activity, as shown by indicators such as electricity consumption and card spending.

    Economic activity will continue to pick up in the second half of 2020

    Nevertheless, the uncertainty surrounding the forecast scenario is exceptionally high, especially because it is not clear how the pandemic will evolve in the future. We have therefore chosen to present a central range of forecasts. One of the key assumptions is that social distancing measures will have to be maintained well into 2021, until an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is discovered. During this time, it is likely that further outbreaks of infection will occur but it is assumed these will be localised and temporary, and that another full lockdown will not be necessary. All this will hinder the economy's ability to recover which, although we expect to see a significant rebound in 2021, will be unlikely to return to pre-crisis activity levels before 2023.1

    • 1. For a detailed description of this scenario's assumptions and the complete macroeconomic picture, see the article "Economic activity begins to gradually reactivate as the lockdown is lifted", available at https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/recent-developments/economic-activity-begins-gradually-reactivate-lockdown-lifted.
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  • The tourism industry in the face of COVID-19: an unprecedented impact

    CatalanSpanish

    COVID-19 is having a huge impact on economic activity in Spain and, in particular, on the tourism industry. At CaixaBank Research we expect GDP to fall by between 13% and 15% in 2020, not returning to its pre-crisis levels until 2023. The outlook in 2020 is even grimmer for Spain's tourism industry as it is one of the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.

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    After Spain declared a state of emergency on 14 March, the population's mobility was reduced to a minimum; borders were closed and people had to be confined to their homes to check the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, a sector as dependent on mobility as the tourism industry entered a period of almost total inactivity. Only since the lockdown measures have begun to be lifted has the outlook for the sector started to improve. The indicators of card expenditure via CaixaBank's payment terminals suggest that tourist spending has started to wake up from its hibernation and is embarking on an incipient recovery. Consequently, if the health situation is kept under control, a considerable improvement in activity is expected for the second half of 2020, although this will not prevent demand for the year as a whole falling very sharply. According to CaixaBank Research forecasts, by 2020 tourist expenditure by foreigners will fall by around 50% while domestic tourists will spend almost 30% less.

    The tourism business is faced with a very complex situation. There was a total clousure of tourist accommodation during the toughest months of the lockdown, so the spring season was completely lost. This has pushed the sector to resort massively to lines of credit backed by the ICO and also furlough measures (ERTE in Spanish) to ensure that companies can survive without revenue over a period that has lasted more than two months. Given this situation, the tourism industry saw higher job losses than any other sector during the first half of the year. Up to June about 44% of the reduction in workers affiliated to Social Security was due to job losses in tourism companies. Nevertheless, activity indicators point to a gradual recovery in tourism business. According to the card payments made via CaixaBank terminals, whereas 75% of hotels and tourist agencies were still closed in May, during the second week of July this figure fell to 31%. If this improvement in demand prospects persists over the coming months, the sector's recovery will continue and some of the jobs lost should be recovered.

    Accordingly, we estimate that tourism-related GDP could decline by nearly 45% in 2020 as a whole, representing a loss of around 5% of total GDP. This impact will be felt particularly by the autonomous regions in the Mediterranean and on the islands, which are heavily dependent on the influx of international tourists and whose tourism sectors account for a larger share of the regions' business.

    Although the outlook for 2020 is overwhelmingly negative, the medium term could bring cause for more optimism. Up to February 2020, the tourism industry had enjoyed almost a decade of extraordinary results, during which time it took on the investments required to boost its competitiveness. Post-coronavirus tourism will have to adapt its supply to the new situation and be able to meet demands for higher quality and more personalised services, improvements which the sector's entrepreneurs have already been focusing on for several years. For all these reasons, and although COVID-19 has made the future more uncertain than ever, the tourism industry is capable of recovering strongly in the medium term, which would make it a key driver of growth for the Spanish economy.

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  • The toughest year for the tourism industry

    CatalanSpanish

    The health crisis caused by COVID-19 has represented an unprecedented shock for Spain's tourism sector. Demand indicators confirm that the stoppage during the months of lockdown was total, both for international and domestic tourism. The end of the state of emergency and the recovery in international mobility within the EU have helped to revive flows of tourists to Spain. The outlook for the coming months points to a relatively rapid upturn in domestic tourism with a more gradual recovery for international tourist flows, although the delicate situation of the pandemic will still be a major source of uncertainty.

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    Mobility has played a vital role in the success of Spanish tourism in recent decades. The great expansion in international air connections and the connectivity boom brought about by the creation of the Schengen area helped Spain to go from receiving 32 million international tourists in 1995 to over 83 million in 2019, becoming the world's second country in terms of international visitors, only outdone by France. So far, in 2020 the global spread of COVID-19 has put the international and domestic mobility of the world's population on hold. The lockdown measures implemented by a large number of countries to control the pandemic resulted in 183 countries with closed borders or entry restrictions by the end of June. This has caused international tourist flows to plummet and Spain has been no exception.

    The state of emergency and the paralysis of tourism

    Spain declared a state of emergency on 14 March which led to the closure of its borders. Between that date and the 15 June, the first day on which a group of German tourists were allowed onto the island of Mallorca, no foreign tourist could travel to Spain. According to INE figures, 10.5 million international arrivals were recorded between January and May 2020, 63.9% fewer than over the same period in 2019. The extent of the decline is similar if we look at spending by foreign tourists up to May (–61.7%) as well as the overnight stays in tourist accommodations (–61.5%). All this provides unequivocal proof that, in April and May, the slump in international tourism business, which accounts for 70% of tourism demand, has been extraordinarily severe.

    The state of emergency also resulted in a lockdown for the local population so that, until May, the reduction in domestic tourist flows was similar to that for international tourists. Overnight stays in tourist accommodation by Spanish travellers fell by 62.8% year-on-year between January and May. However, the recovery in domestic mobility has been one of the main aspects of Spain coming out of the lockdown, with hotel business picking up slightly at the end of May.

    According to data from the hotel occupancy survey, 82,600 Spanish travellers stayed at a hotel in May, with an average stay of 2.5 nights. This is a very small volume (98% less than in May 2019) but it illustrates that lifting the lockdown has already started to have a positive effect on domestic tourist flows.

    New sources of information to track the evolution of tourism in real time

    Given the current situation, which changes from week to week, the description provided by official data, most of which are available up to May 2020, gives a somewhat outdated picture of sector's current status. Therefore, in recent months economic analysts have particularly focused on exploiting higher frequency indicators that enable us to monitor the situation in real time. A large number of technology companies and public institutions have made an effort to make daily mobility statistics available to the public as these provide an insight into the extent of the impact and, most importantly, how quickly business is getting back to normal.1 

    One particularly useful indicator is produced by Google based on its Google Maps mobile app. As can be seen in the chart, the drop in mobility outside the home during the most intense phase of the state of emergency peaked at 80%2 whereas a clear change in trend can be seen as of 2 May, the first day the lockdown began to be lifted in stages. In just one month, the population's level of mobility reduced its decline compared with pre-COVID levels from 68% to 29%. As already noted, this upturn in mobility at the end of May led to the first overnight stays at hotels during the state of emergency. June's data suggest that the recovery in domestic mobility continued to advance (around –12% at the end of the month) and it will presumably continue to improve over the coming months provided we manage to prevent the spread of the virus without having to return to strict, widespread lockdown measures.

    • 1. The INE has produced a mobility indicator based on data from the main telecommunications companies in Spain. The Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda has published daily mobility statistics from the records of the transport infrastructures it manages (road, train stations, airports, etc.). Among other technology companies, Google (google.com/covid19/mobility/), Apple (apple.com/covid19/mobility) and CityMapper (citymapper.com/cmi) have published mobility statistics based on the use of their navigation applications.
    • 2. The period with the greatest restrictions on mobility was between 30 March and 15 April, when all non-essential activities were prohibited.

    Non-residential mobility in Spain

    Change with respect to the baseline* (%)

    p 5
    Note: Data based on 7-day average. (*) The baseline corresponds to the median mobility recorded on the same weekday between 3 January and 6 February. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on the Google Mobility Report.
    Card payment data show that tourist spending is picking up more slowly than mobility

    Monitoring mobility is extremely useful as it acts as a leading indicator of the mobilisation of tourist flows. However, it does not provide a completely accurate picture of the current situation or trend in consumption, whether tourism-related or otherwise. For this reason, CaixaBank has also invested a lot of effort in developing real-time indicators using big data methodology and based on card payment data via its point-of-sale terminals, taking advantage of information on the country where the payment card was issued and the type of retail business where the payment was made.3 

    What these indicators reveal is that consumption of non-essential goods fell to a minimum during the state of emergency, although it recovered strongly once the restrictions on mobility were lifted. As can be seen in the chart, the trend in retail consumption (textiles, household appliances, etc.) using Spanish payment cards has responded very quickly to improvements in local mobility and, since mid-June, has been at a similar or higher level than the same period in 2019. In the case of leisure and hospitality consumption, which depends largely on the local population but is also regularly consumed by tourists, there is a clear upward trend. During the last week of June, card payments for face-to-face consumption related to leisure and hospitality fell by just 1% year-on-year compared with a drop of around 95% during the state of emergency.

    Nevertheless, as far as tourist expenditure is concerned, the recovery is still a long way off. Domestic tourist consumption improved very slightly after part of Spain entered phase 2 of easing the lockdown at the end of May, when public areas in hotels were reopened, and more significantly after the end of the state of emergency at the end of June, when Spaniards were once again allowed to travel between autonomous regions. However, as shown by the chart, domestic tourist expenditure still registered a 47% year-on-year drop between 6 and 12 July. As for consumption by international tourists, this improved sharply after the first few weeks of open borders for citizens from the Schengen area, posting a 74% year-on-year drop between 6 and 12 July, around 22 percentage points (pp) less than before the borders were opened. In conclusion, tourist expenditure is still at an extraordinarily low level but the improved outlook for tourist mobility following the reopening of regional and international borders between Schengen countries (80% of Spain's demand) suggest that the recovery in tourist expenditure may speed up, provided connectivity between origin and destination countries is reactivated and the pandemic remains under control.

    • 3. CaixaBank Research publishes a weekly report (in Spanish) on the real-time trend in this consumption indicator at https://www.caixabankresearch.com/es/publicaciones/notas-breves-actualidad-economica-y-financiera

    Face-to-face payments via CaixaBank payment terminals

    Year-on-year change (%)

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    Notes: Tourist expenditure is estimated based on POS terminal payments at hotels and travel agencies. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on internal data.
    According to Google Trends, international tourists are becoming interested in travelling to Spain again

    According to booking and internet search indicators, which point to future demand, interest in tourism in Spain is improving considerably. Google Trends data show that searches carried out from Spain for the term «hotel», which would illustrate domestic tourists interested in making a reservation, went from –84% year-on-year in April to –46% in the last week of June. On the other hand, foreign tourist searches for trips to Spain are picking up in key countries for the Spanish tourism industry. As can be observed in the following charts, if we compare the weekly level of searches carried out from each country with the expected level based on the historical search pattern, we can see that, in the UK and Germany, people's interest in travelling to Spain largely returned to normal during the last week of June, while in the Netherlands it was still slightly below the expected level. In France and Italy, interest was 27% and 47% lower than expected at this point in the year, probably because these are two outbound markets that offer highly competitive domestic alternatives for tourists. In the case of Italy, moreover, the government has launched a direct incentive (up to 150 euros per household) to persuade Italians to opt for a «staycation», so the prospects of Italian tourist arrivals in Spain are less favourable. Finally, in the case of the US, to which the EU has closed its borders, interest in tourism in Spain continues to fall short of its expected level.

    Weekly searches in Google for trips to Spain

    Index (100 = historical peak)

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    Note: Data from searches for the word «Spain» in each country's official language and within the travel category are used. Expected searches consist of the projected searches carried out based on data from one year previously using an ARIMA model (1, 1, 1
    How the tourism industry will evolve in 2020

    Despite the improved outlook suggested by our analysis of the latest figures, it should not be forgotten that the current scenario is highly uncertain and will depend on striking a balance between mobility and safety until an effective vaccine or treatment against COVID-19 is found. The forecasts presented below are therefore largely dependent on the how the pandemic evolves in Spain and in the outbound markets. Our central forecast scenario assumes that the spread of COVID-19 in Spain is kept under control, although it does include the possibility of spikes which could force localised lockdown measures. We have also worked under the assumption that a vaccine or effective treatment would be available by mid-2021.4

    Under these assumptions, we expect domestic tourist expenditure to pick up considerably during the second half of the year. Specifically, we predict it will reach very similar, albeit slightly lower, levels than those recorded over the same period in 2019, due to the balance of limiting and supporting factors. Firstly, the health situation will continue to hinder the recovery in demand due to (i) a perception of less safety, (ii) uncertainty regarding the evolution of the pandemic and (iii) the social distancing measures that will be maintained throughout the year. Furthermore, we believe the consequences of the current crisis on the purchasing power of households will lead many Spaniards to spend less on tourism this year for purely economic reasons. On the other hand, the factors supporting the recovery will be (i) the good connectivity offered by the road network for private transport within the peninsula, (ii) the recovery in domestic flights, which are easier to coordinate through Spain's state-owned airport operator (AENA), and (iii) the substitution of tourist trips abroad with domestic trips. This last factor looks like being one of the most decisive for the recovery in domestic tourism. Between July and December 2019, tourists who are resident in Spain spent 9.5 billion euros abroad compared with 18.8 billion euros on domestic tourism. According to our forecasts, this substitution effect could contribute about 2.5 billion euros to domestic tourism.

    • 4. For a detailed description of this scenario's assumptions and the full macroeconomic picture, see the article «Economic activity beings to gradually reactivate as the lockdown is lifted», available at https://www.caixabankresearch.com/en/economics-markets/recent-developments/economic-activity-begins-gradually-reactivate-lockdown-lifted.
    p 8

    Consequently, if our predicted recovery takes place, domestic tourism expenditure for 2020 as a whole could fall by around 30%, some 8.4 billion euros less than in 2019 mainly as a result of the stoppage of business between March and June.

    On the other hand, as can be seen in the chart, our forecasts for international tourism expenditure show a somewhat less positive trend for the rest of the year due to (i) the loss of non-EU tourism, (ii) a gradual recovery in connectivity in the EU (highly dependent on air connections and the situation of the pandemic in each outbound market) and (iii) a lower propensity to travel outside the country of residence due to uncertainty about developments in the pandemic. In short, according to our estimates, spending by foreign tourists will fall by about 25% year-on-year between July and December 2020, which would result in a decline of more than 50% for the whole of 2020 (47 billion euros less than in 2019).

    Tourist expenditure: domestic (left) and international (right)

    Million euros

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    Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from the National Statistics Institute.

    Overall, domestic tourism will not be able to offset the effect of the drop in foreign demand, which accounted for 70% of tourism expenditure in 2019 and will represent around 60% in 2020. The total tourist expenditure made by both resident and foreign tourists in Spain could be around 68 billion euros in 2020, a drop of nearly 45% compared to the previous year.

    The complexity of the environment in which the tourism industry currently operates also makes it necessary to take into account the evolution of the pandemic in Spain's  outbound markets, making the situation even more uncertain. As can be seen in the table, which looks at 10 of the main countries sending tourists to Spain, the health and connectivity situation seems relatively favourable. Spain's dependence on European countries, where the spread of the pandemic seems to be more under control, means that the health-related prospects of a large proportion of its international tourist demand look positive.

    Only the markets on the American continent, which account for less than 10% of international tourist demand in Spain, have a clearly negative outlook. In any case, although the situation in the outbound markets is good, it is still uncertain.

    Situation of the main outbound markets for Spain's tourism industry at the end of June

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    Note: (*) The charts show the growth in the number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants between 23 January and 30 June. To the right of each chart are the infections per 100,000 inhabitants for the last 7 days of June in each country. Source: CaixaBank
    Forecasts for the medium-term trend in the tourism industry

    Making projections for 2020 is extremely complex due to the high uncertainty regarding how the pandemic will evolve. However, if we focus on the medium term, and assuming an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 will have been discovered within this timescale, the upswing in international tourist confidence, the increased attractiveness of established, safe destinations during the early stages of the recovery and the rebound in the global economy all point to a considerably better outlook for Spain's tourism industry than for 2020.

    As the next chart shows, we predict a relatively rapid recovery in demand in the medium term. In 2021, international tourist expenditure would reach a level higher than the one achieved in 2016, albeit still far from its pre-crisis level. Nevertheless, the sector has enjoyed some extraordinary years, in 2019 beating all records in terms of tourist volumes and expenditure, so returning to the revenue levels of 2016 could be considered as very positive.

    International tourist expenditure in Spain

    Billion euros

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    Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from the National Statistics Institute.

    In conclusion:

    • Tourism demand is going to plummet in 2020, mainly due to the loss of mobility of tourists between March and June.
    • Tourist expenditure will gradually pick up in the second half of the year, supported by domestic tourism and the arrival of international tourists from traditional outbound markets such as Germany and the UK.
    • The dependence of tourist flows on the health situation in Spain and in the countries of origin will be a source of uncertainty. Despite this, the medium-term outlook for the sector remains positive, thanks to the fact that its pre-crisis situation was very solid.

     

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  • Reactivating tourism business

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    With the shock of the COVID-19 outbreak, tourism businesses reduced their activity, destroying a large number of jobs and taking massive advantage of Spain's furlough scheme (ERTE). Tourism supply is now attempting to revive itself. The lifting of mobility restrictions has encouraged a good number of tourist establishments to reopen their doors, even though demand is still low. With the start of the summer season, it is essential for the tourism sector to maintain, and benefit from, its commitment to reactivation as this is the only way to create jobs again.

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    The slump in tourism demand between March and June was accompanied by the deactivation of a large number of tourism companies, which were forced to cease trading due to mobility restrictions and the impossibility of offering their services. According to data from the hotel occupancy survey, between March and May 2020 a monthly average of 4,100 hotel establishments remained open, 73% fewer than in the same period in 2019, a considerable reduction but somewhat less than the decline suffered by demand (over 90%). This is due to the fact that the sector has managed to reactivate slightly better than might be inferred from the demand figures. In May, 12% of the establishments that had been operating in February reopened their doors (mainly small establishments with low staffing needs), slightly ahead of demand due to an expected upturn in bookings.

    Analysing CaixaBank terminal payments to monitor the activity of the tourism supply in real time

    The complexity of the current situation is such that the surveys carried out by the INE, which are traditionally used to analyse the tourism supply in this report, provide us with much less information than in the past since the number of surveys carried out on open establishments is insufficient.1  Thanks to CaixaBank's use of big data, we have been able to overcome this problem by developing an indicator that enables us to monitor the levels of inactivity for tourism supply in real time. To do so, we use the share of retail businesses with a CaixaBank payment terminal that have stopped processing any payments. As can be seen in the chart, according to this indicator the sector almost totally closed down in the period between the declaration of the state of emergency and 24 May, the date that marked the beginning of phase 2 in some parts of Spain. Since then, the revival in supply has been gaining ground. At the end of June, and for the first time since March, the share of inactive tourism businesses was below 50%, coinciding with the end of the state of emergency and the opening up of borders with other EU countries.

    • 1. The INE has not published data at a regional level from its hotel occupancy survey due to the limited number of establishments surveyed in April and May. Neither have the hotel price index or profitability figures (ADR and RevPAR) been published.

    Share of hotels and travel agencies with no payments via their CaixaBank terminals

    % of total

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    Note: The series has been normalised so that the share of inactive businesses equals 0% in December 2019. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on internal data.

    Tourism supply is reviving in advance of demand, reacting positively to the prospects of a recovery and the relaxation of social distancing measures. From the limitation of capacity to 30% and the closure of shared areas in hotel establishments required in phase 1 of lifting the lockdown, in many cases the capacity limit has been raised to over 70% at present, enabling establishments to exceed the demand threshold and offset their costs.2 Even so, according to internal CaixaBank data, during the second week of July 31% of tourism establishments remained inactive and hotel payments were still down by about 65% year-on-year, suggesting that most operators have probably not reached breakeven point.

    • 2. At present, the autonomous regions are responsible for regulating social distancing measures so there are no common criteria regarding capacity limits for tourist and hotel establishments. It should be noted that, in the case of small commercial and hotel establishments, social distancing measures between customers entail more stringent constraints on capacity than those indicated.
    Reactivating the tourism industry: economic policies and adapting to the new demand

    Until this breakeven point is reached, it is important that economic policy measures continue to support the sector. The main support measures have been based on enabling temporary adjustments in the workforce by making the furlough scheme (ERTE) more flexible and also on providing liquidity to companies (100 billion euros with ICO guarantees for companies, with a tranche of 2.5 billion euros specifically for tourism companies), as well as a moratorium of up to 12 months on mortgage operations for properties linked to tourism business and taken out with credit institutions. All these measures, aimed at mitigating the impact of the coronavirus crisis, have been fundamental for tourism businesses to survive during the months
    of little or no demand.

    The sector will have to boost its transformation in order to adapt to the new parameters regarding health safety in the short term and to new demand requirements in the medium and long term.3 Indeed, the plan to reactivate tourism proposed by the government in mid-June contains measures along these lines, such as soft loans to finance sustainable solutions for tourism companies and investment in digital transformation. Expanding the role of public policy could therefore be a key lever to ensure tourism has the capacity to carry out these investments and maintain its levels of competitiveness.

    On the other hand, the reduction in foreign competition for tourism within a lower demand environment such as the present may also be vital to speeding up the sector's reactivation this summer. It should be noted that British and German tourists' perception of other Mediterranean markets, such as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, improved in 2019, limiting the growth of Spain's international demand.4 However, the pandemic has meant that these markets are now notably limited in terms of European visitors,  not only because they are not members of the EU but also because the restrictions imposed by their governments are more severe than in the case of Spain and other Mediterranean EU member states. This can be seen in the following chart, based on the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.

    • 3. See the article «The future awaiting global tourism» in this Report.
    • 4. See the article «The fight for international tourism in the Mediterranean» in the Tourism Sector Report for the 1st Semester of 2020, available at www.caixabankresearch.com

    Intensity of border restrictions

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    Source: CaixaBank Research, based on the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker.
    Employment in the tourism industry, the hardest hit by COVID-19

    The industry's reactivation is even more in the news, if possible, because of the impact it could have on employment. Spain's labour market has suffered a terrible shock. In June, the number of people registered as employed with Social Security stood at 18.6 million, 974,000 fewer than in June 2019 (–5% year-on-year), of which around 70% were temporary workers. In addition, 1.8 million employees were affected by furlough measures; i.e. they were still registered with the Social Security system and therefore did not count as unemployed but were either not working or at least not full-time.

    Employment in the tourism sector has been the hardest hit by the current situation. At the end of May, tourism-related employment stood at 2.5 million people, nearly 387,000 fewer than in the same month in 2019 (–13.5% year-on-year). This implies that 44% of the jobs lost in Spain were in the tourism sector. In addition, around 31% of tourism employees were furloughed while 5.5% took advantage of severance packages, well above the average for Spain in May, namely 9.8% furloughed and 2.0% being made redundant.

    Starting from such a low level of employment, and given the traditional weight of tourism jobs in the economy as a whole (12.8% of the registered workforce in 2019), the «reopening»  of the sector could have a substantial effect on employment and on moderating the number of jobs affected by the furlough scheme. Despite the fact that tourism jobs are highly seasonal throughout the year, a considerable amount of employment is generated by tourism at times of moderate demand. In other words, the bulk of the jobs are created when hotel establishments decide to open, even if the actual occupancy of the hotel is low. Logically, as the occupancy rate increases, so does the number of employees, but much more gradually. Specifically, according to our estimates, the basic staff of a hotel (those who do not depend on the occupancy rate) represent about 65% of the staff the hotel would employ if it were full. For example, an average Spanish hotel, which according to INE data consists of 49 rooms, would employ 17 workers with a 100% occupancy rate, while with a minimum occupancy rate of 35% it would employ 13. Although there is a substantial difference in employment between the high and low seasons, it should be noted that the hiring of most hotel staff is not so dependent on the seasonality of demand.

    In this respect, although Spain's average occupancy rate will remain limited for the rest of the year, a small improvement in the prospects of tourist arrivals could make all the difference in reactivating the sector and the labour market as a whole.

    Simulation of hotel staff hired by occupancy rate

    p 17
    Note: The sensitivity of the number of employees per hotel room to the different occupancy rates has been estimated using data from the survey «Encuesta de Ocupación Hotelera» for 106 municipalities between January 2005 and December 2019. Source: CaixaBa

    In conclusion:

    • Tourism supply is gradually being reactivated. The share of inactive tourism businesses went from 95% in mid-April to 31% in the second week of July.
    • Liquidity measures and temporary workforce adjustments have been and will continue to be fundamental for the tourism industry to overcome the slack period.
    • The «reopening» of tourist businesses could result in significant job creation and would considerably moderate the number of people furloughed.

     

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  • The loss of tourism business is a major blow for the Spanish economy

    CatalanSpanish

    The tourism industry is a key sector for Spain's economy and the decline forecast in tourism for 2020 will have a major impact on the country's level of economic activity. However, this economic impact will not be spread evenly throughout Spain as there are big differences between regions in the relative importance of the tourism sector. We expect the islands and Mediterranean communities to be more exposed than the average in Spain, while inland regions will suffer less.

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    Much has been said during the current crisis about the importance of tourism for the Spanish economy and this is understandable, given that it is one of the economic sectors that will suffer the most from the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis. According to data from the tourism satellite account published by the INE, the industry generates 12.3% of Spain's GDP and 12.7% of its employment. Tourism's huge importance for the Spanish economy is not by chance but the result of its great competitiveness and resilience. However, in 2020 the sector lies at the epicentre of the crisis affecting the Spanish economy which, according to forecasts by CaixaBank Research, will see a fall in GDP of between 13% and 15%.

    Tourism-related GDP in Spain

    Index (100 = 2019)

    p 19
    Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from the National Statistics Institute.
    The impact of the slump in tourism business on the Spanish economy

    Due to the sharp decline in tourism expenditure expected in 2020, which we estimate at around 50% for international tourism and about 30% for domestic, the sector will no longer produce a great deal of economic activity. Specifically, according to our forecasts, tourism-related GDP will fall by around 44% in 2020, severely affecting the Spanish economy. This drop in tourism business could directly deduct 3 pp from GDP growth. Furthermore, due to the sector's strong influence on the rest of the economy, an additional 1.6 pp to 2.3 pp could be lost indirectly.1 In this case, the tourism sector would contribute negatively to Spain's economic growth by between 4.6 pp and 5.3 pp of GDP.

    In the medium term, we expect tourism activity to return to its pre-crisis level from 2024 onwards. However, the activity level of 2017, a year which can be used as a benchmark given the good performance by tourism, could be regained as early as 2021.

    • 1. According to our estimates, for every 100 euros of added value generated directly by the tourism sector, 76 euros of indirect added value are generated in the rest of the economy, which means that around 40% of the economic activity created by the tourism sector is indirect.
    Analysis of the decline in tourism expenditure by autonomous region

    In regional terms, the economic impact of the drop in tourism business in 2020 will be highly heterogeneous and depend mainly on the relative importance of foreign tourism and also on the importance of the tourism sector in each region's economy.

    The following chart shows the projected variation in tourism expenditure by autonomous region for 2020. According to these estimates, the Balearic Islands will suffer the most from the drop in tourism expenditure (59%) due to their high dependence on foreign tourism (95% of expenditure) and also because a large part of their tourism demand (86% of the annual demand in 2019) is concentrated in the spring and summer months (those most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic). At the other end of the scale, Castilla-La Mancha and Aragon are the regions that will post the smallest decline in tourist expenditure due to their lower dependence on foreign tourism (14% and 24%, respectively). Obviously, these results depend considerably on how the pandemic evolves in the different regions.

    Drop in tourist expenditure in 2020 in the autonomous regions

    Annual change in % and contribution in percentage points

    p 20
    Fuente: CaixaBank Research.
    Analysis of the economic impact of the drop in tourism expenditure by autonomous region

    The sector's relative importance for the region's economy is also very relevant in order to understand the economic impact of the decline in tourism, this factor also varying greatly from region to region. Since we do not have estimates of tourism's contribution to GDP per region, we have used the share of tourism expenditure to GDP to obtain an approximate measure of the tourism sector's relative weight. Using this figure, we can see that tourism is comparatively unimportant in the regions of Navarra and La Rioja (around 4% of their GDP) while its consumption accounts for more than 40% of GDP in the island communities of the Balearics and Canaries.

    Map of the impact of the fall in tourist expenditure in 2020

    Fall in tourist expenditure by % of GDP

    p 21
    Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from the National Statistics Institute.

    By combining the relative weight of tourism expenditure and our central forecast scenario for 2020, we can measure the economic impact on the autonomous regions, as seen in the map above. This shows how the slump in tourism business will be considerable in the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands, with declines in tourism expenditure representing 28% and 18% of their regional GDP, respectively. The Mediterranean communities of Catalonia, Valencia and Andalusia will see a more contained impact although still above the Spanish average, with a drop in tourism expenditure of more than 5% of GDP in all three cases. The Community of Madrid, the Region of Murcia, Cantabria and Galicia would register an average impact of between 2% and 4% of GDP while the rest of the autonomous regions would be less affected.

    In conclusion:

    • The tourism industry will be severely affected by the health crisis caused by COVID-19, resulting in a drop in tourism GDP of about 44% in 2020.
    • Because of tourism's prominent role in the Spanish economy, the impact of the crisis on the sector will weigh heavily on the national economy, whose growth will shrink by 5 pp this year.
    • The impact will vary according to the region in question, with the Balearic and Canary Islands and the Mediterranean coast being particularly affected.
    • Although uncertain, the outlook for 2021 points to a strong recovery in activity that could bring tourism GDP to levels similar to 2017.
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  • The future awaiting global tourism

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    The coronavirus pandemic took the world by surprise and brought international tourism almost to a complete halt. The initial phases of a relative recovery are restoring connectivity between those outbound markets and tourist destinations that have controlled the spread of the coronavirus. However, the sector will have to undertake a far-reaching and rapid transformation to adapt to the new, post-COVID-19 international tourist who will demand more personalised, flexible and, above all, safer services.

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    The outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 has been a global phenomenon. As of June, more than 10 million people had been infected and 500,000 had died as a result of COVID-19 worldwide. None of the 177 countries for which statistics are published by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Research Center is virus-free and more than 25% of countries have a rate of over 1,000 cases per million people.1 This situation has led to unprecedented measures being taken to limit the international and domestic mobility of citizens around the world, causing the flow of international tourists to come to a standstill between March and June.

    The implications of this stoppage in tourism for the world economy are far-reaching. The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is considering three scenarios for 2020, depending on when global travel restrictions begin to be lifted. The less adverse and more likely scenario is a 58% drop in global tourism assuming that borders will gradually open up from July onwards, which is already happening. On the other hand, a more extreme scenario, in which border restrictions are not lifted until December, would cause a drop of up to 78%.2 Consequently, even in the least pessimistic scenario the world's number of tourists would fall to figures not seen since the last century, dealing a hefty blow to a sector that generates more than 10% of global GDP and nearly 12% of the world's employment.

    • 1. See the interactive dashboard produced by the Johns Hopkins University to consult COVID-19 data at https://systems.jhu.edu/
    • 2. See «UNWTO World Tourism Barometer (May 2020)».
    International tourism could shrink by 58%

    according to World Tourism Organization estimates, a hefty blow to a sector that generates more than 10% of global GDP and nearly 12% of the world's employment.

    A first step in understanding what the world's tourism will be like in the short term is to analyse population mobility indicators, a sine qua non for tourists to travel to their destination. Given that proximity to the tourist destination is going to be a fundamental aspect, we will look at the mobility situation within the main regions of the world: Europe, Asia and the Americas.

    p 23
    Europe: coordinated relaxation with good prospects

    In Europe, lockdown measures began in Italy on 7 March, when the government introduced restrictions on people's mobility, first in the Lombardy region and shortly afterwards throughout the country. Within a few weeks, the vast majority of European countries had already implemented similar measures and people's mobility on the continent was reduced to a bare minimum to ensure the supply of essential goods and services. Looking at the mobility indicators produced by Google from Google Maps application data, we can see that the lockdown measures were extraordinarily effective in Europe (see the chart below). In just 20 days, mobility in commercial establishments throughout Western Europe fell by around 80% (from –62% in Germany to –91% in Spain). Although this gradually recovered when the lockdown started to be lifted (which began in May in many EU countries), by the end of June it had still not regained pre-COVID-19 levels: in the UK, the country that is furthest behind in lifting the lockdown, mobility is still 50% lower, while in Germany, Italy and France mobility in commercial premises is «only» 20% below pre-COVID-19 levels.

    Community mobility regarding commercial premises

    Change with respect to the baseline* (%)

    p 23
    Note: Data based on 7-day average. (*) The baseline corresponds to the median mobility recorded on the same weekday between 3 January and 6 February. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on the Google Mobility Report.

    Once the recovery in domestic mobility was underway, as from the end of June Europe has focused on lifting restrictions to international tourism flows. Borders have gradually started to be reopened and the mandatory quarantine measures when entering the destination country are being withdrawn. This is a somewhat more complex and delicate process, since it depends on the COVID-19 situation both in the destination region and in the tourist's home region. Nevertheless, the prospects for a revival in domestic and international tourism flows on the continent appear relatively positive, in view of several factors. The first is that many of the southern EU countries, where most of the tourist destinations are located and where the coronavirus hit the hardest, have managed to control the spread of the virus after a very strict lockdown and some spikes which, at present, appear to be localised. Secondly, the outbound markets in northern Europe, with a few exceptions, seem to have been able to detect new outbreaks and are taking the necessary measures to allow their citizens to travel in a safe and controlled manner. Last but not least, in the case of reopening borders, the EU and the Schengen area are pushing for a degree of coordination between EU countries that is unknown in any other region of the world.

    The Schengen area

    has forced a high degree of coordination among EU countries that will be key to kickstarting tourism's recovery in Europe

    However, while the possibilities of connecting European tourists to a wide range of destinations within the EU seem favourable, there is still a long way to go. If we look at the following chart, with data on airport connectivity in Europe's main airports between 1 January and 30 June, we can see just how far off we are. Air mobility is currently 67% below the level observed between January and February, although slightly above the figure recorded in April when it was 92% below pre-COVID levels. In light of Europe's low international mobility, it is obviously early days yet for the recovery in tourism.

    Daily airport connections for the main airports of Europe

    Number of flights

    p 25
    Note: Flights departing from the airports of London (Heathrow), Paris (CDG), Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Madrid, Rome, Zurich and Moscow have been included. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from OpenSky Network.
    p 26
    Asia: the driving force of tourism is advancing at a slow pace

    Asia has often been used as an example when interpreting possible future scenarios for the tourism industry. This is hardly surprising as the region was responsible for 38% of global tourism expenditure in 2019 and received more than 360 million tourists a year (25% of the total). Moreover, some Asian countries are at a more mature stage in the pandemic, suggesting they might also be at a more advanced stage in the recovery. It should be noted that on 8 April the city of Wuhan, where the first outbreak of COVID-19 was detected, had just completed a 76-day lockdown. At that time, Europe was still immersed in its earliest and most severe stage of lockdown. However, there are some differences that have led to the timelines in Europe and Asia overlapping and prevent us from being able to make predictions based on the Asian experience.

    According to what can be observed from domestic mobility indicators, the reaction in South East Asia was, in general, more measured than in Europe although much more heterogeneous than on the Old Continent.3 Countries such as Hong Kong and South Korea took very early but less severe measures and saw the mobility of their populations reduced by just 30%. Singapore, until it suffered a spike in early April, had barely limited the mobility of its citizens at all. India, however, is a case apart, with a much later but much more intense reaction than that of South East Asia.

    Faced with this earlier but contained reaction, the Asian countries were better able to anticipate the health crisis and avoid overloading their healthcare systems, although they also delayed the time it took to control the spread of the coronavirus, to the point that, by the end of June, countries such as Hong Kong and Japan were at the same stage of lifting their lockdowns as Europe, with domestic tourism still in its early stages of recovery and restrictions on international arrivals.

    • 3. It is important to note that Google does not have mobility data for China because Google software is banned for Chinese devices, even though Android is the most widespread operating system.

    Community mobility regarding commercial premises

    Change with respect to the baseline* (%)

    p 25_1
    Note: Data based on 7-day average. (*) The baseline corresponds to the median mobility recorded on the same weekday between 3 January and 6 February. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on the Google Mobility Report.

    Daily airport connections for the main airports in South East Asia

    Number of flights    

    p 26
    Note: Flights departing from the airports of Hong Kong, Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, Taipei, Singapore and Manila were included. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from OpenSky Network.
    The situation is still complex for Asia's tourism industry

    as restrictions are still in place on the entry of foreigners across the continent.

    As a result, the situation is still complex for Asia's tourism industry. Looking at the air mobility data shown in the chart above, we can see how the number of flights in the area at the end of June was down by almost 60%, albeit far from the minimums recorded during the second half of April. Despite this, restrictions on the entry of foreigners remained in place in June in all countries across the region, according to data from the International Air Transport Agency (IATA). As long as there is no clear coordination between countries for the controlled reopening of borders, as in the case of the EU, tourist flows are unlikely to resume in Asia.

    The Americas: a bad outlook for the world's latest COVID hotspot

    The health situation on the American continent is the most worrying. In the last month, 54% of new COVID-19 cases occurred in countries on the American continent. The number of positive cases in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina tripled in June and doubled in the United States and Peru. In other words, the Americas have become the global hotspot for the pandemic. As can be seen in the following charts, the only country with a clear downward trend since May is Canada.

    Incidence of COVID-19 infections in the Americas

    Positive daily cases per 100,000 inhabitants

    p 28
    Note: The shaded areas reflect daily data while the lines reflect 7-day averages. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from Johns Hopkins University CRC.

    The most worrying aspect is that this complicated health situation has occurred in spite of reduced mobility. Although the measures applied by national governments have not been as far-reaching as in Europe and there was some delay to their implementation, according to domestic mobility indicators the population of Latin American countries is 50% less mobile than usual. Mobility has improved slightly in Canada and the US, although there are doubts regarding the sustainability of this trend in the latter given the extent of the second wave. Because of this situation, the continent's tourism sector has been at a standstill since mid-March, with air mobility falling by up to 63% compared with its pre-crisis level by the end of June.

    Community mobility regarding commercial premises

    Change with respect to the baseline* (%)

    p 29
    Note: Data based on 7-day average. (*) The baseline corresponds to the median mobility recorded on the same weekday between 3 January and 6 February. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on the Google Mobility Report.

    Daily airport connections for the main airports of America

    Number of flights   

    p 29
    Note: Flights departing from the airports of Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York (JFK), Toronto and São Paulo were included. Source: CaixaBank Research, based on data from OpenSky Network.
    The health crisis in many American countries

    makes it impossible for the tourism industry to recover at present.

    We can therefore state that the outlook for a recovery in American tourism is particularly bad. First and foremost, the region must undertake the necessary lockdown measures to tackle the health crisis. Only when the health situation is under control will mobility be able to recover enough to revive the tourism sector. However, what we have learned from the experience of Europe and Asia is that controlling the growth of infections is a slow process and we therefore expect a very late recovery for the region as a whole.

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    Post-COVID-19 global tourism: huge uncertainty and big changes in the medium term

    This situation has led the UNWTO to predict a fall in international tourist flows of over 58% in its forecasts for 2020. Despite this, and under the right conditions, once international mobility gains ground the recovery in global tourism is expected to be relatively rapid, albeit remaining significantly below 2019 levels next year. The UNWTO predicts the number of international tourists will go from nearly a 100% decrease during Q2 2020 to «just» 30% below pre-crisis levels by the beginning of 2021, thanks to the recovery of European and Asian regions. It is therefore important to focus on the medium term, on what analysts have come to call «post-COVID-19 tourism».

    It is unlikely that tourism will recover from the current situation without undergoing some major changes along the way. The biggest transformation, and probably the great driving force behind the renewal of the whole sector, will be how tourists want to travel. Before the sudden coronavirus outbreak, tourism demand was already showing signs of changing, albeit gradual. There was strong growth in the number of tourists choosing destinations with a higher quality supply and where a larger number of services were available, in addition to the emergence of ecologically-aware tourists who prefer sustainable, innovative destinations.

    The arrival of COVID-19 will accelerate changes that were already underway:

    quality and sustainability as the flagships for a new kind of tourism.

    The coronavirus will probably not change the direction of the trends we had already been observing but will help to speed them up considerably. Certain factors could be vital in understanding what the new post-COVID-19 tourism will be like:

    1. Avoiding crowds and sustainable destinations: it seems more evident than ever that sustainability will play a key role in the future. Just a few weeks at home have made it clear that the individual action of each of us has a great environmental impact, raising the awareness of a large proportion of society. With this change in attitude, destinations that can offer a sustainable, more personalised solution will most probably become more attractive to an increasingly important share of the demand. On the other hand, as long as there is no vaccine or effective treatment, tourists will prefer destinations where social distancing can be easily maintained over more crowded locations.

    2. Personalised services: Post-coronavirus tourists will appreciate being able to personalise their experience rather than the attractions of mass tourism. In other words, the added value of the tourist supply will become more important. Given this change, the winners will be those destinations focusing on smaller volume but offering unique experiences.

    3. Digitisation: Future tourists will be much more digital because today's society already is. We must not forget that we live in a world where the use of digital media has increased dramatically due to the need to stay connected at home, both for work and personal reasons. As a result, many citizens who previously had not mastered digital channels now appreciate them and are likely to demand them when travelling.

    4. Safety and health: Certainty has always been a very important factor when choosing a tourist venue and, after a shock like the coronavirus, accessibility to and the quality of the healthcare system will be factors to take into account when deciding on a location.

    5. Closeness and connectivity: This article has already mentioned that connectivity is a fundamental factor for tourism; an obvious but nonetheless vital fact. It is very likely that the first connectivity channels to be reactivated will be those of medium and short range. Until a vaccine is available, short-range tourism (domestic and nearby countries) will offer many more options for tourists and greater certainty should they want to return home. Similarly, those destinations that can offer a convenient connection could significantly improve their prospects.

    p 31

    The changes in the way tourism is carried out must be accompanied by an effort to transform the supply, which needs to focus on innovation and on offering a larger number of services, the expansion of less exploited destinations, an improvement in connectivity and, in short, something the sector itself has been focusing on for years: quality rather than quantity.4  This is therefore the right time to speed up the investments required to adapt the sector to this new global tourism market. Mobilisation of the sector's business community will be key, as will support from public administrations, not only to overcome this crisis but also to ensure the industry remains a sustainable pillar of our economy in the future.

    In conclusion, it is clear that the current situation is one of unprecedented complexity for the global tourism sector, both in the short and medium term. In 2020, global tourism demand is likely to be less than half of what it was in 2019 and will continue to be hugely dependent on the recovery of people's mobility and our ability to maintain a contained and controlled level of infection until an effective coronavirus vaccine or treatment is discovered. Given this situation, Europe can be seen as a pilot project for the revival of global tourism because it has succeeded in reactivating people's mobility and has embarked on the process of reopening borders. In the medium term, changes in society will speed up the trend towards new types of tourism. As a result, the supply will have to be adapted even more quickly than was already occurring towards a more sustainable, digital, safe and good quality tourism.

    • 4. See the «Tourism Sector Report. S2 2019» and the «Tourism Sector Report. 1S 2020» available at www.caixabankresearch.com.
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  • Resilience and growth in the agrifood sector during the pandemic

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    The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of the agrifood sector as a mainstay of the Spanish economy. During the months of lockdown, the entire food chain (which includes farmers, breeders, fishermen, cooperatives and the food industry, wholesalers, retailers, distributors and logistics operators) had to adapt quickly to secure the population's food supply. In retrospect, it is only fair to acknowledge the excellent response by the whole sector in tackling this challenge.

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    • Available economic indicators show that the sector has been one of the least affected by the crisis. In fact, the primary sector's relative share of the total economy increased and the agrifood industry posted a much smaller decline than the manufacturing industry as a whole in Q2 2020. Similarly, in the area of employment, the sector has recorded fewer job losses and a smaller percentage of workers have been furloughed.
    • The pandemic has led to a notable change in the food consumption patterns of Spanish households,  with home consumption gaining weight. In fact, during the weeks of lockdown, consumption outside the home plummeted (i.e. hotel and catering industry). The use of e-commerce to buy food has also increased, in part to minimise travel and contact between people. We can examine these patterns in detail by using CaixaBank's own data on card expenditure via its POS terminals. In spite of the agrifood sector's good performance overall, we can see that the disruption to foreign tourism continues to harm the food service establishments aimed at international clients and, consequently, the sub-groups of agrifood products sold to such establishments for final consumption.
    • On the other hand, the agrifood sector's relatively good performance during the crisis cannot be fully understood without considering exports. A large proportion of the sector's production is destined for export (around 50 billion euros worth), to the extent that Spain is the fourth largest exporter in the European Union and the seventh worldwide. With the crisis, agrifood exports have increased across the board, with the upturn in exports of citrus fruits to Europe and swine meat to Asia being particularly notable.
    • The good positioning of Spanish agrifood products in international markets is the result of the efforts made in recent years to internationalise the industry, reflecting its high level of competitiveness compared with other agrifood-producing countries. But if the situation we are going through has demonstrated anything, it is that more digitalised companies are better prepared to adapt to a changing environment. Consequently, in order to become even more competitive, the sector needs to take advantage of the new digital technologies at all the different links in the food chain. Digital transformation also offers ways to resolve some of the major challenges facing the sector. For instance, precision-farming techniques can help to improve crop yields whilst also enhancing the sector's sustainability by using water and energy more efficiently.
    • In short, the technological revolution of the century is transforming an agrifood sector that is moving away from its traditional image. The future will bring us the Food Chain 4.0, a totally connected ecosystem from farm to table.
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  • The strength of the agrifood sector during the coronavirus crisis

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    The pandemic has highlighted the strategic nature of the agrifood industry as an essential activity to supply the population with food. The sector has therefore been one of the least affected by the crisis: the primary sector's relative share of the total economy increased and the agrifood industry posted a much smaller decline than manufacturing industry as a whole in Q2 2020. Labour market trends have also been relatively favourable, with relatively few job losses and a smaller proportion of workers affected by furlough measures.

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    The economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis

    At this point in the pandemic it is well-known that the crisis caused by COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact on the world's economy, and on the Spanish economy in particular. The strict lockdown measures in place for much of Q2 2020 and restrictions on international tourism led to a historic fall in Spain's GDP, down by 17.8% quarter-on-quarter (21.5% year-on-year), the largest drop observed since 1995 (the year the National Statistics Institute started to produce this homogeneous series). In comparison, other nearby European economies recorded a very sharp but clearly smaller decline in economic activity. In quarter-on-quarter terms: –11.8% in the euro area as a whole, –9.7% in Germany, –13.8% in France, –12.4% in Italy and –13.9% in Portugal. Only the United Kingdom posted a larger decline than Spain's economy in Q2, namely –20.4% quarter-on-quarter, as in addition to being hit hard by the pandemic it is also immersed in the complex process of finalising Brexit.

    Despite activity picking up during

    the summer months, the economic recovery is still incomplete, fragile and uncertain.

    Available activity indicators for Q3 suggest the Spanish economy rebounded remarkably well  thanks to the lifting of the restrictions on people's movements. However, there are signs of a slowdown in this improvement due to the sharp rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and the new measures being taken to curb the spread of the disease. It is estimated that, in the last quarter of the year, activity could be 12% below the previous year's level. The recovery is therefore still incomplete and the severity of the reduction in activity means that it will take years to regain pre-crisis levels. Specifically, CaixaBank Research's macroeconomic scenario predicts this will not happen until 2023, although it should be remembered that the degree of uncertainty surrounding economic forecasts is unusually high.

    The agrifood sector's response to the crisis

    Within this context of a dramatic reduction in activity, the agrifood sector has reported highly favourable and even counter-cyclical trends. The primary sector's gross value added grew by 3.6% quarter-on-quarter (6.3% year-on-year) in Q2 2020, a quarter during which most of Spain's population was under lockdown and the consumption of essential goods rose considerably. The primary sector therefore increased its share in the overall economy in Q2, contributing 3.8% of GDP compared with 2.7% in 2019.

    Al ser un proveedor de bienes de primera necesidad

    very well as a supplier of basic goods for the entire population.

    The primary sector has increased its relative share of the economy during the COVID-19 crisis

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:23
    p 6

    The trend in the agrifood industry has also been positive compared with the manufacturing industry as a whole, much harder hit by the lockdown. Specifically, while total manufacturing output fell by 26.7% year-on-year during April-June, the decline in food production was less pronounced, at –9.4%. In August (latest figures available), the industrial production index for the food sector continued to recover and was only 1.3% below its pre-crisis level. Electricity consumption by business sector also shows that the agrifood industry was operating at almost full capacity during the most critical months of the pandemic: while industry's electricity consumption fell overall by 16.3% year-on-year in
    Q2 2020, it was barely 1% less in the food industry.

    Smaller decline in the agrifood industry

    Industrial production

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    Electricity consumption

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:28
    Employment trends in the agrifood sector

    The extent to which employment altered during the months of lockdown and its subsequent recovery has been very uneven across different sectors. In the primary sector, the number of workers registered with Social Security fell by 1.9% year-on-year in Q2 (compared with –4.4% for all such workers) while in the agrifood industry it fell by 2.4% (compared with –3.7% for the manufacturing industry as a whole).

    Moreover, the agrifood industry has not tended to use the measures implemented to contain job losses (the furlough scheme and extraordinary allowances f11 By contrast, the percentage of furloughed employees in the primary sector was just 0.5% (around 4,000 people) and 11.8% in the agrifood industry (compared with 18.3% in manufacturing). The percentage of self-employed workers without work in the primary sector reached 3.5% in May (compared with 43.7% for the economy as a whole and 34.1% for manufacturing).2

    • 1. Average data for the month.
    • 2. Data on cessation of business broken down to the 2-digit level of the Spanish activity code are not published. The figure for the agrifood industry is therefore not available.
    The agrifood sector has recorded fewer job losses

    and a lower proportion of furloughed workers, and the recovery in the number of workers registered with Social Security has consolidated during the summer.

    he most recent data, for the month of September, show that the recovery in registered workers has got stronger over the summer. Both sectors have posted smaller decreases than in previous months: –0.1% and –1.3% year-on-year in the primary sector and in the agrifood industry, respectively. Moreover, September has seen the notable return to the labour market of furloughed workers: only 0.1% and 2.8% of employees in the primary sector and agrifood industry were in this situation, respectively (compared with 4.8% of total employees). The furlough scheme has therefore been hugely effective in safeguarding labour relations during the toughest months of the pandemic.

    Positive trend in the labour market

    Primary sector registered workers

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:29

    Food industry registered workers

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:31

    Furloughed employees

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:32
    • As noted above, the agrifood sector's good performance during the most critical months of the pandemic could be explained by the lockdown itself, which forced people to stay at home and led to an increase in the consumption of basic goods such as food (as well as a certain stockpiling effect during the first few weeks of the state of emergency). Consequently, one direct result of the lockdown was therefore a marked change in household food consumption patterns, which increased sharply within the home and all but disappeared outside (i.e. in the hotel and catering industry). This substitution effect has continued, albeit to a lesser extent, after the state of emergency was lifted. We explore this issue further in the next article, «Changing consumption patterns during lockdown: from the restaurant to the home».
    • A second factor that would explain the agrifood sector's good performance during the coronavirus crisis is more structural in nature, thanks to the good positioning of Spanish agrifood products in international markets as a result of the internationalisation efforts made over the past few years. We examine the trends in agrifood exports in more detail in the third article of this report: «The resilience of Spanish agrifood exports».
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  • Changing consumption patterns during lockdown: from the restaurant to the home

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    During the months of lockdown there was a radical change in food consumption patterns in Spain. Using internal data on spending with Spanish and foreign cards via CaixaBank POS terminals, we can see that expenditure in supermarkets and large food stores picked up noticeably during the state of emergency. Online shopping also increased, partly to minimise travel and contact between people, whereas consumption in restaurants plummeted. Despite the fact that, during the summer, household expenditure on restaurants picked up strongly, the slump in foreign tourism continues to be particularly detrimental to establishments geared towards international clients.

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    Food consumption and COVID-19: a watershed

    Before the coronavirus crisis, Spanish households used to consume a significant part of their food outside the home. Specifically, 36.5% of food expenditure in 2019 (8.6% of total household expenditure, equivalent to 48.5 billion euros) was spent outside the home.1The arrival of the coronavirus and strict measures restricting mobility to stop it from spreading radically changed families' consumption patterns; they stopped frequenting restaurants and other catering establishments to consume food almost exclusively in their homes.  

    • 1. In 2019, expenditure on food and beverages in the home totalled approximately 84 billion euros, or 14.9% of total household expenditure. Data from the National Statistics Institute's household budget survey.

    Household expenditure on food in the home and at food service establishments

    Share of total household expenditure (%)

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:33

    Share of total food expenditure (%)

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:33
    During lockdown, food consumption in the home rocketed

    while restaurant spending plummeted. The entire food chain had to adapt quickly to the changes in household consumption patterns.

    According to data on payment card activity via CaixaBank POS terminals, during the state of emergency spending on supermarkets and large food stores grew by nearly 50% year-on-year. The week of 9-15 March saw a 90% increase; i.e. card purchases almost doubled compared to the same week last year, mainly due to the stockpiling of food by many households and, to a lesser extent, the increased use of cards instead of cash as a means of payment. The pandemic tested the food chain's resilience and ability to adapt to a surge in demand, the greatest stress it has been put under in recent history. In hindsight, it is only fair to acknowledge the excellent response by the entire sector in meeting this challenge and securing food supplies for the entire population at all times.

    Consumption at CaixaBank POS terminals

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:34
    Food consumption in the «new normal»

    From July onwards, with the relaxation of lockdown measures, a gradual slowdown in food expenditure began to be observed. However, demand is still unusually high: at the end of September, card expenditure on food was still 20% higher than the previous year, showing that the health crisis is still affecting household consumption patterns.

    Online shopping recorded a remarkable increase during the lockdown.

    Here, too, companies showed themselves to be highly flexible and adaptable in responding to new consumer needs.

    Although all food product distribution channels have seen their sales increase, the rise in online shopping was particularly notable. Although the sector was not always able to respond to the peak demand via this channel during the first weeks of the state of emergency, after a short time many companies had already expanded their logistics capacity and workforce to meet consumers' new needs. Specifically, payments via CaixaBank virtual POS terminals recorded a considerable upturn in online shopping from the second half of April and growth rates are still strong, close to 60%. As a result, the market share of e-commerce has increased significantly: from 1.6% in 2019 to 2.4% between 9 March and 6 June 2020, according to data published by the Ministry of Agriculture.2 

    • 2. See the introduction to the «Informe del consumo alimentario en España 2019» by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in which some data for 2020 have been advanced: https://www.mapa.gob.es/es/alimentacion/temas/consumo-tendencias/presentaciondatosconsumo_vf_ok_tcm30-540247.pdf

    Food expenditure via card: face-to-face and online

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:35

    Another interesting figure that allows us to assess the degree of penetration of online food purchases comes from the CIS barometer which, in May, included several questions on consumption habits and trends during lockdown. The barometer revealed that 20% of respondents had purchased food products via online channels during lockdown, a percentage very similar to those who had purchased computers and IT equipment and only exceeded by purchases of clothing, fashion and footwear (27.7% of respondents). This survey also revealed that 67% of respondents made face-to-face purchases less frequently and that 19% preferred neighbourhood and local stores (compared to 12% before the state of emergency).

    The agrifood sector has been affected by the crisis via the hotel and catering industry,

    selectively damaging some sub-products that depend on the food service industry for their final consumption.

    The drop in consumption in hotels, restaurants and cafés

    The agrifood sector, however, has also suffered from the crisis. Shutting down the Spanish economy to stop the spread of the pandemic significantly affected the hotel and catering industry, which accounts for a third of the industry's total turnover, especially affecting those sub-sectors whose production is almost entirely aimed at this channel.

    As can be seen in the chart above on CaixaBank POS terminal activity, spending on food service establishments plummeted with the onset of the state of emergency, posting falls of over 90% between the second half of March and the end of April. In May, food service expenditure using Spanish cards began to recover relatively quickly, picking up considerably in the summer months.

    Expenditure on food service during the summer months by municipality

    p 13

    However, foreign card spending on food service has suffered a severe blow and has yet to show signs of recovery. While there was some improvement in July and August (–60% year-on-year compared with falls of over 90% during the state of emergency), in September the drop was once again severe (–80% year-on-year). The maps above show the trend in expenditure on food service in July and August 2020 compared with the same period in 2019 at a municipal level. The predominant colour on each map is evident: green in the map on the left, corresponding to Spanish cards and indicating positive year-on-year growth in most municipalities; and red in the map on the right, reflecting the decrease in foreign card expenditure on food service this summer. The islands and the Mediterranean basin have been hardest hit because of their greater dependence on tourism.

    The food service sector and its dependence on tourism

    The food service sector is certainly very dependent on tourism. According to CaixaBank's own data, 21% of card expenditure on bars and restaurants in 2019 was made with foreign cards (see the table below), a percentage that rises to 37% for gastronomic restaurants. In addition, 15% of expenditure was made with Spanish cards from a province other than the one in which the establishment is located (an indication of dependence on domestic tourism).3 In the case of gastronomic restaurants, almost half their turnover depends on domestic and foreign tourism. Moreover, in many cases these are highly seasonal businesses that have been hugely affected by the collapse of international tourism during the summer. In July and August, foreign tourist arrivals in Spain totalled fewer than 5 million compared with 20 million in 2019 (–75% year-on-year).

    • 3. Specifically, for each card the sum of expenditure at POS in each Spanish province is calculated for the whole of 2019. The residence of the card is assigned to the province with the greatest expenditure.

    The food service sector is highly dependent on tourism

    p 14
    p-15

    The collapse of international tourism has significant implications for the demand of food products. According to an analysis of the input-output tables, for every euro of turnover in accommodation and food services, 30 cents are demanded from the agrifood sector.4 In other words, any shock to tourism is passed on through the food chain to those who supply food to these restaurants, products that are less frequently consumed at home and therefore face significant difficulties in finding an alternative market.

    Among the products most affected at the beginning of the lockdown were lamb and goat meat, sheep and goat's milk, fresh fish and wine, among others. In response to this situation, some small producers formed alliances to develop online distribution channels and promote local sales, revealing a great capacity to adapt to an exceptional situation. Even the Minister of Agriculture himself, at the beginning of the state of emergency, called on households to consume products that had particularly suffered from the closure of the food service business.

    Recent developments in the pandemic in Spain does not allow us to be too optimistic about international tourism's prospects for recovery in the short term. Until there is an effective vaccine or treatment against COVID-19, tourist numbers are likely to remain very low. However, once we have overcome the pandemic, the excellent position enjoyed by Spain's tourism industry before the crisis suggests it will recover strongly in the medium term.7

    • 4. See «Evolución reciente y perspectivas para el sector turístico español e implicaciones para el conjunto de la economía», Bank of Spain, Annual Report (2019).
    • 7. See the article «The tourism industry in the face of COVID-19: an unprecedented impact", published in the Tourism Sector Report of July 2020.
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  • Digitalisation of the agrifood sector: what does Twitter tell us?

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    Technology is advancing at a frenetic pace and offers the agrifood chain a large number of opportunities to make its production more efficient and sustainable. Moreover, the arrival of COVID-19 has shown that the most digitalised companies were able to continue their activities more readily than the rest. In this article we examine the degree of popularity of the different digital technologies used in the primary sector and agrifood industry based on a text analysis of over 2 million tweets on Twitter. All these technologies are essential to create a connected ecosystem that will make up the Food Chain 4.0 of the future.

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    The unexpected arrival of the pandemic has shown that the most digitalised companies were more prepared to adapt to the new situation and were able to continue to operate much more smoothly than the rest. There is no doubt that, in this new environment, the digital transformation of companies is now unavoidable in order to boost their competitiveness.

    Big data, robotics, the internet of things and blockchain are just some examples of the new digital technologies gradually being adapted by firms, particularly in the agrifood sector. Technology is advancing at a frenetic pace and is offering the agrifood chain a large number of opportunities to produce more efficiently and sustainably. However, statistical information on the degree to which such technologies have been taken up, and the most comprehensive official statistical source1, does not provide information on the primary sector. Below we present a novel analysis of the «popularity»  of new digital technologies in the agrifood sector based on data from Twitter.

    • 1. Survey on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) and e-commerce in companies, compiled by the National Statistics Institute.
    Twitter as a source of information to detect future trends

    Data from Twitter can be extremely valuable in detecting new trends as it allows us to analyse the popularity of certain terms according to how frequently they appear in tweets. However, it is true that «talking about something» is not the same as successfully implementing the various digital technologies in a company's recurring operations. For this reason the results presented below should be interpreted simply as an indication of new trends that may be taking root in agrifood companies.

    Data from Twitter allow us to analyse how popular the different digital technologies

    are in the agrifood sector according to how often they are mentioned in tweets.

    For this study, data was processed from over 24 million tweets sent by individual users and digital media during the period 2017-2019. Among these, 2 million corresponded to the agrifood sector. Using natural language processing techniques, the tweets were categorised according to mentions of different digital technologies and to the business sector.2 The key to obtaining relevant data from social media is to first define «seed» words or phrases to identify texts corresponding to each of the business sectors, as well as «seed» words or phrases related to the different digital technologies of interest.3 Using a machine-learning algorithm, other words and phrases related to the concept in question that were not initially included were also identified, thus broadening the spectrum of texts analysed. At this stage, it is important to carefully screen for polysemous words (i.e. those that have more than one meaning, such as the word «reserva» in Spanish, which can be used to refer to a hotel booking as well as an aged wine).

    • 2. This analysis was carried out in collaboration with Citibeats, a company specialising in unstructured natural language processing.
    • 3. For example, the «seed» woods and phrases used to identify big data were: analytics, arquitectura de sistemas (system architecture), data mining, database, inteligencia empresarial (business intelligence), Python and SQL, among others (as well as the term big data per se).
    What is the degree of digitalisation of the agrifood sector according to Twitter?

    To assess the agrifood sector's degree of digitalisation according to data from Twitter, we first need to know how common tweets about digitalisation are in other business sectors. The most digitalised industry according to our analysis is the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector: 3.2% of the sector's tweets contain terms related to digitalisation, a result that is not surprising given the very nature of the industry. Next comes finance and insurance with 2.7% of the tweets.

    This percentage is obviously lower in the primary sector at 0.6% but it is similar to the 0.7% for professional, scientific and technical activities. In the case of the agrifood industry, the percentage of tweets on digitalisation is only 0.3%, very close to the basic manufacturing sector (which includes the textile, wood, paper and graphic arts industries), with the lowest percentage among the sectors analysed, 0.2%.

    p 26
    Which digital technologies are most popular in the agrifood sector according to Twitter?

    The wealth of data obtained from Twitter allow us to identify the most popular digital tools in each business sector according to how frequently they are mentioned in the tweets examined. According to our analysis, a large proportion of the primary sector's tweets about digitalisation tend to include issues related to big data (45% of all tweets about digitalisation). One clear example of the application of big data in the sector can be found in «precision agriculture» techniques which require large amounts of data to be analysed to optimise decisions and thereby increase production and, in turn, ensure sustainability. These techniques are used, for instance, to calculate the irrigation requirements of crops by taking into account climatic conditions (sunlight, wind, temperature and relative humidity) and crop characteristics (species, state of development, planting density, etc.). To carry out this calculation, real-time updated meteorological data, a large computing capacity and fast data transmission speeds are all required for an automatic irrigation system to be properly adjusted. This technology helps to use water more efficiently, a highly relevant aspect in areas with a Mediterranean climate that are extremely vulnerable to climate change and where water is in short supply.

    Big data, the internet of things and robotics are the most popular technologies in the primary sector,

    indispensable for advancing the application of precision agriculture techniques and smart automated farming.

    Other popular technologies in the primary sector are the internet of things (16% of tweets) and robotics, including drones (10% of tweets). The new digital technologies promise to revolutionise the field of agriculture and stockbreeding by the middle of this century, the same as the mechanisation of farming in the xxi century. Agricultural Machinery 4.0 (which is closer to the robots in science fiction films than to the tractors we are used to seeing on all farms in the country) helps to increase productivity whilst also improving working conditions in the field. This trend towards more automated agricultural tasks has become stronger in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, as the difficulty in recruiting seasonal workers due to international mobility restrictions has led to increased interest in robotics and agricultural automation. In fact, companies that manufacture robots for agriculture have seen a sharp increase in orders, such as robots that pick strawberries while removing mould with ultraviolet light.14 

    The use of drones warrants particular attention as this has grown exponentially in recent years and applications are increasingly widespread: from the early detection of pests and the aerial inspection of large areas of crops to locating wild boar with heat-sensitive cameras to prevent the spread of African swine fever to domestic pigs.5

    • 4. See Financial Times Agritech «Farm robots given Covid-19 boost», 30 August 2020.
    • 5. See http://www.catedragrobank.udl.cat/es/actualidad/drones-contra-jabalies

    The popularity of various digital technologies in the agrifood sector

    p 28

    Blockchain is the technology that stands out most in the food sector (30% of the total number of tweets on the sector's digitalisation) and this comes as no surprise as it has many different applications for the food and beverage industry. Producing a chain of unalterable, reliable records, blockchain makes it possible to guarantee the complete traceability of products throughout all the links in the food chain. Simply scanning a QR code provides access to all the data regarding the origin, production method, veterinary treatments received, ingredients used, etc. A large number of agrifood companies are already experimenting with blockchain as it offers clear benefits in terms of transparency regarding origin, product quality and food safety, aspects that are increasingly valued by consumers. Blockchain technology is also being used to limit food waste, another essential challenge for the sector.

    Blockchain enables the digital verification of food products,

    making them traceable throughout the links in the food chain.

    Compared with other sectors, which tools are particularly significant for the agrifood industry?

    There are some digital technologies that are not very popular across all economic sectors, perhaps because they have a more limited or specific range of application. These are technologies that, despite having a low percentage of tweets in absolute terms according to our study, may be relatively popular for a particular sector compared with the rest.

    To detect such cases, we have calculated a new metric, namely a concentration index which takes into account the relative popularity of technologies in a sector compared with the rest of the sectors.6 By using this methodology, we have found that the primary sector continues to stand out in terms of big data. Specifically, the primary sector concentrates 9.2% of the total number of tweets mentioning big data made by all sectors, a much larger proportion than the 3.1% share of primary sector tweets out of the total number of tweets analysed (as can be seen in the following table, in this case the concentration index is 3). We have also determined that the sector is particularly interested in the internet of things, as already mentioned, but have discovered that nanotechnology is also a relatively popular technology in the primary sector. In other words, although only 3.8% of the tweets in the primary sector deal with nanotechnology, this percentage is high compared with the 1.7% share of nanotechnology tweets out of the total (in other words, this technology is not very popular in general across all sectors but is slightly more popular in the primary sector than the others). This find is not surprising since genetic engineering is one of the fields in which technology has advanced most in order to boost crop yields. For example, by optimising the yield of vines it is possible to develop plants that are much more resistant to extreme weather conditions and pests.

    • 6. The concentration index is calculated as the ratio between (1) the percentage of tweets related to a particular technology and sector out of the total tweets for this technology, and (2) the percentage of tweets by a sector out of the total tweets of all sectors. Values above 1 indicate the technology is relatively more popular in that sector.

    Concentration index for tweets related to each technology in comparison with the other sectors

    p 29

    Finally, virtual and augmented reality is also a relatively popular technology in
    the agrifood industry.
    Specifically, the agrifood industry concentrates 6.2% of the total virtual and augmented reality tweets made by all sectors, a percentage that more than doubles the 2.5% share of primary sector tweets out of the total number of tweets analysed (the concentration index is equal to 2.5 in this case). This technology uses virtual environments (virtual reality) or incorporates virtual elements into reality (augmented reality) that provide additional knowledge and data that can be used to optimise processes. At first it may be surprising that this technology is relatively popular in the agrifood industry but its uses are spreading as the industry implements digital technologies in its production processes, in the so-called Industry 4.0. One specific example of how this technology is used is in repairing breakdowns. When a fault occurs, operators can use augmented reality goggles to follow the steps contained in virtual instruction manuals that are projected onto the lens to help resolve the incident. The glasses recognise the different parts of the machine and visually indicate to operators where they should act to solve the specific problem.

    There are numerous examples of new digital technologies being applied in the agrifood sector. We are witnessing a revolution that is destined to transform the different links in the food chain: from the exploitation of data and the use of drones to make harvesting more efficient to implementing blockchain technology to improve the traceability of the final products that reach our homes. In short, the future will bring us the Food Chain 4.0, a totally connected ecosystem from the field to the table.

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  • The resilience of Spanish agrifood exports

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    Agrifood exports have continued to perform very well during the pandemic within a context where international trade has been particularly hard hit by the crisis. Swine meat, fruit and some fresh vegetables have been in greatest demand, while the Basque Country and especially Aragon have been the regions posting the largest growth in exports between January and July 2020. Despite this favourable performance to date, however, the sector is keeping a close eye on developments in global trade tensions, especially between the US and EU and the Brexit negotiations.

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    A mainstay of Spain's foreign sector that has withstood the crisis

    The agrifood industry is a mainstay of the foreign sector for the Spanish economy. In 2019, sales abroad totalled 50.36 billion euros, 5.9% more than in 2018, accounting for 17.4% of all goods exported. Spain is a major exporter of agrifood products: it is the fourth largest exporter in the sector in the EU, behind only the Netherlands,1 Germany and France, and globally it overtook Canada in seventh place in the world ranking of food-exporting countries in 2018 (latest available WTO data), with a global market share of 3.6%, well above the 1.8% share for all goods exports.

    • 1. The Netherlands exports some domestically produced goods but much of its foreign trade is due to re-exports of goods between European countries that pass through Dutch ports.
    Spain is a major exporter of agrifood products:

    it ranks fourth in the EU and seventh in the world.

    Since last March, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an extraordinarily negative impact on international trade. However, in spite of this general pattern of decline, Spanish agrifood exports grew by 4.9% year-on-year between January and July 2020. Exports from the primary sector were stronger, posting a year-on-year increase of 6.3% in the year to July, while exports by the agrifood industry rose by 4.1% in the same period. Such growth contrasts with the decline in all goods exports (–14.6%), so that the share of agrifood exports out of the total has grown significantly, reaching 30% in April. Agrifood imports also increased during this period but to a lesser extent, so that the external trade surplus of agrifood goods reached a record high in July: 1.30% of GDP (compared with 1.06% in 2019).

    Ranking of countries according to their agrifood product exports (2018)

    p 17
    Despite the strong impact of the pandemic on international trade,

    Spanish agrifood exports have performed very well.

    Share of agrifood exports*

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 12:36
    Which products have contributed the most to export growth in 2020?

    The meat sector has led the growth of agrifood exports with a 25% year-on-year increase between January and July 2020, thanks to the rise in sales of swine meat (+35%).2The second group of products with the largest increase is that of canned meat or fish (+13.2%). Next come the product groups of oilseeds and coffee and tea, up by more than 10% but with a smaller share of all exports (close to 1%). More significant is the progress made by fruit (+9.4%), the most exported group (17.6% of all agrifood exports in 2019).

    • 2. In this article, products are defined according to the 4-digit TARIC system (Integrated Trade Tariffs of the European Union). The TARIC codes considered as agrifood products are between 0101 and 2403. The product groups are defined by their first 2 TARIC digits.
    Swine meat and fruit and vegetable products

    have led the growth of Spanish agrifood exports during the pandemic.

    Among fruits, citrus (TARIC 0805) and apricots, cherries, peaches, plums and sloes (TARIC 0809) have seen strong growth (+18.2% and +17.2% year-on-year until July, respectively). Pulses and vegetables, which accounted for 13.1% of all agrifood exports in 2019, performed more modestly in the first seven months of 2020 (4.3%) but some products such as carrots, cucumbers and cabbages posted very significant increases. On the other hand, some product groups have recorded declines, such as fish, crustaceans and molluscs –15.7%), beverages (–5.2%) and fats (–5.4%). In particular, olive oil exports have fallen by 7.4% year-on-year and wine by 5.4%, although both products are still in the top 5 of exported agrifood products.

    p 19

    Agrifood exports by product group

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 13:57

    Agrifood exports by product group

    Last actualization: 13 November 2020 - 13:57
    p 20
    How have agrifood exports fared in the different autonomous regions?

    Aragon is the autonomous region with the highest growth in exports in the first seven months of 2020 (+33.8%) thanks to its specialisation in swine meat (TARIC 0203), whose demand has picked up strongly, especially from Asian countries. This is followed by the Basque Country (+13.3%) due to the upturn in exports of chemically modified fats and oils (TARIC 1518); Catalonia (+8.8%) also benefited from the boom in swine meat exports and Valencia recovered (+7.6%) due to the effect of citrus products (+16.7%, more than 200 million euros compared with the same period in 2019), in great demand by our trading partners during the COVID-19 crisis. At the other end of the scale were the Balearic Islands and Canary Islands with very sharp falls in their agrifood exports (–28.4% and –25.0%, respectively). Although the share of these exports out of the total exports of island goods is quite low (4.7% and 9.0%, respectively, compared with 17.4% for Spain as a whole), these are not good figures for economies that have already been very hard hit by the huge crisis in the tourism industry.

    Agrifood exports by autonomous region

    Value of exports in 2019 and growth between January and July 2020

    p 21
    What are the main destinations for Spain's agrifood exports?

    EU countries are the main destinations for Spanish agrifood exports, with France and Germany at the top. Both destinations have performed very well in the first seven months of 2020, with advances of 4.7% and 9.5% year-on-year, respectively. They are closely followed by Italy and Portugal which received 9.8% and 8.9% of Spanish agrifood exports in 2019, respectively. These two markets, however, have shown some weakness this year.

    EU countries are the main destinations for Spanish agrifood exports.

    Uncertainty over future trade relations with the UK and trade tensions with the US have not marred the sector's excellent performance.

    In fifth position is the United Kingdom, with 7.7% of the total and the first non-EU destination. Between January and July 2020, exports to the UK grew strongly (6.8% year-on-year), a remarkable fact given the sharp decline in the country's economy in Q2 2020. It is clear that the high level of uncertainty regarding the rules that will govern trade relations between the UK and the EU from January onwards is causing some concern in the sector.

    In the hypothetical case that the relationship between these two parties would ultimately involve tariffs, agrifood products (along with textiles and, to a lesser degree, motor vehicles) are among the goods to which higher tariffs, on average, would be applied, according to a Bank of Spain report.3 The same report identifies Murcia as one of the regions that could be most affected by a hard Brexit (or lack of agreement) due to the large volume of fruit and vegetable exports it sends to the UK market. In any case, the study also points out that the vulnerability to Brexit of Spanish exporters to the United Kingdom is partly offset by their relatively high level of productivity and the degree of geographical diversification of their exports.

    • 3. See «Empresas españolas que exportan bienes al Reino Unido», Bank of Spain, Economic Bulletin 3/2020. https://www.bde.es/f/webbde/SES/Secciones/Publicaciones/Informes-BoletinesRevistas/ArticulosAnaliticos/20/T3/descargar/Fich/be2003-art27.pdf. For a more detailed analysis of the sector's exposure to the United Kingdom, see the Bilateral Agrifood and Fisheries Trade Report with the UK, published by the Ministry of Agriculture (2018). https://www.mapa.gob.es/es/ministerio/servicios/analisis-y-prospectiva/informereinounido2018tcm30-514096.pdf

    Trend in agrifood exports to the main destinations

    p 22

    China is the second largest non-EU destination for Spain's agrifood exports, a figure that practically doubled in the first seven months of 2020 compared with the same period last year (+94.1%). This exceptional performance is due to swine meat exports to the country (+216%), still affected by African swine fever.

    The next country in the ranking is the United States, with almost 2 billion euros of exports in 2019, 3.8% of the total. However, the recent trend is not very positive since, between January and July 2020, there was a slight decline of 1% year-on-year. This decrease could be related to the higher tariffs (from 3.5% to 25%) imposed by the US on certain agrifood products on 19 October 2019, a decision under the WTO ruling on state aid to Airbus that authorized the US to impose countermeasures to the EU worth 6.8 billion euros, which affected Spain to the tune of about 790 million euros.

    The table below details the trend in exports of the main products affected by these measures. It can be observed that Spanish exports to the US of olive oil, fatty cheeses and biscuits are performing well in spite of the tariffs. In fact, exports of these products to the US are growing more than to other destinations. On the other hand, the trend is very bad for wine, olives, certain types of swine meat and lemons. Perhaps the most worrying case is that of olives, as 22% of these exports went to the US in 2019. On the other hand, the share of the US market for other products is lower, so it may be relatively easier to redirect these to other markets.

    Main agrifood products affected by US tariffs

    p 23

    However, although the figures do not seem alarming, it should be noted that there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the policies that will govern Europe's future trade relations with the US. Trade has been the US government's battleground since the beginning of 2018 when it began its bitter disputes with China as well as the EU, albeit to a lesser degree. Although there was some rapprochement at the end of August (in the end, the US did not carry out its threat to raise tariffs already imposed on European products in October 2019), recent restrictions on technology clearly indicate that trade tensions could easily return and affect the sector again. On the other hand, it is also important to note that the EU is still pushing its trade policy agenda, reaching bilateral trade agreements with other countries such as Canada and Japan, which could open up new opportunities for the agrifood sector.

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How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected income distribution

How is the economic crisis affecting the different strata of the population? Is it affecting us all equally? To what extent are the public sector support programmes cushioning the blow?

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Ruben Durante
Jose G. Montalvo
Marta Reynal-Querol
November 19th, 2020
Gente cruzando un paso de cebra e icono del monitor de desigualdad

How is the economic crisis affecting the different strata of the population? Is it affecting us all equally? To what extent are the public sector support programmes cushioning the blow? In the current circumstances, marked by high uncertainty and an imperative need to get the right public policies implemented, it is very helpful to answer these questions clearly.

The analysis of CaixaBank’s internal data offers us a very complete x-ray of the impact that the crisis generated by the pandemic is having on wage income distribution. Applying big data techniques to analyse over 3 million wage payments each month, duly anonymised, we can track the impact that the economic crisis is having on income distribution almost in real time, as well as the role that public sector transfers are playing.1

The first message is loud and clear: the impact of the crisis is proving to be both profound and uneven. The Sankey diagrams below help us to visualise this impact. We divided the sample into four groups: people with no income, those earning less than 1,000 euros (low incomes), those with incomes between 1,000 and 2,000 euros (middle incomes), and those earning incomes in excess of 2,000 euros (high incomes). Thus, we can observe how the percentage of the total that the different groups represent over time has evolved, as well as how people move between the different groups. Specifically, we analysed the changes that occurred between February, prior to the outbreak of the crisis; April, when the impact of the restrictions on mobility was at its peak; and August, the latest data analysed. We present two different diagrams, showing the distribution of incomes before and after public sector transfers, which helps us to assess their effectiveness.

  • 1. For further details on the construction of the sample and the analysis performed, see «Real Time Inequality and the Welfare State in motion: evidence from Covid-19 crisis in Spain». CEPR Working Paper 15118. https://cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=15118.
Distribution of wage incomes before public sector transfers
Distribution of wage incomes after public sector transfers

Between February and April, and before taking public sector transfers into account, we can see that the percentage of people with no income increased by 15 pps and that there was a sharp reduction in the percentage of people in the other population groups.2 In particular, one-third of those on low incomes were left without any income at all. Among those on middle incomes, one-third also suffered a reduction in their incomes: 13% shifted to the low-income group and 20% were left with no income. Finally, among those with higher incomes, a significant proportion (30%) also saw their incomes decline, although in this case the bulk (20%) shifted to the middle-income group, while the number of transitions to the low-income and no-income groups was lower.

During May, and even more so starting from June, the lifting of the lockdowns led to a significant revival of economic activity. This was also reflected in the income distribution: the proportion of people with no income declined considerably, while the groups with incomes, especially those with high and middle incomes, once again gained relative weight.

The trends described so far relate to the evolution of income distribution before taking into account the role of public sector transfers. When we incorporate these transfers into the analysis, we see how important a role they are playing to cushion the impact of the crisis. Indeed, the percentage of people with no income increased by 7 points between February and April, compared to the 15 points we observed when ignoring public transfers. In other words, public sector transfers provided coverage to around half of the people who ceased receiving employment income between February and April. These transfers had a particular incidence among people who had a middle income before the pandemic but then lost their jobs, with a coverage of 66%, while in the case of those on low incomes prior to the pandemic, the coverage was 27%.

Another way to assess the impact of the economic crisis and the role of public sector transfers is to analyse how the total wage income is distributed among different population groups at different points in time, before and after taking into account the role of the public sector. We present this information in the infographic, which sets out what proportion of the total income is received by the 50% of people on the lowest incomes; the proportion of income received by those with incomes that lie between the 50th and 90th percentiles, and the proportion received by the 10% of the population with the highest incomes.3

As can be seen, in February, before taking public sector transfers into account, the 50% of the population with the lowest incomes received 21% of the total wage income, while the 10% of the population with the highest incomes received 30% of the total. This distribution changed very significantly after the outbreak of the pandemic. In April, the proportion of the total incomes received by the 50% of the population on the lowest incomes would have dropped to 10% had it not been for public sector transfers, while that of the other two population groups would have increased by around 5 pps each. With the revival of economic activity, it can be seen how the population group that benefited the most was the lowest income group, which by July had already recovered more than half of the lost ground.

Analysing the impact of the crisis from this angle helps us to show the severity of the crisis, especially for certain groups of the population, as well as underscoring the important role which the public sector is playing in mitigating its impact. When we analyse how the distribution of the total income has evolved by incorporating transfers from the public sector, the reduction in the proportion of the income received by the 50% of the population with the lowest incomes is still clear, but much lower: it goes from 25% in February to 22% in April and then to 23% in August. Furthermore, the fraction of the total income received by the other two population groups also remains more stable over time.

  • 2. As a point of reference, between February and April, social security affiliates who lost their jobs, plus affiliates who were temporarily laid off under Spain’s ERTE schemes, accounted for 16.1% of all affiliates.
  • 3. For a more complete analysis of income distribution among the entire population, the article Real-Time Inequality and the Welfare State in Motion: Evidence from COVID-19 in Spain provides information on the evolution of the Lorenz curves.
Distribution of wage incomes by population group

Finally, we analysed the impact that the crisis is having on income inequality using the Gini index.4 Given the dynamics observed in income distribution, it comes as no surprise that this index follows a very different trend before and after incorporating public sector transfers. Before public sector transfers, the Gini index experienced a very sharp increase between February and April, of 11 points,5 before moderating in the following months as economic activity recovered (in August it remained 5 points above pre-crisis levels). In contrast, when we consider public sector transfers, the Gini index remains more stable over time, although the increase it experiences is nonetheless notable, amounting to 2 points between February and August.

  • 4. In CaixaBank Research’s Inequality Tracker, available at www.inequality-tracker.caixabankresearch.com, you will find other metrics that also capture the evolution of inequality, such as the ratios between different income percentiles.
  • 5. Figure corrected for seasonal effects. As a point of reference, the difference between the Gini index for the US and for Sweden was 11 points prior to the pandemic.
Ruben Durante
Jose G. Montalvo
Marta Reynal-Querol