A resilient economic recovery and a reduction of economic, fiscal and external imbalances support the rating; high public and external debt, elevated unemployment, limited structural fiscal adjustment, and political fragmentation are constraints.
Scope Ratings GmbH has today affirmed Spain’s A- long-term issuer and senior unsecured local- and foreign-currency ratings, along with a short-term issuer rating of S-1 in both local and foreign currency. All Outlooks are Stable.
The A- rating is supported by Spain’s euro area membership, the size and diversity of its economy, robust economic recovery, and on-going reduction of economic, fiscal and external imbalances, particularly its significant private-sector deleveraging. Persistently high public and external debt levels, elevated structural unemployment, low productivity growth, and limited structural fiscal adjustment pose challenges. The Stable Outlook reflects Scope’s view that the upside potential from a continued reduction in economic, fiscal and external imbalances is balanced by the downside risk stemming from a politically fragmented environment, which is limiting the government’s capacity to implement reforms to increase Spain’s growth potential and make structural fiscal adjustments.
Since 2014 the Spanish economy has grown, on average, around 2.8%, a full percentage point above the euro area average, driven by i) the government’s structural reforms, which, except for the insolvency framework and ongoing banking sector reforms, were mostly implemented from 2010-2015, ii) wage moderation and resulting cost-competitiveness gains, iii) low oil prices, iv) the European Central Bank’s accommodative monetary policy, and v) the favourable external conditions, particularly in the euro area. In addition, the structural adjustment in the economy has resulted in a shift in resources towards the dynamic, export-oriented services sector. As a result, Scope expects Spain’s balanced and employment-intensive economic expansion to continue over the next few years, albeit with less dynamism, moderating economic growth from the 2017 growth level of 3.1% to around 2.5% over the medium term.
Scope also notes that the increase in confidence, employment and economic stability has led to the resumption of investment and private consumption despite a marked decline in private sector liabilities, which further supports the A- rating. Since the crisis, the Spanish private sector has significantly reduced its indebtedness to levels similar to those of its euro area peers. Specifically, non-financial corporates have reduced their liabilities by EUR 306.5bn since Q2 2010. In turn, households reduced their liabilities more gradually given that most loans are long-term mortgages, but still by EUR 202.6bn over the same period. As a result, corporate sector indebtedness fell from 133.1% of GDP to 96.8% as of Q4 2017, slightly below the euro area average of 101.7%, while household indebtedness decreased from around 85.1% to 61.3%, just above the euro area average of 58.0%.
Spain’s A- rating is further supported by the gradual fiscal consolidation. Spain has successfully reduced its fiscal balances every year since 2012, with the general government balance dropping successively from 10.5% in 2012 to 3.1% last year. Scope notes that Spain’s fiscal consolidation took place at all layers of government between 2012 and 2017, with the fiscal balance falling by about 6pp at the central government level, from around negative 7.9% of GDP to negative 1.9%. Regional governments also reduced their fiscal balances, on average, to a deficit of negative 0.3% last year, better than the target of negative 0.6% but with wide dispersion among the regions. Finally, the higher deficit of the social security system (negative 1.5% in 2017), which has been in deficit every year since 2010, was partly compensated by the 0.6% surplus of local governments. Going forward, although a 2018 budget has not yet been adopted and is likely to be slightly expansionary if implemented, Scope expects Spain to exit the EU’s excessive deficit procedure this year, recording deficits well below the 3% Maastricht criterion.
Despite this gradual fiscal adjustment, Spain’s public debt level has remained relatively stable since 2014 at slightly below 100% of GDP and below the levels of Portugal (126%) and Italy (132%), but significantly above the 60% Maastricht criterion, which, in Scope’s opinion, constitutes a major rating constraint. Scope’s public debt sustainability analysis, based on IMF forecasts and a combination of growth, interest-rate and primary-balance shocks, confirms that slower growth and primary balances remain the key risks to Spain’s debt sustainability. Scope’s baseline scenario is for the debt-to-GDP ratio to fall modestly to around 90% by 2023, which highlights the need for Spain to maintain relatively high growth rates as well as sustain a significant level of fiscal consolidation over a multi-year period.
In this context, Scope notes that while the short-to-medium-term growth outlook is robust, Spain’s long-term economic growth prospects face considerable challenges, with potential economic growth estimated between 1.7% (IMF) and 2.1% (European Commission). This lower economic growth outlook is due to weak productivity growth, unfavourable labour force demographics, and high structural unemployment. In fact, Scope identifies Spain’s structural unemployment, the highest among euro area members, as an enduring macro-economic imbalance. In Scope’s opinion, widespread use of temporary contracts, an elevated youth unemployment rate that is still more than double the national average, and the long-term unemployed, who account for almost half of all unemployed persons, is not only likely to limit Spain’s growth potential over the medium term, it also increases the risk of sustained income inequality, poverty and social exclusion among vulnerable groups.
Scope also notes that the fiscal adjustment to date, while credit-positive, has been mostly cyclical, benefiting from improving labour market conditions and reduced interest expenditure. In fact, Spain’s cyclically adjusted primary balance turned negative in 2016, and is expected to remain in deficit during the coming years, suggesting a mildly expansionary structural fiscal stance. As a result, based on European Commission data, Spain’s structural fiscal deficit of around 3% for the 2017-2019 period, the highest among all euro area member states and well above the medium-term objective of a structural balance by 2020 under European and national rules, limits the government’s debt reduction and thus the potential rating upside.
Finally, Scope believes that the current political fragmentation, and the resulting weak minority government led by the Partido Popular with 134 of 350 seats in the Congress of Deputies, is significantly constrained in formulating and implementing a comprehensive reform agenda to: i) raise Spain’s growth potential and ii) increase the structural fiscal adjustment needed to reduce the country’s public debt level. It is Scope’s opinion that Spain’s overall political standstill, due in part to the unresolved situation in Catalonia, could lead to national elections prior to the scheduled end of this legislature’s term, which is set for June 2020.
Core Variable Scorecard (CVS) and Qualitative Scorecard (QS)
Scope’s Core Variable Scorecard (CVS), which is based on the relative rankings of key sovereign credit fundamentals, provides an indicative “BBB” (“bbb”) rating range for the Kingdom of Spain. This indicative rating range can be adjusted by the Qualitative Scorecard (QS) by up to three notches depending on the size of relative credit strengths or weaknesses versus peers based on qualitative analysis. For the Kingdom of Spain, the following relative credit strengths have been identified: i) economic policy framework, ii) fiscal policy framework, iii) market access and funding sources, iv) current-account vulnerability, v) external debt sustainability, vi) vulnerability to short-term external shocks, vii) banking sector performance, and viii) banking sector oversight and governance. Relative credit weaknesses are: i) recent events and policy decisions. The combined relative credit strengths and weaknesses generate a two-notch adjustment and indicate a sovereign rating of A- for the Kingdom of Spain. A rating committee has discussed and confirmed these results.
For further details, please see Appendix 2 of the rating report.
Outlook and rating-change drivers
The Stable Outlook reflects Scope’s view that the upside potential of a continued reduction in economic, fiscal and external imbalances is balanced by the downside risk stemming from a politically fragmented environment, which is limiting the government’s capacity to implement reforms to increase Spain’s growth potential and make structural fiscal adjustments.
The rating could be upgraded if the sovereign: i) achieves sustained debt reduction, ii) implements additional reforms, raising the country’s medium-term growth potential, and iii) improves its external balance sheet. Conversely, the rating could be downgraded if: i) public finances deteriorate due to a reversal of fiscal consolidation and ii) there is a fading commitment to or a reversal of structural reforms, leading to an adverse impact on the medium-term economic and fiscal outlook.
The main points discussed by the rating committee were: i) Spain’s growth potential, ii) macroeconomic stability and sustainability, iii) fiscal consolidation, outlook, and public debt sustainability, iv) external debt sustainability and vulnerability to shocks, v) banking sector performance and private sector deleveraging, vi) political fragmentation, and vii) peers.
Lockdown 2.0 – Here’s how to be the best-looking person in the virtual room
suggests “the product you’re creating is not the camera, the lens or a webcam’s clever industrial design. It’s the subject, you, which is just on e part of the entire image they see. You want that image to convey quality, not convenience.”
Technology experts at Reincubate saw an opportunity in the rise of remote-working video calls and developed the app, Camo, to improve the video quality of our webcam calls. As part of this, they consulted the digital photography expert and author, Jeff Carlson, to reveal how we can look our best online.
It’s clear by now that COVID-19 has normalised remote working, but as part of this the importance of video calls has risen exponentially. While we’re all used to seeing the more casual sides of our colleagues (t-shirt and shorts, anyone?), poor webcam quality is slightly less forgivable.
But how can we improve how we look on video? We consulted Jeff Carlson for some top tips– here is what he had to say.
- Improve the picture quality of your call
The better your camera, the higher quality your webcam calls will be. Most webcams (as well as currently being hard to get hold of and expensive), are subpar. A DSLR setup will give you the best picture, but will cost $1,500+. You can also use your iPhone’s amazing camera as a webcam, using the new app from Reincubate, Camo.
Jeff’s comments “The iPhone’s camera system features dedicated coprocessors for evaluating and adjusting the image in real time. Apple has put a tremendous amount of work into its imaging software as a way to compensate for the necessarily small camera sensors. Although it all works in service of creating stills and video, you get the same benefits when using the iPhone as a webcam.”
Aidan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Reincubate explains why the team created Camo, “Earlier this year our team moved to working remotely, and in video calls everyone looked pretty bad, irrespective of whether they were on built-in Mac webcams or third-party ones. Thus began my journey to build Camo: an iPhone has one of the world’s best cameras in it, so could we make it work as a webcam? Category-leading webcams are noticeably worse than an iPhone 7. This makes sense: six weeks of Apple’s R&D spend tops Logitech’s annual gross revenue.”
- Place your camera at eye level
A video call will never quite be the same as a face-to-face conversation, but bringing your camera up to eye level is a good place to start. That can involve putting your laptop on a stand or pile of books, mounting a webcam to the top of your display screen, or even using a tripod to get the perfect position.
Jeff points out, “If the camera is looking down on you, you’ll appear minimized in the frame; if it’s looking up, you’re inviting people to focus on your chin, neck, or nostrils. Most important, positioning the camera off your eye level is a distraction. Look them in the eye, even if they’re miles or continents away.”
Low camera placement from a MacBook
- Make the most of natural lighting
Be aware of the lighting in the room and move yourself to face natural lighting if you can. Positioning the camera so any natural light is behind you takes the light away from your face, which can make it harder to see and read expressions on a call.
Jeff Carlson’s top tip: “If the light from outside is too harsh, diffuse it and create softer shadows by tacking up a white sheet or a stand-alone diffuser over the window.”
Backlit against a window Facing natural light
- Use supplementary lighting like ring lights
The downside to natural lighting is that you’re at the mercy of the elements: if it’s too bright you’ll have the sun in your eyes, if it’s too dark you won’t be well lit.
Jeff recommends adding supplementary lighting if you’re looking to really enhance your video calls. After all, it looks like remote working will be carrying on for quite some time.
“The light can be just as easy as a household or inexpensive work light. Angle the light so it’s bouncing off a wall or the ceiling, depending on your work area, which, again, diffuses the light and makes it more flattering.
Or, for a little money, use a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella with daylight bulbs (5500K temperature), or if space is tight, LED panels. Larger lights are better for distributing illumination– don’t be afraid to get them in close to you. Placement depends on the look you’re going after; start by positioning one at a 45-degree angle in front and to the side of you, which lights most of your face while retaining nice shadow detail.”
In some cases, a ring light may work best. LEDs are arranged in a circle, with space in the middle to put the camera’s lens and get direct illumination from the direction of the camera.
- Centre yourself in the frame
Make sure you’re getting the right angle and that you’re using the frame effectively.
“You should aim for people to see your head and part of your torso, not all the space between your hair and the ceiling. Leave a little space above your head so it’s not cut off, but not enough that someone’s eyes are going to drift there.”
- Be mindful of your backdrop
It’s not always easy to get the quiet space needed for video calls when working from home, but try as best you can to remove anything too distracting from your background.
“Get rid of clutter or anything that’s distracting or unprofessional, because you can bet that will be the second thing the viewers notice after they see you. (The Twitter account @RateMySkypeRoom is an amusing ongoing commentary on the environments people on television are connecting from.)”
A busy background as seen by a webcam
- Make the most of virtual backgrounds
If you’re really struggling with finding a background that looks professional, try using a virtual background.
Jeff suggests: “Some apps can identify your presence in the scene and create a live mask that enables you to use an entirely different image to cover the background. While it’s a fun feature, the quality of the masking is still rudimentary, even with a green screen background that makes this sort of keying more accurate.”
- Be aware of your audio settings
Our laptop webcams, cameras, and mobile phones all include microphones, but if it’s at all possible, use a separate microphone instead.
“That can be an inexpensive lavalier mic, a USB microphone, or a set of iPhone earbuds. You can also get wireless lavalier models if you’re moving around during a call, such as presenting at a whiteboard in the camera’s field of view.
The idea is to get the microphone closer to your mouth so it’s recording what you say, not other sounds or echoes in the room. If you type during meetings, mount the mic on an arm instead of resting it on the same surface as your keyboard.”
- Be wary of video app add-ons
Video apps like Zoom include a ‘Touch up your appearance’ option in the Video settings. This applies a skin-smoothing filter to your face, but more often than not, the end result looks artificially blurry instead of smooth.
“Zoom also includes settings for suppressing persistent and intermittent background noise, and echo cancellation. They’re all set to Auto by default, but you can choose how aggressive or not the feature is.”
- Be the best looking person in the virtual room
What’s important to remember about video calls at this point in time is that most people are new to what is, really, personal broadcasting. That means you can easily get an edge, just by adopting a few suggestions in this article. When your video and audio quality improves, people will take notice.
Bringing finance into the 21st Century – How COVID and collaboration are catalysing digital transformation
By Keith Phillips, CEO of TISATech
If just six or seven months ago someone had told you that in a matter of weeks people around the world would be locked down in their homes, trying to navigate modern work systems from a prehistoric laptop, bickering with family over who’s hogging the Wi-Fi, migrating online to manage all financial services digitally, all while washing their hands every five minutes in fear of a global pandemic… You’d think they had lost their mind. But this very quickly became the reality for huge swathes of the world and we’re about to go through that all over again as the UK government has asked that those who can work from home should.
Unsurprisingly, statistics show that lockdown restrictions introduced by the UK government in March, led to a sharp increase in people adopting digital services. Banks encouraged its customers to log onto online banking, as they limited (and eventually halted) services at branches. This forced many customers online as their primary means of managing personal finances for the first time.
If anyone had doubts before, the Covid-19 pandemic proved to us the importance of well-functioning, effective digital financial services platforms, for both financial institutions and the people using them.
But with this sudden mass online migration, it’s become clear that traditional banks have struggled to keep up with servicing clients virtually. Legacy banking systems have always stilted the digitisation of financial services, but the pandemic thrust this issue into the limelight. Fintech firms, which focus intently on digital and mobile services, knew it was only a matter of time before financial institutions’ reliance was to increase at an unprecedented rate.
For years, fintechs have been called upon by traditional players to find solutions to problems borne from those clunky legacy systems, like manual completion of account changes and money transfers. Now it is the demand for these services to be online coupled with the need for financial services firms to cut costs, since Covid-19 hit the economy.
Covid-19 has catalysed the urgent need to bring digital transformation to a wider pool of financial services businesses. Customers now have even higher expectations of larger institutions, demanding that they keep up with what the younger and more nimble challengers have to offer. Industry leaders realise that they must transform their businesses as soon as possible, by streamlining and digitising operations to compete and, ultimately, improve services for their customers.
The race for digital acceleration began far before the recent pandemic – in fact, following the 2008 financial crisis is likely more accurate. Since the credit crunch, there has been a wave of new fintech firms, full of young, bright techies looking to be the next big thing. Fintechs have marketed themselves hard at big conferences and expos or by hosting ‘hackathons’, trying to prove themselves as the fastest, most innovative or the most vital to the future of the industry.
However, even during this period where accelerating innovation in online financial services and legacy systems is crucial, the conditions brought about by the pandemic have not been conducive to this much-needed transformation.
The second issue, which again was clear far before the pandemic, is that fact that no matter how nimble or clever the fintechs’ solutions are, it is still hard to implement the solutions seamlessly, as the sector is highly fragmented with banks using extremely outdated systems populated with vast amounts of data.
With the significance of the pandemic becoming more and more clear, and the need for better digital products and services becoming more crucial to financial services firms and consumers by the day, the industry has finally come together to provide a solution.
The TISAtech project was launched last month by The Investing and Saving Alliance (TISA), a membership organisation in the UK with more than 200 leading financial institutions as members. TISA asked The Disruption House, a specialist benchmarking and data analytics business, to create a clearing house platform for the industry to help it more effectively integrate new financial technology. The project aims to enhance products and services while reducing friction and ultimately lowering costs which are passed on to the customers.
With nearly 4,000 fintechs from around the world participating, it will be the world’s largest marketplace dedicated to Open Finance, Savings, and Investment.
Not only will it provide a ‘matchmaking’ service between financial institutions an fintechs, it will also host a sandbox environment. Financial institutions can pose real problems with real data and the fintechs are given the space to race to the bottom – to find the most constructive, cost-effective solution.
Yes, there are other marketplaces, but they all seem to struggle to achieve a return on investment. There is a genuine need for the ‘Trivago’ of financial technology – a one stop shop, run by an independent body, which can do more than just matchmaking. It needs to go above and beyond to encompass the sandboxing, assessments, profiling of fintechs to separate the wheat from the chaff, and provide a space for true collaboration.
The pandemic has taught us that we are more effective if we work together. We need mass support and collaboration to find solutions to problems. Businesses and industries are no different. If fintechs and financial institutions can work together, there is a real chance that we can start to lessen the economic hit for many businesses and consumers by lowering costs and streamlining better services and products. And even if it is just making it that little bit easier to manage personal finances from home when fighting with your children for the Wi-Fi, we are making a difference.
What to Know Before You Expand Across Borders
By Sean King, Director of International Tax at McGuire Sponsel
The American retail giant, Target Corporation, has a market cap of $64 billion and access to seemingly limitless resources and advisors. So, when the company engaged in its first global expansion, how could anything possibly go wrong?
Less than two years after opening its first Canadian store in 2013, Target shut down all133 Canadian locations and terminated more than 17,000 Canadian employees.
Expansion of an operation to another country can create unique challenges that may impact the financial viability of the entire enterprise. If Target Corporation can colossally fail in its expansion to Canada, how might Mom ‘N’ Pop LLC fare when expanding into Switzerland, Singapore, or Australia?
Successful global expansion requires an understanding of multilayered taxes, regulatory hurdles, employment laws, and cultural nuances. Fortunately, with the right guidance, global expansion can be both possible and profitable for businesses of any size.
Any company with global ambitions must first consider whether the company’s expansion outside of the U.S. will give rise to a taxable presence in the local country. In the cross-border context, a “permanent establishment” can be created in a local country when the enterprise reaches a certain level of activity, which is problematic because it exposes the U.S. multinational to taxation in the foreign country.
Foreign entity incorporation
To avoid permanent establishment risk, many U.S. multinationals choose to operate overseas through a formal corporate subsidiary, which reduces the company’s foreign income tax exposure, though it may result in an additional level of foreign income tax on the subsidiary’s earnings. In most jurisdictions, multinationals can operate their business in the foreign country as a branch, a pass through (e.g., partnership,) or a corporation.
As a branch, the U.S. multinational does not create a subsidiary in the foreign country. It holds assets, employees, and bank accounts under its own name. With a pass through, the U.S. multinational creates a separate entity in the foreign country that is treated as a partnership under the tax law of the foreign country but not necessarily as a partnership under U.S. tax law.
U.S. multinationals can also create corporate subsidiaries in the foreign country treated as corporations under the tax law of both the foreign country and the U.S., with possibly two levels of income taxation in the foreign country plus U.S. income taxation of earnings repatriated to the U.S. as dividends.
Under U.S. entity classification rules, certain types of entities can “check the box” to elect their classification to be taxed as a corporation with two levels of tax, a partnership with pass-through taxation, or even be disregarded for U.S. federal income tax purposes. The check the box election allows U.S. multinationals to engage in more effective global tax planning.
Toll charges, transfer pricing and treaties
When establishing a foreign corporate subsidiary, the U.S. multinational will likely need to transfer certain assets to the new entity to make it fully operational. However, in many cases, the U.S. multinational cannot perform the transfer without recognizing taxable income. In the international context, the IRS imposes certain outbound “toll charges” on the transfer of appreciated property to a foreign entity, which are usually provided for in IRC Section 367 and subject to various exceptions and nuances.
Instead, the U.S. multinational may prefer to license intellectual property to the foreign subsidiary for a fee rather than transfer the property outright. However, licensing requires the company and foreign subsidiary to adhere to transfer pricing rules, as dictated by IRC Section 482. The U.S. multinational and the foreign subsidiary must interact in an arms-length manner regarding pricing and economic terms. Furthermore, any such arrangement may attract withholding taxes when royalties are paid across a border.
Are you GILTI?
Certain U.S. multinationals opt to focus on deferring the income recognition at the U.S. level. In doing so, they simply leave overseas profits overseas and delay repatriating any of the earnings to the U.S.
Despite the general merits of this form of planning, U.S. multinationals will be subject to certain IRS anti-deferral mechanisms, commonly known as “Subpart F” and GILTI. Essentially, U.S. shareholders of certain foreign corporations are forced to recognize their pro rata share of certain types of income generated by these foreign entities at the time the income is earned instead of waiting until the foreign entity formally repatriates the income to the U.S.
The end goal
Essentially, all effective international tax planning boils down to treasury management. Effective and early tax planning can properly allow a company to better achieve its initial goal: profitability.
If global expansion is on the horizon for your company, consult a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.
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