The debt markets are focusing on Spain again, and the debate between fiscal conservatives and stimulus proponents rages once more. Paul Krugman has just published another post showing that before the real estate bust Spain´s public debt was much lower than Germany´s. He compares net flows in 2010 and 2007 to state his case. This is not a reliable method to compare leverage levels. So here are the most recent balance sheet values as published by the OECD.
It is true that with an economic size of less than half the size of Germany (43%), Spain´s government debt was just one fifth of Germany´s public debt. However, the Spanish economy as whole had a net debt equivalent to almost 80% of GDP, while Germany was a net creditor, and between 2007 and 2010 increased its creditor position from 6% to 21% of GDP.
In what concerns the shares of public consumption in total GDP we can see from the following table that the share in Spain is only marginally higher than in Germany.
The fundamental difference between the two countries is that Spanish companies borrowed more than German firms while Spanish households saved very little when compared with those in Germany.
Moreover, some of the borrowing was financed by Germany and was mostly invested in loss-making real estate. Indeed, the robust public finances in pre-crisis Spain were the result of paper profits generated during the real estate bubble (in a fashion not much different from the Clinton surplus during the internet bubble).
So, the Spanish problem is a banking problem and should not be transformed into a long term fiscal problem, like in Ireland, which will compromise its future growth.