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Bank of Spain will stick to austerity as election looms

spainMADRID--As a general election looms in Spain, the central bank said the country's leaders should be careful not to backtrack on recent reforms and spending cuts as they try to cement an economic recovery and create much-needed jobs.

The Bank of Spain sees economic output continuing to expand in the second half of 2015 and growth of 3.1 percent this year in Spain and of 2.7 percent for 2016, putting Spain far ahead of most euro zone peers as it emerges from a period of deep spending cuts, economic reforms and a bank bailout.

But Bank of Spain Governor Luis Maria Linde said on Tuesday that a jobless rate hovering at 22.4 percent and a high level of public debt were weighing on Spain's progress since a deep recession ended in 2013. With a general election just months away, he urged politicians to continue with efforts to rein in spending, adding that any doubts over this could harm the recovery.

"We're far from having overcome all of the factors of vulnerability (in the economy)," Linde told parliament, adding that an exceptional phase of growth "does not mean that Spain has sufficiently overcome the consequences of the crisis that started in 2007."

Linde said there was already a risk that Spain could miss its deficit target of 4.2 percent of output for 2015.

Political groups backed by the anti-austerity party Podemos performed well in regional elections in May. With a national parliamentary election due around November, polls show that new movements are eroding the voter base of the traditional parties, leading to what could be an untested era of coalitions.

That could increase uncertainty over the economy, which has benefited from falling debt costs. Spain sold 5.45 billion euros in short-term Treasury bills on Tuesday at lower rates, with yields on 6-month bills turning negative. Linde said Spain's jobless rate could fall to around 20 percent by the fourth quarter of 2016.

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