Nightmare Before Christmas for Spanish Banks

The European Court of Justice refused to listen.

The European Court of Justice just delivered a landmark ruling that could cost Spanish banks – or Spanish taxpayers, in case of another bailout – billions of euros: 40 out of Spain’s 42 banks will have to refund all the money they surreptitiously overcharged borrowers as a result of the so-called “mortgage floor-clauses” that were unleashed across the whole home mortgage sector in 2009.

These floor clauses set a minimum interest rate, typically of between 3% and 4.5%, for variable-rate mortgages, which are a very common mortgage in Spain, even if the Euribor dropped far below that figure. In other words, the mortgages were only really variable in one direction: upwards!

This, in and of itself, was not illegal. The problem is that most banks failed to properly inform their customers that the mortgage contract included such a clause. Those that did, often told their customers that the clause was an extreme precautionary measure and would almost certainly never be activated. After all, they argued, what are the chances of the Euribor ever dropping below 3.5% for any length of time?

At the time (early 2009), Europe’s benchmark rate was hovering around the 5% mark. Within a year it had crashed below 1% and is now languishing below zero. As a result, most Spanish banks were able to enjoy all the benefits of virtually free money while avoiding one of the biggest drawbacks: having to offer customers dirt-cheap interest rates on their variable-rate mortgages

Continue reading the article at WOLF STREET

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