Spain readies measures to support hospitality sector, mulls longer loan scheme

MADRID (Reuters) - The Spanish government is considering extending its scheme of state-backed credit lines beyond December while also preparing measures to support the battered hospitality sector during the coronavirus pandemic, sources with knowledge of the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a protective mask is reflected on the window of a closed vermouth bar, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Madrid, Spain, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Susana Vera

“Everything is under discussion right now, the increase of the grace period, the extension of those credits and of the entire scheme beyond December, but nothing has been closed yet,” one source said.

Hotels, bars and restaurants have been particularly badly hit as the pandemic stifled tourism in one of the world’s most visited countries.

Hundreds rallied in Seville, the capital of Spain’s most populous region of Andalusia, demanding direct state aid to “save the hospitality industry” as new restrictions kicked in, ordering bars to close at 6 p.m.

Officials in Catalonia said restaurants, bars and shopping malls in the region will remain closed for at least another 10 days, but they planned a gradual return to open-air activities on the terraces from Nov. 23.

A government source said measures to extend loan grace periods - which allow borrowers to delay payment without being charged late fees, being found in default or having their loans cancelled - would likely be approved by the cabinet as soon as on Tuesday and would initially target the hospitality sector.

The economy ministry declined to comment.

The existing state-guaranteed funding scheme of 140 billion euros (125.6 billion pounds) is due to expire in December, with the grace period on a significant volume of loans ending by April.

Many small businesses have said they will not have been able to resume their activity by then to cope with their payments.

ECB economist Paloma Lopez Garcia wrote in an article this week that “our analysis shows that Spain is the most affected country” in the euro zone, with about a quarter of all firms with employees at risk of becoming illiquid.

Despite having the second highest tally of cases in Western Europe at over 1.4 million, the infection rate has stabilised overall in Spain of late.

“The trend is positive and we have been able to control it without having the lockdown we had in the spring,” Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said earlier on Thursday.

Reporting by Jesús Aguado, and Belén Carreño in Madrid and Marcelo del Pozo in Seville; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Emelia Sithole-Matarise