Spanish firms seek overseas growth

3 December 2012

MADRID: Major brand owners in Spain are ramping up their focus on overseas expansion, not least as a result of the challenging economic climate domestically.

According to the Financial Times, some 61% of the €207bn in revenues generated by members of the Ibex 35, an index of Spain's biggest companies, was drawn from foreign markets in 2011.

"Fifteen years ago there were only the top three or four companies in Spain with large international operations," said Daniel Carreño, head of GE, the conglomerate, in Spain and Portugal. "Now the bar is lower, and smaller companies are following the same path."

"There might be liquidity issues for some now, but these assets will be an important source of growth for some time to come."

Telefónica, the telecoms giant, has moved into several different countries, acquiring rivals including O2 in the UK and Vivo in Brazil. Overall, it has spent $85bn on such purchases over a decade or so.

Inditex, the retail conglomerate owning chains like Zara, also opened 483 branches in 82 countries during 2011, and, as with Telefónica, has become a widely-admired organisation at the global level.

Banco Santander, the financial services group, has been similarly active, taking control of Banco Real in Brazil, Alliance & Leicester in the UK, Sovereign in the US and Bank Zachodni WBK in Poland.

Fernando Maldonado, head of investment banking at Credit Suisse in Iberia, suggested these kinds of assets provided for growth and served as a safeguard given Spain's financial travails.

"The international businesses of Spanish banks and other companies are there to stay but they can also act as a valuable source of capital in difficult moments," he said.

"Companies can diminish their exposure by selling off stakes in these businesses, or can exit altogether in countries where they have low market share."

Latin America has been of particular interest, with Spanish firms investing $117bn in the region from 1992 until May 2012, according to Bloomberg, the information provider.

The biggest such deal was in the energy sector, as Repsol, the oil specialist, acquired YPF, based in Argentina, for $15.5bn.

"Cultural ties and language played in favour of Spanish companies," said Javier Santiso of the Esade Business School. "Spanish executives understand Latin America much better than others."

Data sourced from Financial Times/Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff