MADRID (Reuters) – Caixabank, Spain’s biggest lender by domestic assets, has proposed a sector-wide measure to cushion the rise in payments on variable mortgage contracts for a year, a source with direct knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday. “The proposal foresees freezing the increase in payments on variable mortgages for twelve months,” the source said on condition of anonymity, confirming a report in Spanish newspaper El Periodico de Catalunya. The source said that the proposal was being debated among lenders and could still change. It was not clear how many banking clients could benefit from such a measure.The Spanish banking association (AEB), the country’s economy ministry and Caixabank declined to comment. The association for savings banks CECA, of which Caixabank is a member, was not immediately available for comment.
Caixabank is the market leader in the mortgage business in Spain with a 25.4% share as of June. If approved by the government, the proposal could also affect other lenders such as Santander, BBVA and Sabadell.
Santander, BBVA and Sabadell were not immediately available for comment.
Vulnerable households in Spain are currently struggling to cope with higher interest rates. Last week, Economy Minister Nadia Calvino said the government would continue to work in “coming weeks” with lenders to help the most vulnerable mortgage holders. Among the options being weighed is an increase in the number of families that would be entitled to switch from variable-rate mortgage contracts to those with fixed rates without additional costs, bankers and a government source said also on condition of anonymity. An industry-wide code of good practice already allows for the restructuring of mortgage loans and even the cancellation of outstanding loan entirely in some cases.
Last Friday, Calvino said the government and the banking sector were considering reviewing its relief measures and potentially bolstering some of them to address the new challenge triggered by higher interest rates. In Spain around three-quarters of the population are homeowners, with most opting for floating-rate mortgages that now leave them more exposed to a more aggressive rises in borrowing costs in the euro zone.
(Reporting by Jesús Aguado; Editing by Aislinn Laing and Paul Simao)