“There are tough months left, but you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.” The words of Minister Reyes Maroto this past Wednesday before a group of tourism professionals wanted to sound hopeful. He delivered them on the same day that a sectoral media was counting: half a million hospitality workers were unemployed or included in an ERTE in 2020.

One more grain to add to the mountain of disasters left by the virus. More debt, more deficit, more unemployment and a historical collapse of the GDP. And in 2021 it will be seen.

The barometer of companies that Deloitte prepares each semester for EL PAÍS adds new data, and some suggest that the minister may not be wrong, that getting out of the hole may be closer.

The survey, conducted among more than 200 companies that add up, by dimensioning their weight, more than half a million workers, says that in the second half of 2020 they did better than they expected. A breath of fresh air to continue in the marathon. 53% closed the year with sales increases, 45% increased their profitability and 28% hired a workforce after the March debacle and confinement.

Its forecasts for 2021 are less gloomy than in the previous barometer, although it should be noted that the survey was carried out between December, when the infection rate was much lower than the current one, and the beginning of January, before the great snowfalls of the storm Filomena.

Perhaps that is why for the whole of this year the economic outlook is tinted green: 61% think that the Spanish production machine will improve and 15% do not predict changes. The remaining 24% remains in the fade to black. Full recovery, to levels prior to the pandemic, is expected between May and December for 53% of companies and from next year for 45%.

Those forecasts are almost identical on what the panelists expect for their sector of activity. When what is analyzed is the own company, the data even improves: up to 66% trust that their organization will grow (slightly or substantially) this year and only 17% believe that it will get worse.

But the obvious sign that, as the minister said, complicated quarters remain is that the economic outlook in the very short term, between now and summer, will only improve – slightly – for 4 out of 10 consulted, while 54% think it will worsen in different degrees or it will still be just as bad.

“The key will be in the capacity that our country has so that the vaccination program is effective”, synthesizes from the Caja Rural de Zamora Francisco Lozano, its financial director and one of the participating panelists. “The third wave is hitting us very hard.

The data from yesterday [for last Monday] speak of more than 90,000 infections during the weekend and the sanitary saturation at the doors. With vaccination we are playing the capacity for the service sector to recover ”. An ad in which the hopes of an entire country, or rather an entire continent, travel, given the war between the European Commission and AstraZeneca for the supply of doses.

Gonzalo Gómez Bengoechea, Professor of Economics at Comillas Icade, commented on it this week with his students. “We had never imagined that the number of hospital beds was a leading indicator of activity.” He’s not joking, he’s sorry.

He knows that in this scenario economists run out of answers, because the problem is still 100% linked to health developments in an economy that already carried a heavy backpack from the previous crisis (without a fiscal cushion, with a tax rate of unemployment devastatingly high, with the social elevator broken) and at a time when uncertainty is once again looming on the edge of the cliff.

The IMF this week cooled the forecasts for Spain : it no longer anticipates a GDP rebound of 7.2% this year, as it had so far, but rather a more subdued 5.9%. It is the second largest cut among the major euro economies.

The other is that of Italy, in permanent political instability. “Supposing that a generalized vaccination takes place, at the end of summer the recovery of indicators could take place in a usual process that translates into consumption, investment and new projects. It is true that the IMF cools the recovery a bit, but it also gave a fall of 12.8%, which has remained at 11% ”, Gómez Bengoechea clarifies.

Employment is one of those foggy places . The ERTEs have helped stop unemployment, which ended the year at 3.7 million, with a rate of 16.5% according to the latest EPA. Many large companies, such as those represented in the barometer, have had to hire reinforcements (28%) while a similar percentage, 26%, have made adjustments.

Most of the changes have been forced by the pandemic (a reason for changing the workforce for 77% of companies), while for 57% the variation in their offer of products or services has weighed, and for 41%, the possibility of benefiting from ERTE.

Causes such as legislative changes, access to foreign markets or mergers, which traditionally motivated upward or downward adjustments in the workforce, are now relegated as residual. A good figure is that for the whole of the year there are more companies that think about creating stable employment (27%) than those that think they will fire workers (17%).

In the case of temporary ones, on the other hand, there are more who admit that they will cut spending in that chapter than those who are going to sign.

What is certain is that the way out of this monumental crisis will be even more unequal. It reads in the microdata of the barometer: insurance, media, telecommunications, construction and logistics companies believe they are in luck. They think that this semester their accounts will continue to improve.

Those of hospitality, tourism and banking have their thumb turned towards the ground. The hotels, by the obvious: physical restrictions pulverize meetings, travel, meetings, and the financial sector, due to the wave of delinquencies that can fall on them when public stimuli stop acting in the economy.

It would be a health crisis mutated to a financial one. “For now, delinquency is anesthetized in the productive sectors. Maybe something is noticeable in consumption, but we are not even seeing it in the home.

According to Funcas, 36% of Spaniards have already seen the economic situation in their homes deteriorate, especially young people. For now, most citizens, of all ages, think more about when the virus will end than whether they will be fired, but social tension is usually a fire that runs through the subsoil and is only seen at the last moment, as shown by the violent movements in Holland this week.

The Economist, drawing on research from the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), suggests that crises threaten democratic institutions most when they exacerbate underlying vulnerabilities, those that in good times were pushed aside. And Spain has a few seams about to burst, such as the situation of the self-employed.

María José Landaburu, secretary general of the association of self-employed Uatae, fights in the offices of the ministries of Economy, Social Security and Labor direct lines that allow a group to breathe that despite everything, she says, has an advantage: the losers of these months —commerce, hospitality, and some related subsectors, such as accommodation companies or taxis— are the first to notice a return to calm, when there is one.

“Because we are all wanting to go out again, to consume. The problem is that they have been holding out for a long time, and although the protection shield has worked (ERTE and benefit for cessation of activity), the trade had already been dragging its own crisis due to the change in habits. Either this time is taken advantage of to make a conversion, or this will be difficult to hold whatever we do ”.

That word, reconversion, is crushed by urgency. It is, as Francisco Ortega, financial director of Contenur, says, “a difficult and dramatic panorama in some sectors, an unknown situation where the ‘executive manual’ models are not valid.

The reinvention of companies is going to be, in some cases, the only survival table ”. Teo Lozano, for example, heads the marketing department of Steelcase, an office furniture multinational. Its sector, which had not recovered from the Great Recession, slumped 30% last year.

“The year 2021 promised better, but the first semester will be more of the same until the vaccine is spread,” he laments.But you’re already thinking about plan B. “The keyword is flexibility. In our business we know that many companies will continue to opt for teleworking to a greater or lesser extent.

We are designing models for places with fewer workers, so that they can carry out collaborative face-to-face tasks. In addition, the demand of individuals has made us put the batteries in e-commerce, in looking for products that fit more in a house, where not all work chairs are going to be black “.

Ferrán García, director of Caboel, a patrimonial real estate company, speaks that in his case there is a lot of capital available in the hands of international investors and “real estate can be an alternative.”

Other company testimonials also see the glass as half full. María Mata, director of the real estate group Sociedad Azucarera Larios, believes that this time, unlike the 2008 crisis, hers is a “better prepared” sector, and recalls that success will be reserved in the future for companies where profitability share space with sustainability processes, with a long-term corporate strategy.

The barometer proves him right, even if it is at the stroke of apocalypse. Among the development goals (SDGs) to which the companies in the survey contribute the most, “Climate action” has moved from seventh place to first place.

Then comes gender equality, despite the fact that the proportion of women in managerial positions in these same companies who say they are concerned is considerably lower (24%) than in intermediate positions (37%) or base positions (43%) . Curious, but SDG number 8, which talks about “decent work and economic growth”, drops to fifth place.

If Spain learned something in the last crisis, it was to go abroad. The industry had a long way to go, perhaps that is why people like Manuel Terroba, president of BMW for Spain and Portugal, remain optimistic “despite the complexity of 2020 and the worrying start of this year in the car.”

However, for the group of companies surveyed, this conquered land is on fire. The weight of sales on its turnover in the second semester has been reduced; 49% do not export anything at all and only 25% account for more than 30% of their turnover.

This year, half still think that exports will not have any importance in their business. The market that those who do trust the most is the European one, hit by confinements, and on the other hand, the worst seen is the United Kingdom, where after Brexit 13% of companies expect to stop doing business.

Outside of Europe, a recession is taken for granted in many Latin American economies for 47% of entrepreneurs, while for the North American and Asian markets – especially the latter – the best performance is expected.

With these bases so fragile, the Spanish economy faces a more difficult year than was promised last December. The two lights at the end of the tunnel, the vaccines and the European funds, blink. If it is true, as the German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday, that the shortage in the supply of vaccines will last at least two months, the recovery will surely be delayed until last summer.

As for European funds , they are already received with great skepticism: only 17% of the panelists believe that they will serve to improve the Spanish economy “substantially”. The proof is that 65% – and we are talking about medium and large companies – consider that they will not be able to benefit from the projects of the Next Generation plan.

By Vil Joe

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