Number of overseas visitors to Spain hits record levels in August

Tourism and exports of goods assuage pain of falling domestic demand

Figures released Thursday painted the two sides of Spain's still-laboring economy, with the foreign sector providing a little sunshine to relieve some of the gloom cast by anemic domestic demand.

The number of overseas visitors hit record levels in August, while the trade deficit narrowed sharply in July, driven by strong export performance. Alongside that, a plunge in home loans granted in July highlighted the dire state of the housing market.

The Industry, Tourism and Trade Ministry said the number of foreign tourists last month climbed 9.4 percent from a year earlier to 7.64 million, the biggest monthly figure since the ministry began to compile data on the industry in 1995. There was a notable increase of 16.7 percent in US visitors, while the number of Germans enjoying the charms of the country rose 12.3 percent. In the first eight months of the year, the number of visitors was up 7.8 percent at just shy of 40 million.

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"These are great figures, but you have to put them in a global context," the chairman of the Spanish Federation of Travel Agencies, Rafael Gallego, said. Gallego was referring to the social and political upheaval in rival destinations such as Tunisia and Egypt, from which Spain benefited. That was also the case in Greece as street protests against the government's austerity measures acted as a deterrent for some would-be visitors.

The export sector also remains buoyant despite concerns of a global slowdown. The ministry said overseas shipments in July climbed 17.8 percent, with the increase 3.5 points above the average in the euro zone. Exports to non-European Union countries were encouraging, rising 31.2 percent to North America and 26.8 percent to Latin America. Exports have now risen by double-digit amounts for 18 months on the trot.

Imports in July rose by a more modest 10.3 percent. As a result, Spain's chronic trade deficit narrowed by 61.7 percent to 1.642 billion euros, a 13-year low.

The foreign sector's positive contribution to Spain's GDP growth in the second quarter doubled to 2.6 percentage points.

However, that was not enough to stop annual growth slowing to 0.7 percent from 0.9 percent in the first quarter as the negative input of domestic demand increased by 1.5 points to 1.9 points.

One of the reasons for that was an ongoing contraction in the construction sector due to a slump in homebuilding. The mortgage figures for July released by the National Statistics Institute bore painful witness to this as the number of home loans granted fell 47.0 percent, the biggest monthly fall since 1995.

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