Jan 17 - The Spanish construction sector has been the bellwether of its economic crisis. But recently, George Soros and Bill Gates have been acquiring shares in Spanish building firm, FCC. Joanna Partridge asks whether things are looking up for the country's fragile building trade.
A property crash which helped push Spain into its worse recession in modern times. Now five years on, the economy is beginning to recover. And the fortunes of Spanish building companies also seem to be on the turn. They've reduced their debt by selling assets and cutting jobs. That's seen firms like FCC and Sacyr enjoy sharp gains in their share prices over the past year. Sacyr's stock has risen 140% in that time - compared with a just 21% increase in Spain's blue-chip index. But the construction sector at home is still stuck in the doldrums, so companies have been looking abroad for work. Sacyr is currently leading a consortium to expand the Panama Canal - a project that's not been without its problems. Spain's government quickly got involved a dispute about cost overruns in the project - showing the importance of foreign markets for Spanish firms. FCC meanwhile has caught the eye of billionaire investors George Soros and Bill Gates - both have bought acquired stakes in the firm. CMC Markets' Michael Hewson can see why the sector might be appealing. SOUNDBITE: Michael Hewson, Market Analyst, CMC Markets, saying (English): "It's a fairly low risk bet as the construction sector was one of the worst hit sectors in Spain when the housing crash happened. So I would suggest it's a play on the Spanish recovery, we are certainly seeing some evidence of a pick up, certainly in manufacturing, the PMIs have been largely positive over the last few months, in some cases outperforming Germany, and really you only need to see a small pick up in share price values for that deal to make sense." Spain's construction firms are clearly not out of the woods yet, and other investors are still cautious. The companies remain dependent on their home market for the bulk of their revenues. And with analysts predicting a muted, drawn-out recovery it may be some time before the firms return to health.