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After Bill Gates, is Spain back in fashion?

Thursday, 24 Oct 2013 | 7:04 AM ET
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
Denis Doyle | Getty Images
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy

With Spain's economy showing signs of growing for the first time in over two years and Bill Gates making a big investment in one of the country's construction companies, is Spain rebounding; even, back in fashion?

Spain's gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 0.1 percent between July and September, according to estimates from the Bank of Spain. But the country's economic output was still 1.2 percent lower for the quarter compared to last year.

Spain's National Statistics agency, INE, will release the official figures for the third quarter next week.

The news comes after Microsoft's billionaire founder, Bill Gates, bought 6 percent of Spanish construction company FCC for 113.5 million euros ($155 million) and as Spain's unemployment rate fell to 26 percent in the third quarter, down from 26.3 percent in the previous quarter and beating analysts 'forecasts. The IBEX 35 was slightly higher in Thursday trade.

(Read more: Microsoft co-founder buys 6 percent of Spain's FCC)

Furthermore, Santander, one of the largest banks in the world by stock market value and the largest in the eurozone, posted a big jump in nine-month profit as it put less money aside to cover losses in its Spanish home market, while smaller Spanish banks Sabadell and Bankinter also saw a September profit increase.

So are these pockets of good news signs of an uptick in Spanish fortunes ahead of 2014, when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the economy to expand by 0.2 percent?

David Lea, senior analyst of Control Risks, said that there are "titbits" of information that point to optimism, noting that Telefónica reported this month that customers using prepaid cards for their phones were spending an average of 12-13 euros ($16-17) per month so far this year, compared to 10-11 euros ($13-14) in 2012.

Capital Economics' European economist Ben May added that exports were also looking positive in Spain. "Certainly, compared to six or 12 months ago, things undoubtedly do appear to be somewhat better," he said. "The real positive has been the recent strength of exports, Spain's export performance looks really good compared to the other eurozone economies."

The Bank of Spain said that exports contributed 0.4 percentage points to third quarter growth.

(Read more: Spain to 'come out on top' in stress tests)

However, Lea noted that the unemployment data may be misleading.

"I think what we're seeing here is very much a seasonal effect," he said. "Even at the very height of the crisis, even then the seasonal effects were noticed in the unemployment data. So it's not that momentous a development, but I think what we are noticing is that, all of a sudden, there are little 'titbits' of better news that people can pick at, and even if they are little, they are at least something which there hasn't been for a very long time."

May concurred that Spain was not out of the woods just yet. "The outlook for the export sector looks encouraging, but more generally,the outlook for domestic demand is somewhat uncertain, and it's likely that any external-led revival is to a large degree offset by domestic demand weakness," May said, adding, "So the economy will broadly stagnate or post modest growth at best over the coming quarters."

May added that Gates' move to invest in FCC was a bit of a puzzle given the construction sector in Spain. "I would not have thought that the construction sector would drive any recovery in the next year or two, personally," he said.

(Read more: Italy, Spain face short-term pressure after investor love-in)

Lea said that Gates' move could not be seen as a vote of confidence in the economy, instead he felt that the construction sector in Spain was near the bottom of the market: "The argument is that there is the potential of very strong growth in construction on the basis that it's not been doing that much in the last couple of years."

Lea summarized the current quandary that faces most investors looking at Spain: "It's not that bad news, but it's not that great either."

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