Major Spanish banks are thinking about abandoning Catalonia over independence tensions

Several major banks based in the Spanish region of Catalonia are moving, or considering moving, their headquarters as tensions over independence continue to escalate.

On Thursday, Banco Sabadell — one of Catalonia’s largest lenders — announced it will move its headquarters from the region as it becomes more likely the Catalan government will declare independence.

That would mean Catalonia dropping out of the EU automatically, which in turn would remove the financial passporting rights of any banks based in the region.

Passporting allows allow banks with a base in the EU to sell products and services to customers and financial markets across the bloc without needing separate licences for each country.

The passport is tied to EU membership, so if Catalonia was pushed out of the bloc, it would lose those rights.

Sabadell’s announcement comes as Caixabank — Spain’s third biggest lender and Catalonia’s biggest — also reportedly considers domiciling outside the region to mitigate the possible consequence of Catalonian independence.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Sabadell’s move is designed to “limit uncertainty” and was accelerated by a big fall in the Spanish stock market on Wednesday, which saw shares in most banks drop several per cent.

Spain’s benchmark share index, the IBEX 35, fell more than 2% on the day and dropped below 10,000 points for the first time since 2015.

Over 2.2 million Catalonians, or 42% of the region’s electorate, voted overwhelmingly to separate from Spain last Sunday in a referendum that was dismissed as illegal by Spain’s central government. The referendum was marred by violence as riot police clashed with demonstrators, and almost 900 people were injured that day.

Catalonian lawmakers said earlier this week they would declare independence next Monday, although the timeline of any potential exit remains unclear after Catalonia’s parliament was suspended.

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