Dr. Joan Hortalà i Arau: Stock exchange and banks – The financial centre of Barcelona

Specifically regarding stock exchange and banking, financial activity in its mo­­d­­ern sense starts up in Barcelona at the beginning of the 19th century. Back then, and in the bosom of a relatively prosperous economic climate, certain struc­­tural changes linked to the ap­­pearance of the machine age, that affect the textile sector (of traditional roots) and the metallurgical sector (just then be­­ginning to take off), are observed in Catalonia.

This is how mercantile societies of relatively significant size arise and contribute to the creation of an incipient stock market, based at the Casa-Lonja de Mar, historical venue for exchange brokers (Corredores de Cambios). At the same time, they promote the banking activity in a double sense: as credit entities and as direct participants in the financing of new industrial projects.


Stock exchange and banks start play­­ing an important role in Catalan economy and, within the context of an outstanding industrial manufacturing sector, turn this territory into one of the most prosperous of Spain.

Barcelona Stock Exchange was organized as a “Free Market” till 1914, refusing the possibility of becoming an official market when the law which regulated the creation of this kind of establishments, and under which the Madrid Stock Exchange was formed, was promulgated in 1831.

During this long period of time, the Catalan stock market was the first variable income market in the peninsula, with ordinary connections to those of Paris and London. As of 1914, the “Official Market” was made mandatory in Barce­lona, opposed to the “Free Market”, which would anyway remain till the beginning of the Civil War. Afterwards, within the exclusive frame of official trading, a market was consolidated which fairly competed against those from other Spanish financial locations and against the inevitable obligations derived from a strong political process that favoured centralism and the consequent relocation of head offices, which started to move to the country’s capital.
The 1988 law for the Reform of Stock Markets, which declares the Stock Ex­­change a public limited company and decrees an interconnected market, involves a loss of attributions as much in the functional field as in prerogatives of identity. The creation of Spanish Stock Exchanges and Markets (BME) in 2002, in which the different shareholders of the Spanish stock exchanges decide to become a holding company, will encourage a dissociating movement that will finish on 14 July 2006, date on which the stock exchange goes public.

The page on the left side shows the current situation of the Barcelona Stock Ex­­change within the frame of the Spanish stock market.

It can be seen that Barcelona’s stock market channels 23 per cent of the variable income transactions and more than 26 per cent of total business volume through its 33 members (securities companies, securities agencies and credit entities). That are a little over 50 per cent of the mediators authorized to operate in the Spanish market. Majority participation (95 per cent) in the trading of fixed income stands out, based on an asset exclusively negotiated at the Barcelona Stock Exchange: the Cata­lonian Public Debt, for which a specialized market was created in its day.


Regarding banking activity, also from a historic perspective, the 19th century witnessed the creation of a considerable amount of establishments. Most of them were of a local nature, and until 1874, when the law granted the issuing monopoly to the Bank of Spain, were constituted as “issuing and discount banks”. From this date on, after a significant decrease in the number of en­­tities, the ones who survived changed into “deposit and discount banks”. The Bank of Barcelona, which had opened its doors in August 1845, stands out as the benchmark of Catalan finances throughout the century.

“Investment banking” also appeared during this period; the Banco Hispano Colonial being the Condal city’s em­ble­matic entitiy. It was founded in 1876 and in time, it became the Central Bank, which recently merged with the Banco Hispano Americano and then, once to­­gether, with the Banco Santan­der.
The banking sector also suffers from a relocation process in the period that follows World War I, which notoriously increased after 1944. The head offices of the big Catalan banking houses move to the country’s capital, although the ones that remain in Barcelona operate with clear local predominan­ce. This is the case, amongst others, of Banca Garriga y Nogués, Banca Mas-Sardà, Banca Jover. The changes in the Spanish economy led to the stabilization plan of 1959 and the sub­­sequent period of development favoured the birth of a new generation of Cata­lan banks, even if of brief existence.

Within this frame, the Banca Catalana and its subsidiary, the Banco Industrial de Catalunya, deserve special attention. After having been born out of the trans­­formation of the Banca Dorca de Olot, it became a remarkable establish­ment in a short time. Never­theless, due to management difficulties, the im­­pact of a highly depressing economic climate, and po­­litical inconstancy, it ceased to operate as such and became part of the group of Banco de Vizcaya in the 1980s. The lat­­ter would then merge with the Banco de Bilbao, and later, both together, with Ar­­gentaria to constitute the current BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria).
At present, the Banco Sabadell-Atlántico is the largest establishment of this kind with its head office in Barcelona, compared to other seven entities of smaller scale, mostly dedicated to personal and investment banking. The significance of the whole within the Spanish scene can be viewed in detail at page 51.

The figures in the table indicate that the number of banking offices in Ca­­talonia mantains certain uniformity with respect to its relative demographic di­­mension. The credit option doubles the volume of deposits and, summarizing, the balance structure shows a low percentage; a true reflection of the prevailing centralism of the sector.
Banking activity in Catalonia is closely related to that one of the savings banks, entities of long tradition and strong roots among the population.


In 1844 the first one of these entities is founded under the name of Caja de Bar­celona. Succesively, and vinculated with the cooperative system movement, savings banks began to sprout in different locations in a context of deep social concern, assistance and foresight. Due to its later significance, the creation of the Caja de Pensiones in 1904 is of importance. It would after­­wards associate with the Caja de Ahorros y Pensiones de Barcelona, “La Caixa”, which nowadays leads this sector within the European Union.

The Catalan savings banks are of both private and public constitution. Amongst the former, together with La Caixa, are six more en­­tities (Penedès, Sabadell, Ter­ras­­sa, Laie­­­tana, Manresa and Manl­leu). Amongst the public ones, promoted back in their day by the respective county councils, currently exist Gerona, Tarra­gona and Bar­­celona, the latter, amid the big­­gest ones of Spain, operates under the name of Caixa de Catalunya.

The next table shows the quantita­­tive significance of Catalan savings banks in relation to those in the rest of Spain. It can be seen that the Catalan savings banks have a far superior wei­ght, in com­­parative terms, regarding strict­­­ly bank­ing activity, as much in the num­­ber of offices as in, singularly, the volume of deposits. Furthermore, in the total balance. On the other hand, the situation is more levelled in respect to credits. Con­­cretely, they represent more than 23 per cent of the total number of of­­fices in Spain, more than 20 per cent in deposits, 22 per cent in credits, and almost 32 per cent in the balance struc­­ture. Very reveal­­ing figures, considering that Catalonia’s area represents 6.3 per cent of Spain’s territory, and its po­­pu­lation 15.9 per cent of the Spanish total.

Sr.JoanHortalá10x15a300ppp1Professor of Economic Theory at the Uni­­­­­versity of Barcelona. He studied eco­­­­­­nomics and law at the University of Bar­­celona, ob­­taining a Doctorate Extra­ordinary Award. He holds degrees from dif­­ferent foreign universi­­ties and a doctorate in Economics from the London School of Economics and Poli­tical Science. He is cur­­rently Counselor of Spa­n­ish Stock Ex­­chan­­ges and Markets (BME) and President of the Barcelona Stock Exchange.