Matilde Mas (Funcas) | Since the beginning of the 21st century, productivity growth has experienced an almost generalized slowdown, albeit of unequal intensity, in most developed countries. And this is despite the accelerated process of innovation accompanying the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is the phenomenon known as the productivity puzzle.
Among the large EU-15 countries – Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK – the general pattern has been a slowdown in labour productivity since around 2005, i.e. a few years before the great recession. Of these five countries, the UK has the most pronounced slowdown.
Spain, however, has more serious productivity problems than the other European countries. It is the only country with a counter-cyclical productivity profile, i.e. productivity increases in recessions and contracts in expansions. The explanation can be found in the time gaps, worsened by low investment in intangible assets and the poor functioning of the labour market. Investment in Spain is biased towards assets which have less impact on productivity gains (design and brand image), while the relative weight of investment in R&D, software, databases and organisational efficiency improvements is lower.
Despite the notable effort made in recent years to invest in intangible assets in Spain, their volatility is still excessive. This is a characteristic that is shared with other macroeconomic variables in our country and contributes to sharpening the cost of cyclical fluctuations. In Spain, the weight of tangible assets is three times greater than that of intangible assets, whereas the EU-14 average is twice as much.
In sectorial and regional distribution, Madrid is the leader in investment in intangibles, and inter-regional differences have widened despite the recent good performance in this area of communities such as Aragon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Asturias.