School of Economics

Economic activity halved in Spain’s lockdown

Economic activity in Spain reduced by nearly a half during the coronavirus lockdown, study from Sevi Rodriguez Mora shows.

An analysis of 1.4 billion credit and debit card transactions during the first three months of 2020, show that expenditure in Spain post lockdown was an average of 49 per cent lower than the same date the previous year.

Economists from the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh and Imperial College  worked with the Spanish bank BBVA – one of the largest financial institutions in the world – to study the real time evolution of economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Underlying costs

The researchers found evidence of a major spending increase in the few days just before Spain’s lockdown began on the 14 March 2020, when daily expenditure shot up by 20 percentage points above average for the year.

Once lockdown began, daily spending halved on average. The researchers say that, while bank transaction data is substantially more volatile than overall consumption by households in Spain, they are closely linked.

 As such, the analysis suggests growth of just more than four per cent prior to lockdown that dropped sharply to a 13 per cent decline in average household consumption – a key indicator of GDP – once lockdown restrictions were in place.

Shifts in spending

The dataset found a dramatic shift to online purchasing once lockdown was enforced. While both offline and online spending fell overall, the decline at physical points of sale was high. Online shopping increased its market share by about 50 per cent.

The detail in the anonymised transaction data allowed the researchers to analyse the best and worst performing types of goods and outlets as people adapted.

 While outlets unable to conduct business - such as bars and fashion retailers - were the worst hit, the study shows that small local food shops and convenience stores benefited the most, increasing their market share more than even the superstores.

Growth areas

Other categories of spending that have seen market share grow during Spanish lockdown include mobile phone credit - as telecommunications becomes even more vital to social lives - pharmacies and insurance.

The study found that – all together – the top 10 best performing spending categories during lockdown went from an average of 10 per cent market share in the first two months of 2020 to 50 per cent by late March.

The economists additionally used anonymised geographic tagging of the transactions to study the economic effects of coronavirus on the different regions of Spain, as well as among the neighbourhoods of one of its major cities.  

Unlike the country’s autonomous regions such as Catalonia and the Basque Country, which all followed a similar pattern, economic activity evolved very differently within Madrid’s postcodes during the crisis.  


Those neighbourhoods where there were more sick and infected people saw substantial declines in spending. Within a big city, inequality in disease burden appears to be linked to inequality in economic burden.

Co-author, Vasco CarvalhoProfessor of Macroeconomics at the University of Cambridge, and director of its INET Institute


Over the coming weeks governments will grapple with how to relax social distancing measures, but have few means of understanding the impact of different policies on economic activity. Transaction data can provide immediate feedback on how spending patterns across space and sectors react to restriction measures, but also their relaxation. Given that this seems to be happening in Spain before the rest of Europe and America, whatever happens in Spain will show us what we should expect everywhere else.

Co-author Professor Sevi Rodriguez MoraSchool of Economics, University of Edinburgh


Tracking these kind of events in real time and high definition provides an important strategic advantage for policy makers, as they can react more quickly to limit the economic damage.

Álvaro OrtizHead of Big Data at BBVA Research

Link to study