Spain's unemployment falls for first time in two years

Spanish unemployment has fallen for the first time in two years, official data showed on Thursday, a day after the central bank said the recession-hit country seemed close to a recovery.

The positive figures add to a series of good news from the eurozone, where business data suggests that the region was finally on the way out of a long-drawn recession.

On the back of demand for workers during the tourist season, unemployment fell to 26.26 percent in Spain, the eurozone's fourth biggest economy.

There were 225,200 fewer jobless people compared to the figure for the previous quarter when a record 27.16 percent was out of work.

The total jobless number reached 5,977,500 for the quarter, dipping under the psychological barrier of 6 million.

"If we compare the development of unemployment of this quarter to the same quarter during the last five years, it must be underlined that the fall in unemployment is the biggest since 2008," the national statistics office INE said.

Spain, once the motor of job creation in the 17-nation single currency area, is now struggling through a double dip recession brought on by the collapse of a property boom.

The bursting of the real estate bubble left banks with massive piles of bad debt and caused government debt to soar.

The banking sector was forced to seek a eurozone rescue which prompted fears that Spain would have to seek a broader sovereign bailout.

The Spanish economy contracted by 1.37 percent last year, the second worst annual slump since 1970, and Madrid forecasts it will shrink again by between 1.0 percent and 1.5 percent this year.

However, in the past month, the government has repeatedly signalled that the economy is about to get back on track on a wave of resurging exports.

Last week, it reported that trade deficit had narrowed sharply in May due to booming exports. Most in demand were energy and textiles.

Hopes rose that Spain might be able to trade its way out of the recession, with the Bank of Spain saying Wednesday that recovery was close thanks to exports.

Nevertheless, despite the improvement in jobless numbers, the unemployment situation in the country remains bleak.

There are still 1.8 million Spanish households in which not a single member of family is in employment, although this was 4.4 percent less than in the previous quarter.

Young people were also disproportionately hit, with an unemployment rate of 56.1 percent, against 57.2 percent in the first three months of the year.

Spain now has the second-highest level of unemployment in Europe, after Greece, which has received a billion-euro bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and which posted a jobless rate of 26.9 percent in April.

Also on Thursday, the lender that has become the symbol of Spain's ailing banking sector -- Bankia -- reported that it has swung back into profits in the first half after running up a loss of 19 billion euros for the full year of 2012.

Bankia was nationalised by the Spanish government in May 2012. Its fate prompted a broader rescue for the banking sector.

Bankia itself received 18 billion euros of the 41.3 billion euros bailout put up by the eurozone, and was in exchange forced to restructure its operations.