Mar 19 2013

Cyprus Stops EU Bank Robbery

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

The Cyprus Parliament has rejected the European Union’s bail out deal that would have imposed a hefty one time tax on all deposits to raise  €5.8 billion of the total €10 billion bailout cost. The original terms of the bailout called for a one-time tax of 6.75 percent on deposits of less than €100,000, or $129,000, and a 9.9 percent tax on holdings of more than €100,000.

NICOSIA – The Cypriot Parliament on Tuesday overwhelmingly repudiated a €10 billion international bailout package that would have set an extraordinary precedent by taxing ordinary depositors to pay part of the bill.  The lawmakers sent President Nicos Anastasiades back to the drawing board with international bailout negotiators to devise a new plan that would allow the country to receive a financial lifeline and avoid the specter of a devastating default that would reignite the euro crisis.

Lawmakers rejected the plan with 36 voting no and 19 abstaining arguing that it would be unacceptable to take money from account holders. Some in the opposition party even suggested abandoning a European Union bailout altogether and appealing to Russia or China to lend Cyprus the funds it needs to keep the economy and its banks afloat.

The deal was brokered last week with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in a meeting at a European Union summit in Brussels. According to reports in The Guardian, the newly elected president was literally “sucker punched” by  the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank as it sought to broker a bailout for its ailing banks:

(..) (T)he centre-right Cypriot leader was given a 12-hour stay of execution until the early hours of Saturday on what, highly conveniently, was a Cyprus bank holiday weekend. He went home with a €10bn euro bailout and a eurozone taboo-busting obligation to expropriate every saver in every bank in Cyprus. [..]

It was not the two-day summit that decided to confiscate savers’ money for the first time in more than three years of currency, banking and sovereign debt crisis. Rather, the Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem called an emergency session of the eurogroup in the same drab building in Brussels to kick off on Friday just as the leaders were heading for the airport. [..]

The key players were Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, his former deputy, Jörg Asmussen, from the ECB, Christine Lagarde of France for the IMF, and Finland’s Rehn from the commission.

Anastasiades lingered in the building, but did not take part in the meeting which began at 4.30pm on Friday and ended with a bombshell – under the terms of the bailout he would need to find €5.8bn by raiding bank accounts.

Needless to say the reaction of the Cypriots was predictable with attempts to withdraw as much cash from ATM’s which were quickly emptied over the weekend. The banks were ordered to keep the cash machines replenished even though the banks would remained closed until Thursday. There were worries in other EU member states that depositors would start pulling savings from accounts, particularly Italy, Spain and Greece where the economic conditions are still uncertain.

The market reactions on Monday were predictable, they fell. While the Asian market today was fairly stable on the plus side, the European market fell. On Wall Street, the S&P and NASDAQ fell while the DOW which was in the red most of the day had a late rally to end the day with a 0.03% gain, hardly impressive.

At Reuters, Felix Salmon presented an alternative solution that designed the godfather of sovereign debt restructuring by Lee Buchheit, “the godfather of sovereign debt restructuring,” and Mitu Gulati of Duke University, in a three page paper:

First, leave all deposits under €100,000 untouched. Hitting those deposits was by far the biggest mistake of the Cyprus plan as originally envisaged, and everybody would be extremely happy if guaranteed depositors could be kept whole.

Second, term out everybody else by five years, or ten if they prefer.

That’s it! That’s the whole plan, and it’s kinda genius. If you have bank deposits of more than €100,000, they will be converted into bank CDs, with a maturity of either five years or 10 years – your choice. If you pick the longer maturity, then your CD will be secured by future Cypriot gas revenues, which could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.

And if you have sovereign bonds, they too will be termed out by five years, giving Cyprus a bit of breathing room to get its act together.

According the paper, this plan would reduce the size of the bailout by more that the €5.8 while not touching anyone’s principle. There would still be a “present value haircut” to accounts over €100,000 but that is going to happen in any bailout scenario.

Cyprus has long been a money stashing haven for Russian oligarchs who have over €20 billion in the banks, nearly one third of all deposits.  

This was an unprecedented move by the EU to force regular depositors and, rightly, the outrage was justified, immediate and predicted. Even Paul Krugman was predicting bank runs. That question looms large:

if the taxpayers of the rich northern members of the eurozone are going to force a country that represents only 0.2% of the club’s GDP to part-finance their own bailout, will they be any more generous when it comes to some of the big-country members such as Italy and Spain that might be next in line? And in the event that the Italians and the Spanish get an inkling that a bailout is looming, won’t they immediately withdraw all their euros immediately, triggering a bank run?

The question now is what next? Will the Russians or Chinese come to the aid of Cyprus to protect their citizens deposits? Can they afford to? Will Cyprus withdraw from the EU and risk the failure of its banks? Can a tiny island nation of 1.1 million be the downfall of the euro?

Stand by, as events will happen very fast to avert a global monetary disaster.

1 comment

  1. TMC

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