Tag Archive: Cyprus

Mar 29 2013

Cyprus: Quiet For Now

The banks in Cyprus re-opened on Thursday, the chaos that many feared was averted, for now. Cyprus is far from out of the economic woods.

Cyprus banks reopen – but stock exchange will remain closed

by Jill Treanor, Helena Smith and Josephine Mould, The Guardian

Small queues as bank staff turn up for work early in Nicosia and cash is delivered under heavy security

Cyprus’s banks returned to business on Thursday with only limited queues (video), amid strict controls to stop people withdrawing all their savings and triggering a catastrophic bank run. [..]

As planned, banks closed around 6pm (4pm GMT). The Cyprus stock exchange, however, remained shut for the day, having abandoned plans to reopen less than an hour before trading was due to start.

Hopes that Cyprus’s new capital controls would be lifted in a week’s time were dashed tonight, as foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides predited they would last for “about a month”. [..]

On Thursday, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, tried to limit fears of contagion, saying Cyprus was a very special case and the EU had found the right solution for it. He said Luxembourg had a completely different business model to Cyprus and any comparison of the two would be absurd.

Analysts at Fathom Research said that the relief surrounding the Cyprus deal would be temporary. “The relief is misplaced and will be short lived, since the ‘doom-loop’ undermining the euro, between insolvent banks and their indebted sovereigns, has not been broken but emphatically reaffirmed.”

Cyprus bank restrictions could last ‘a month’

from Al Jazeera

Curbs imposed after island secured bailout to be lifted over a period of about a month, foreign minister says.

Cyprus is the first country in Europe’s single currency zone to impose losses on bank depositors.

The government initially said the controls would remain in place for a week, subject to review.

Economists say they will prove hard to lift as long as the economy is in crisis.

Cyprus: investors were withdrawing money before crisis hit, figures show

by Larry Eliot, The Guardian

Bank figures reveal deposits were being run down in February – well before first proposals for a bailout were made public

Investors were removing money from banks in Cyprus long before the onset of the two-week financial crisis that forced the small eurozone country to impose controls on capital flight.

Data from both the European Central Bank and the central bank of Cyprus revealed that deposits were being run down in February – well before the first proposals for a bailout were made public in mid-March.

ECB figures show that private sector deposits in Cypriot banks fell by 2.9% in February – a generally calm month that saw both consumers and companies increase their holdings at Greek and Spanish banks.

And last but not least, Herr Doktor.

Debt and Devaluation, Mediterranean Edition

By Paul Krugman, The New York Times

When I talk about Cyprus and the possibility of leaving the euro, one immediate question people raise is what about the government’s debt, which is of course in euros. Wouldn’t an exit make that debt unsupportable, and force default?

There are, I’d say, two answers, one more fundamental than the other.

The less fundamental answer is, what makes you think that Cyprus can avoid default even if it stays on the euro? [..]

The more fundamental answer is, holding the nominal exchange rate fixed and relying on “internal devaluation” rather than devaluation devaluation does not, in fact, help make debt more manageable. [..]

So the debt is not a good reason to stay on the euro. I guess that if I were arguing for keeping the euro, I would instead be making mainly a political case – basically, that you’ll get better treatment from Brussels and Berlin if you remain a good soldier. But boy, will the cost be high.

Soldier on.

Mar 26 2013

Cyprus: The Not So Good Deal

Cyprus Bailout photo BrokenEuro_zps0a6d094f.png As the dust of enthusiasm settles over this morning’s Cyprus deal with the European Union that closed the country’s second-largest bank and created a set of capital controls to prevent a run on the remaining banks, the financial world is taking a closer look and they aren’t happy. The agreement adheres to the law protecting insured accounts less than 100,000 euros. Supposedly, this deal prevented the immediate collapse of the Cyprus economy and its exit from the euro and, possibly, the European Union. Several economic analysts discuss the ramifications on the global banking and economy.

The Prodigal Greek has the simplest explanation of what capital controls entail (h/t Yves Smith):

Here is what a cash economy looks like:      

  • Restrictions in daily withdrawals
  • Ban on premature termination of time savings deposits
  • Compulsory renewal of all time savings deposits upon maturity
  • Conversion of current accounts to time deposits
  • Ban or restrictions on non cash transactions
  • Restrictions on use of debit, credit or prepaid debit cards
  • Ban or restriction on cashing in checks
  • Restrictions on domestic interbank transfers or transfers within the same bank
  • Restrictions on the interactions/transactions of the public with credit institutions
  • Restrictions on movements of capital, payments, transfers
  • Any other measure which the Finance Minister or the Govern or of Cyprus Central Bank see necessary for reasons of public order and safety

In other words, Cyprus euros can only be spent in Cyprus and cannot be taken out of Cyprus to any other country; checks, debit and credit cards are useless. It is a strictly cash and carry local economy since Cypriots will not be able to make internet purchases. It will restrict travel into and out of the island, as well. The agreement has isolated the tiny island from the rest of the EU. Economics and financial analyst, Frances Coppola explains the ramifications of these restrictions:

From Tuesday, Cyprus becomes a black hole in the Eurozone: any money that goes into it stays there, and no money can leave……From a safe distance, it will appear frozen in time, a small cash-based economy, isolated from the rest of the EU. While inside, invisible to all except those who actually go there – or live there – its social fabric is torn apart as its economy collapses. Note the final clause in the capital control bill:

   Any other measure which the Finance Minister or the Governor of Cyprus Central Bank see necessary for reasons of public order and safety

So as people’s livelihoods are destroyed and their standard of living crashes, other measures may be introduced to ensure that they can’t take matters into their own hands.

From Yves Smith at naked capitalism is her summation of the attempt to contain Cyprus:

First, confiscating bank deposits is now on the table in any future crisis. That’s toothpaste that’s not going back in the tube. Commerzbank chief economist Jörg Krämer has already suggested (Google translates) “a one-time property tax levy” for Italy and “a tax rate of 15 percent on financial assets.” And adding fuel to the fire, the Leader of the UK Independence Party has urged expats in the periphery countries, in particular the 750,000 British in Spain to “Get your money out of there while you’ve still got a chance.”

Second, capital controls in Cyprus mean that there are now two Euros in effect: The Euro that you can use only in Cyprus, and the Euro you can use elsewhere in the so-called “monetary union.” So from the perspective of people in Cyprus, the results are in some ways worst that a breakup: rather than having depreciated dough, you have dough that has been impounded, particularly in terms of using it outside Cyprus. [..]

Third, these concerns may be amplified by how rapidly and visibly the Cypriot economy craters. The “rapidly” is due to the fact, as discussed in greater detail in the post from Cyprus.com below, that the Cyprus economy will suffer a one-two punch: the loss of a big chunk of wealth, plus the disappearance of much of the financial services sector, which was 45% of GDP.

The capital controls have isolated Cyprus from the rest of the EU without actually expelling the country.

The deal may have stayed the immediate crisis but it hasn’t stopped the eventual collapse of the Cyprus economy or its future exit from the euro. Not only that, it is the shot across the bow for other economically troubled EU countries of things to come.  

Mar 22 2013

Cyprus: No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Up Date 3.23.2013 0100 AM EDT: The Cyprus Parliament has passed part of a bailout plan but has delayed voting on a tax for unsecured deposits:

One of the provisions Parliament approved Friday would impose new restrictions on withdrawing cash or moving money out of the country when the banks reopen. These new capital controls would prohibit or restrict check-cashing and bar “premature” account closings or any other transaction the authorities deemed unwarranted.

Lawmakers also voted to restructure the nation’s largest and most troubled bank, Laiki Bank, by splitting off its troubled assets into a so-called bad bank. Accounts with no problem would be transferred to the nation’s largest financial institution, the Bank of Cyprus. Lawmakers also voted to require that any bank on the verge of bankruptcy be split apart in the same way. [..]

Still to be voted on is the measure to impose a tax of 22 to 25 percent on uninsured deposits at the Bank of Cyprus. That proposal was made after lawmakers rejected a plan earlier in the week to tax insured deposits to help raise the amount needed to secure the bailout. The Parliament appears to be trying to make up the difference in part by shifting the burden to large account holders.

Cyprus Finance Minister Michael Sarris returned empty handed from Russia after the Russians ruled  out helping until after a deal is struck with European Union. Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejected the proposal to nationalize pension funds and insisting that depositors, especially large savings accounts, be taxed to raise the needed €5.8 billion of the €10 billion bailout deal. Part of the reason for the refusal to accept nationalization of pensions as part of the deal is that Germany did just that to finance both world wars. Germans also face an election in six months and have been reluctant to give up on the bank levy since it protects them from accusations of using European taxpayers money to bail out big Russian investors in Cyprus.

In a nut shell, Cyprus got into this mess because the country’s banks were using Russian deposits to buy Greek bonds to help forestall the collapse of the Greek banks. The Greek bonds went bad, and the Cypriot banks lost a bundle. No good deed goes unpunished.

So where is Cyprus now? At this time, the Parliament is going over a series of bills that would consolidate its ailing banks and the creation of a fund that pools state and church assets, i.e. real estate and pensions, against which they would issue bonds. The deputy leader of he ruling Democratic Rally party, Averof Neophytou, cleared the way for the reconsideration of tax levy on savings accounts which had been flatly reject ted on Tuesday.

The other monkey wrench in all of this is Turkey’s challenge of the any move by Cyprus to speed up offshore natural gas exploration as a way of attracting desperately needed investment to save the economy.  

“This resource belongs to two communities and the future of this resource can’t be subject to the will of southern Cyprus alone. (We) may act against such initiatives if necessary,” one of the Turkish officials told Reuters.

“The exclusive use of this resource … by Southern Cyprus is out of question … and unacceptable.”

Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish north since a Greek coup d’etat followed by a Turkish army invasion in 1974. Efforts to reunite the island have repeatedly failed and Turkey is the only nation to recognise the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

At the Washington Post‘s “Wonkblog”, Dylan Matthews predicted two possible scenarios if Cyprus accepts the EU bailout terms:

What’s the best case scenario from a bailout?

The best we can hope for is that Cyprus takes the hit, gets some money, recapitalizes its banks, and recovers from there. It had a fairly conservative banking sector before the crisis, with deposits far outstripping loans, and its government was actually running surpluses, so it doesn’t have to engage in the kinds of fundamental structural reforms that appear necessary in Greece. So if the Greek losses were just a temporary shock, the rescue money should get the country back on its feet.

And the worst-case scenario?

The worst-case scenario under a plan with a haircut is that the plan triggers a run on banks not just in Cyprus (that appears to already be happening) but in other vulnerable countries like Spain and Italy as customers worry that the E.U. will try to impose similar conditions there. That would exacerbate an already bad situation as it would increase bank shortfalls; fewer deposits, after all, mean a worse deposit-to-liability ratio. Those kinds of runs could lead to a continent-wide crisis of the kind observers have been fearing since the euro zone started its slow-motion collapse back in 2009.

However, the failure of the initial haircut plan renders this outcome less likely. It does render a Cypriot exit from the monetary union quite a bit more likely. That would trigger bank runs in Cyprus as people try to get their money out before the Cypriot pound falls dramatically in value relative to the Euro, and could trigger further runs in Spain and Italy. That’s bad for the same reason haircut-inspired bank runs are bad.

Truthfully, it’s all bad and there is no reason for this since as Ezra Klein points out that the solution is to just give Cyprus the money:

Seriously. €15.8 billion ($20.5 billion) is not a lot of money in the scheme of European finance. It is trivially easy for the European Central Bank, or the IMF, or the Federal Reserve, or really any central bank of any consequence to just hand it over. That the troika is already committing €10 billion ($13 billion) is evidence enough. All the troubles in the negotiations are linked to the demand that €5.8 billion ($7.5 billion) come from Cyprus’ own coffers. Dropping that requirement could solve everything.

The Germans will never allow that until they are in the same boat. This is also why the euro will eventually fail.  

Mar 21 2013

The Cyprus Game of Chicken

Cyrus banks will remain closed until Tuesday as the government of Pres. Nicos Anastasiades struggles to find away to avert a banking failure and withdrawal from the euro.

Crisis talks among the political leadership in Nicosia are set to resume on Thursday after late-night meetings to discuss a “Plan B” broke up on Wednesday without result.

EU officials voiced frustration but little sympathy for an ambitious but now bust banking system that extended itself well beyond the island; Russia, whose citizens have billions to lose in those Cypriot banks, called the EU a “bull in a china shop”. [..]

Finance Minister Michael Sarris extended a stay in Moscow, where Russian officials said he asked for a further 5 billion euros on top of a five-year extension and lower interest on an existing 2.5-billion euro loan from Moscow.

According to Yves Smith at naked capitalism not all of Cyprus’ banks are in the same shape and “the back story is complicated”

It’s key to understand that this crisis was created by the Troika. Cyprus asked for a bailout nine months ago and the deadline is a bond payment this June. And while it has become fashionable to pin the blame for this mess on Cyprus, the backstory is more complicated. From Cyprus.com:

   Not all the banks are in the same condition.

   (a) Cyprus has two money-center type banks: Laiki (Popular) Bank and Bank of Cyprus.

   (b) Laiki was purchased by a Greek vehicle (Marfin Investment Group) backed by Gulf money. Marfin’s purchase of Laiki took Laiki from being a fairly conservative local bank to being highly exposed to Greece. Laiki is definitely insolvent and needs to be restructured.

   (c) Bank of Cyprus has been more conservative vis-a-vis Greece, but still has meaningful exposure. It is conceivable that, given time, Bank of Cyprus could survive.

   (d) Beyond the main two banks, there is Hellenic Bank (a much smaller bank with much less Greek exposure), Cyprus Development Bank (no Greek exposure), the Co-ops (no Greek exposure) and the Cyprus subsidiaries of foreign banks (aka, Russian, English, etc banks), also with no Greek exposure.

   (e) All the local oriented banks (BoC, Laiki, Hellenic, Coops) have exposure to the local real estate market that went through a bubble during the 2000-2009 period. This exposure however is not short-term and could be resolved over the period of years. It is a problem, not a crisis, and is offset by the fact that the two main banks have quasi-monopolistic earnings power locally. Given the time and some financial represssion (a la the United States) and the local issues would be manageable.

In other words, the bank that is the epicenter of the problem was driven into the ditch by foreign buyers. Now admittedly, the local bank supervisors did nothing to stop that, but can you point to a single national bank regulator (ex the Canadians) that put much in the way of constraints on their banks prior to the crisis.

Paul Krugman’s take on this:

Still trying to wrap my head around the Cyprus situation; what makes it so interesting (as in “may you live in interesting times”) is the role of the island as a tax, regulation, and law enforcement haven.

It’s not just about the Russian connection, but that connection is really huge. Here’s another metric: Cyprus is, according to official figures, the largest single foreign direct investor in Russia – this from an economy roughly the same size as metropolitan Scranton PA. What’s that about? The FT explained it a while back: [..]

And a key aspect of the current mess is that the Cypriot government isn’t willing to give up this business. That’s why solutions like converting large deposits into CDs haven’t been on the table; once round-tripping Russians know that they can find their money trapped for long periods, they’ll go find another treasure island.

Stay tuned for more to come.

Mar 19 2013

Cyprus Stops EU Bank Robbery

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.

Mar 19 2013

Cat on Lap

Cyprus-

Antidote-

Aug 22 2012

Letting It All Hang Out

One of the latest MSM fixations has been an incident that occurred last year during a Republican junket to Israel. A nighttime swim in the Sea of Galilee by some members of the delegations turned embarrassing when the FBI found the Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) took his dip in the sea sans his suit. Oh my! A coed swim with one naked man is now national news. But the question by the press should have been, why was the FBI investigating this trip. Surely, they weren’t interested in who was taking off their clothed and skinny dipping. It turns out that the FBI was only interested in one member of that group and the investigation had nothing to do with that representative’s participation in that incident, clothed or otherwise.

The focus of the FBI is Staten Island’s freshman Tea Party backed House Representative Michael Grimm. The 42 year old former FBI agent who bears a striking resemblance to Rep. Paul Ryan and the other Tea Party clones has been under investigation by the FBI and a federal grand jury investigation into his 2010 campaign finances. The FBI was looking into Mr. Grimm’s side trip to Cyprus that was sponsored by the Cyprus Federation of America.

But FBI agents were actually interested in Grimm’s failure to file paperwork related to his trip to Cyprus following his Israeli junket, which had been paid for by the Cyprus Federation of America. The president of that company was arrested on federal corruption charges in June. Grimm had reported the Israel trip in his initial filing in May but did not list the trip to Cyprus until he amended it in June, one day after Cyprus Federation of America’s president was arrested.

FBI agents may have asked questions about “who went into the water that night, and whether there was any impropriety,” as Politico reported, but sources indicated the dip in the water certainly wasn’t the FBI’s central focus. [.]

Grimm, a former FBI agent, has been the subject of plenty of attention from federal authorities over the past year. On Friday, one of Grimm’s top fundraisers was arrested for allegedly lying about the source of a loan on immigration documents. That man, an Israeli named Ofer Biton, traveled around the New York area with Grimm in 2010 to raise money for his congressional campaign. At least four of Grimm’s 2010 campaign workers have been questioned by the FBI. Federal prosecutors have also interviewed several donors, according to the New York Times.

But heck, what’s more interesting, an skinny dipping congressman or an investigation into possible corruption by a congressman? I think we all know the answer to that.