With the Cypriot government still 'undecided' about what to 'take' and the European leaders very much 'decided' about what to 'give', the fact of the matter is, as JPMorgan explains in this excellent summary of the state of affairs in Europe, that because ELA funding facility is limited by the availability of collateral (and the haircuts applied to those by the central bank), and cutting the Cypriot banking system completely from ELA access is equivalent to cutting it from the Eurosystem making an exit from the euro a matter of time. This makes it inevitable that capital controls and a capital freeze will be imposed, in their view, but it is not only bank deposits that are at risk. A broader retrenchment in funding markets is possible given the confusion and inconsistency last weekend's decision created for investors relative to previous policy decisions. Add to this the move by Spain, which announced this week a tax or bank levy (probably 0.2%) to be imposed on bank deposits, without details on which deposits will be affected or timing, and the chance of sparking much broader deposit outflows across the union are rising quickly.
Cyprus is preparing for total financial collapse as the European Central Bank turns its back on the island after its parliament rejected a scheme to make Cypriot citizens pay a levy on savings deposits in return for a share in potential gas futures to fund a bailout. In the meantime, cashing in on the island’s major gas potential is more urgent than ever—but these are still very early days. In the end, it’s all about gas and the race to the finish line to develop massive Mediterranean discoveries. Cyprus has found itself right in the middle of this geopolitical game in which its gas potential is a tool in a showdown between Russia and the European Union. The EU favored the Cypriot bank deposit levy but it would have hit at the massive accounts of Russian oligarchs. Without the promise of Levant Basin gas, the EU wouldn’t have had the bravado for such a move because Russia holds too much power over Europe’s gas supply. The Greek Cypriot government believes it is sitting on an amazing 60 trillion cubic feet of gas, but these are early days - these aren’t proven reserves and commercial viability could be years away. In the best-case scenario, production could feasibly begin in five years. Exports are even further afield, with some analysts suggesting 2020 as a start date.
Rather than sitting nervously and passively and awaiting the coming financial dislocations and expropriations, investors and savers need to be prepared for the uncertain financial scenarios that seem increasingly likely.
Hoping for the best, but preparing for less benign scenarios remains prudent.
Europe's paymaster - that would be Germany for those who have not paid attention to events over the past four years - is not used to being snubbed. It certainly is not used to being snubbed by what every empty chatterbox and their kitchen sink will tell you is a "small and irrelevant" country (all the more so in the aftermath of last summer's embarrassing defeat in its head on confrontation with the ECB, in which the Bundesbank showed that sometimes the best offense is a gracious retreat). It most certainly is not used to not being invited to discussions involving the future of its precious mercantilist European union, especially when said union may no longer exist as we know it in 48 short hours. And Germany is angry.
One of the most interesting issues of what has happened in Cyprus is where was the problem three weeks ago? There was not a mention, not a hint of anything that was wrong. All of the banks in Cyprus had passed each and every European bank stress test. The numbers reported out by the ECB and the Bank for International Settlements indicated nothing and everything reported by any official organization in the European Union pointed to a stable and sound fiscal and monetary policy and conditions. The IMF, who monitors these things as well, did not have Cyprus or her banks on any kind of watch list. In just two weeks' time we have gone from not a mention of Cyprus to a crisis in Cyprus because none of the official numbers were accurate. Without doubt, without question, if this can happen in Cyprus then it could happen in any other country in the Eurozone because the uncounted liabilities are systemic to the whole of Europe.
- Cyprus targets big depositors in bank plan (FT)
- Merkel Vents Anger at Cyprus Over Bailout Plan as Deadline Looms (BBG)
- Russia rebuffs Cyprus, EU awaits bailout "Plan B" (Reuters)
- Russia Rejects Cyprus Bid for Financial Rescue as Deadline Looms (BBG)
- Cyprus unveils shake-up as the clock ticks (FT)
- Remember Italy? Italy’s stalemate unnerves investors (FT)
- Credit Suisse CEO pay jump to fuel banker bonus debate (Reuters)
- Kuroda Rebuts Reflation Naysayers as BOJ Action Looms (BBG)
- Fund Manager Says 'Whale' Trade Was a Bet (WSJ)
- House averts government shutdown, backs Ryan budget (Reuters)
- Hong Kong Homes Face 20% Price Drop as Banks Raise Rates (BBG)
As Europe wakes up to what could be a tumultuous day, Handelsblatt reports that the ECB has decided that, due to the "great danger" of a bank run once they reopen next week, it will enforce capital controls independently of Cypriot (elected) officials. With perhaps a nod towards negotiating some ELA funding for Cypriot banks next week (if the government accepts this ECB-enforced 'program'), the rather stunning restrictions on people's private property include:
- Freezing Savings - no time-frame (it's not your money anymore)
- Make bank transfers dependent on Central Bank approval (a money tzar?)
- Lower ATM withdrawal limits (spend it how we say?)
The capital controls will be designed "so that citizens have access to sufficient cash to go about their lives." So, there it is, a European Union imposed decision on just how much money each Cypriot can spend per day. Wasn't it just last week, we were told Europe is fixed?
- Euro zone call notes reveal extent of alarm over Cyprus (Reuters)
- Stagnant Japan Rolls Dice on New Era of Easy Money (WSJ)
- Cyprus, European data batters shares and euro (Reuters)
- UK cuts taxes to revive stagnant economy (FT)
- "Quality Control" Rat Body Linked to Blackout at Fukushima (NYT)
- North Korea issues fresh threat to U.S., South probes hacking (Reuters)
- South Korea Says Chinese Code Used in Computer Attack (BBG)
- Osborne paves way for Carney to retool Bank of England (Reuters)
- Carney Gets ‘Escape Velocity’ Mandate With Limiter (BBG)
- Osborne Pledges Five More Years of U.K. Austerity (BBG)
- Bernanke Saying He’s Dispensable Suggests Tenure Ending (BBG)
- Senate Passes Bill to Fund Operations (WSJ)
If you don’t collapse the system, the system will collapse you.
Greece was a unique and special case. Cyprus is a unique and special case. One wonders, and with good reason, what or who will be the next unique and special case. The one thing we all know for certain is that when you are tagged with this moniker that it is not good. The other thing we know is that Europe, at any time, is ready to create unique and special cases to further their own interests. Perhaps, to be fair, it might be better to say that Germany will lord over this dynamic because it is generally the German interests which are to be furthered. Therefore when unique and special cases have become the order of the day then the risk factors for investing in Europe have grown dramatically and must be honestly considered. The greater fool theory is expecting different results when performing the same actions again and again. Europe may be fine for hedge funds, for gambling upon events, but for investors; perhaps not so much.
In a brief 30-second clip during a Bloomberg TV interview, none other than Anthanasios Orphanides, the former Central Bank of Cyprus Governor, explains the terrible reality of what just happened in Europe: "What we have seen in the last few days is a very serious blunder by the European governments that are essentially blackmailing the government of Cyprus to confiscate the money that belongs rightfully to the depositors in the banking system in Cyprus." He then concludes quite clearly, "It is not clear how this can affect in a positive manner the European project going forward." The Cypriot then goes on to explain how the EU is making a mockery of the idea of a banking union...
To say that the tensions within the European "Union" are getting unbearable would be an understatement. According to Mega TV, Anastasiades is reported to have said to Rehn and Brok: “When I warned you that there would not be a parliamentary majority to pass the agreement, you didn’t want to listen. Give my regards to Mrs Merkel.” We eagerly wait to hear back what message Merkel has for the Cypriot leader now that the entire plan is falling apart.
The European Union had painted itself in the corner: not wanting to deal with Cyprus immediately has proven costly. The EU had hoped for a pro-euro, pro-austerity government in Italy, but the plan backfired. The idea was that by postponing the bailout it would help in the elections. It was impossible to wait until the German elections, as Cyprus has a bond maturity in June that it would have been unable to pay. As the maturity date was so close, there was no time to take the bond owners to court (the bonds were issued under English law, so a simple haircut was not possible). The only way to fund the bailout was either a gift from the EU or deposit confiscation. They did both. There are two ways of seeing this: #1 Europe just became even more dysfunctional and fragmented, or #2 it has become more unified in doing whatever it takes to protect investors’ interests. The commentary is already utterly negative, but it might take some time for the markets to realize that the upside in crisis country bonds is minimal and there are no restrictions stopping the bank jogs.
Deposit Insurance at a bank, any bank in Europe, is now meaningless. A bond indenture, any clause, any paragraph, any promise or assurance; now meaningless. The notion of private property, land, cash, house; now meaningless. The European Union will take what they want as they deem it necessary and the IMF will follow along. The question has been asked, during the last few days, why the bond holders of Cyprus were not tagged along with the bank deposits. We can answer the question. Virtually all of the Cyprus sovereign debt is governed under British law and so the EU did not pursue this course. Greece came first. Lesson one and "shame on you." Cyprus comes second and now "shame on me." What will come next? What will you tell your partners or your shareholders when they say, "You should have known." You will have no excuse!