A week of closed banks, depositor angst, and economic malaise is creating an increasingly vicious circle for Cyprus (and implicitly the European Union). As Die Welt notes, because the economic data of the tiny 'irrelevant' island could be considerably worse than previously thought (or forecast by Troika) thanks to the distortions created this week by bank closings, several people around the Troika said the exact amount of the bailout remains uncertain and could amount to EUR2bn more than expected. With the Troika capping their handout at EUR10bn of the current EUR17bn needed (and the deposit levy reportedly filling EUR6bn of that EUR7bn hole), the need for a bigger bailout - which seems increasingly likely - will fall on Cyprus banks' depositors (or taxpayers) leading to a hard-to-beat downward spiral. Simply put, the more deposits are pulled, the more deposits need to be confiscated; and with retailer stocks running low ("will last another 2-3 days") and cash-on-delivery demanded, the real economy will "have a problem if this is not resolved by next week."
The Cyprus 2013, like any other event, can be thought in political and economic terms. Politically, I can see two dimensions. The first dimension belongs to the geopolitical history of the region, with the addition of the recently discovered natural gas reserves - should Russia eventually obtain a bailout of Cyprus (as we write, this does not seem likely) against a pledge on the natural gas reserves or a naval base, a new balance of power will have been drafted in the region, with Israel as the biggest loser. The second political dimension relates exactly to Kreditanstalt and the imposition of direct political conditions upon which the 'bailout' is given. Economically, Cyprus 2013 is worse than the KreditAnstalt and Argentina 2001 crises because it has an element of confiscation and two broken promises that were absent in the latter. If you look at the case of Argentina 2001, you will realize that it was a pretty clean bet - earn 20% p.a. vs. the probability of losing 2/3rds of capital. If you thought that the probability of default of the Argentine government was beyond four years, you would play the bet with a chance of winning it. What are depositors of Euros faced with today? Anything but a clean bet! They don’t know what the expected loss on their capital will be, because it will be decided over a weekend by politicians who don’t even represent them. In light of all this, I can only conclude that anyone still having an unsecured deposit in a Euro zone bank should get his/her head examined!
What does it take for the Spanish "first amendment" journalistic override to kick in? Apparently, in the case of local media leader El Pais, putting up the following in print: "Merkel, como Hitler, ha declarado la guerra al resto del continente, ahora para garantizarse su espacio vital económico." For the Spanish-challeneged this translates as follows: "Merkel, like Hitler, has declared war on the rest of the continent now to secure their economic living space." Ah yes, the touchy verboten topic of German "Lebensraum" - its invocation, and ostensibly the unflattering Merkel comparison (seen so often in Greece) were enough to get the article by Juan Torres López in the Andalusia version of El Pais titled simply enough "Alemania contra Europa" taken down.
With its banks indefinitely closed, and capital controls already in place making it virtually impossible any material cash will leave the local bank branches or certainly the island (especially in direction Moscow), gas stations about to shut down due to lack of cash, next it was the turn of the ATMs. Sure enough, as CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera reports on the ground from Nicosia, moments ago the nation's second largest, and second most insolvent bank, Laiki Bank, announced that withdrawals are now limited to €100. The picture below from MCC shows as an employee takes down old sign that said previous €260 limit. At this pace, in lieu of some grand bargain, we expect it is only hours before the final limit is imposed: withdrawals now limited to €0.
Based on the most recent data, JPMorgan notes that the share of large or uninsured deposits is likely to be close to half of total deposits in the European Union. With deposits already flowing out of some of the peripheral EU nations (as we warned here), we thought it appropriate to point out just which nations have the largest share of uninsured deposits (and are not yet under the ECB's 'standard of living' capital controls). It seems - among many others - that despite France throwing in the towel on the 75% income tax, there is another good reason for the wealthy to leave...
A few moments ago, no bailout proposal in hand, no parliamentary discussion having taken place, and certainly no votes having been cast, the Eurogroup sat down with Cyprus' president Anastasiades, in order to preserve the "democratic" theatrical facade of European decisionmaking. Here, to keep up appearances that Cyprus' opinion is even remotely relevant, Europea's unelected leaders will do what they does best - make a closed door decision affecting the lives of millions of people, which ultimately have one purpose: to preserve the crumbling edifice of the Eurozone project (so carefully preserved in the past few months with superglue, scotch tape and empty promises) and of course the jobs and livelihoods of a few unelected EUrocrats. A preview of this elaborate song and dance ritual is below from Kathimerini. It will be next followed by an even more elaborate song and dance from the Eurozone finance ministers, which will then finally go back to Cyprus, where a decision will likely have to be reached ahead of the Asian FX market open, or all that late Friday "Cyprus is saved" enthusiasm will evaporate in a GETCO millisecond.
Some late news indicates that the 'deal' is further away than many hoped (or rumored) earlier in the day. Welt am Sonntag reports that German FinMin Schaeuble exclaimed "I won't allow myself to be blackmailed," adding his responsibility to the stability of the Euro. Simply put, he adds Cyprus must respect the rules, insistent that, "Cyprus is a hard road to go either way; but that is not the result of European stubbornness, but a business model that no longer works." With that as background, Cyprus President Anastasiades will be meeting with the IMF's Christine Lagarde tomorrow morning with talks at a "delicate point," with his spokesperson admitting the situation is "very difficult." The disinformation-to-total-confusion train pushes on forward; beggars can be choosers and 'demanders' won't be blackmailed.
As we recently discussed, many euroskeptics are pushing Cypriot lawmakers to default, devalue, and decouple from the Euro - understanding that the short-term pain of such a move will lead to much more sustainable gains afterwards. But BofAML raises the question of what damage (and required response) would occur in the remainder of the European Union should Cyprus leave (or be pushed ). Unlike some EU leaders suggestions, BofAML suggests the contagion and growth impacts could last a decade; but it is the policy reaction of the ECB that is most crucial to understand and how it may rapidly lead to a German decision on debt mutualization (or not) that should be most concerning.
Many have asked why the bondholders have not been tagged in the Cyprus fiasco. That answer is simple. Most of Cyprus's bonds are pledged as collateral at the ECB or in the Target2 financing program. Then one may also ask why the bonds of the two large Cypriot banks are not being hit. The answer is the same; most are held as collateral at the ECB or Target2. In both cases, remember uncounted liabilities, the government of Cyprus has guaranteed the debt. Consequently if the two Cyprus banks default it is of small matter as the sovereign has guaranteed the debt. However if the country defaults and leaves the European Union then it will matter and matter significantly as the tiny country of Cyprus would wipe out the entire equity capital of the European Central Bank. While it is not a matter of public record it is estimated that Cyprus has guaranteed about $11.6 billion of collateral at the ECB.
The situation in Europe remains fluid. 'Rumors' circulate from 'anonymous' sources but seemingly confirming what 'news' we do have from Olli Rehn that there is no deal; Xinhua reports that the Cypriot Parliament has cancelled the debate over the deposit levy for today (following daylong negotiations with the Troika). Further to the 'no deal' meme, ekathimerini is reporting, via another senior Cypriot official,
- *CYPRUS, TROIKA NOT CLOSE TO DEAL, CYPRUS NEWS AGENCY REPORTS
“We are not in touching distance of an agreement,” the official, who preferred to remain anonymous, commented adding that the impasse was a result of the “inflexible” stance of the IMF - "Every half hour, new demands are made." Further comments indicate the 'low levy' on the rest of Cyprus-based bank deposits has been abandoned - implying a potential 25% haircut for Bank of Cyprus deposits.
There are no regulated financial markets open today; no BIS-buffered FX market, no Fed-spoon-fed US equity market, no BoJ-jawboned Nikkei 225, and no ECB-sponsored Spanish bond market to judge today's news and rumors. But there is one 'market' open - a market that prices in the belief (or lack thereof) in the status quo to a lesser or greater extent. Illiquid as it may be, today's Bitcoin prices (and volume) says a lot about the headlines of the day...
Up until just a week or so ago, the euro, the market seems to be telling us, has been saved, and peripheral Europe is widely seen as being out of the woods. Thanks to the ECB - who are willing to pump as much liquidity into the markets as it needs - it seems rising debt levels, greater political fragmentation, and a worsening economy somehow don't really matter and it is impolitic to sound pessimistic. But is peripheral Europe really suffering primarily from a liquidity crisis? It would help me feel a lot better if I could find even one case in history of a sovereign solvency crisis in which the authorities didn’t assure us for years that we were facing not a solvency crisis, but merely a short-term problem with liquidity. A sovereign solvency crisis always begins with many years of assurances from policymakers in both the creditor and the debtor nations that the problem can be resolved with time, confidence, and a just few more debt rollovers. The key point is that bankers are not stupid. They just could not formally acknowledge reality until they had built up sufficient capital through many years of high earnings – thanks in no small part to the help provided by the Fed in the form of distorted yield curves and free money – to recognize the losses without becoming insolvent.
Just your ordinary run of the mill Russian billionaire oligarch in exile who had so much money he was terminally depressed... or just the opposite, and the first tragic casualty of the Cyprus capital controls which are about to eviscerate a whole lot of Russian wealth (and ultraluxury Manhattan real estate prices)? From RT: “Just got a call from London. Boris [Abramovich] Berezovsky committed suicide. He was a difficult man. A move of disparity? Impossible to live poor? A strike of blows? I am afraid no one will get to know now,” the lawyer said on his social network page."
The conflicting headlines continue to spew forth from the union of European nations. Reuters CYBC is reporting that Cyprus has agreed a 'deal' with EU/IMF lenders a 20% levy on deposits over EUR100,000 for Bank of Cyprus and a 4% levy on deposits of the same amount at other lenders (and the Cypriots have dropped plans to nationalize pension funds) citing a senior Cypriot official (who demanded anonymity). At the same time, EU Commissioner Olli Rehn emailed a statement saying that a 'deal' has yet to come forth:
- *REHN SAYS COMMISSION WORKING HARD TO FIND CYPRUS SOLUTION
- *REHN SAYS ONLY HARD CHOICES LEFT FOR CYPRUS
- *REHN SAYS `ESSENTIAL' CYPRUS SOLUTION REACHED ON SUNDAY NIGHT
So who does one believe? And with no market open to test this strawman, what will the decision-makers have to guide their choices? One thing is for sure:
- *REHN SAYS 'NO LONGER ANY OPTIMAL SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE'
- *REHN SAYS ONLY HARD CHOICES LEFT FOR CYPRUS
With money, or the lack thereof, a popular topic of discussion in Cyprus currently, we go straight to the source, the Central Bank of Cyprus, where in prose that can only be described as the definition of unintentionally prophetic irony, we read the following:The historical development of money in Cyprus has followed the sometimes stormy and turbulent course of the island’s political history. The various conquerors that ruled Cyprus throughout its history introduced their own monetary unit to the island. Hence, among other monetary units, the stater, the obol, Roman and Byzantine coins, the gross, the dinar, the cartzi, the para, the piastre and the pound have been used as the island’s currency. And now the Euro, although perhaps for not much longer.