Officials would have you believe that all of this talk about banning cash is nonsense - a myth likely perpetuated by fringe bloggers or else by Austrian economists in the early stages of dementia.
The problem, however, is that we get more signs that cash is on the way out each and every day.
Take Larry Summers, who reckons it might be time to get rid of the $100 note in order to “make the world a better place” (the idea being that only criminals transact in high denomination notes). There’s also Citi’s Willem Buiter, and the German Council of “Experts” Peter Bofinger, and Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff, and the list goes on. In fact, just yesterday we learned that Sweden will likely be completely cashless in the short space of 5 years.
As mentioned above, there’s always this amorphous notion of fighting crime built in there somehow as if the world's central banks recently adopted a Batman mandate to go along with price stability, but the real reason is, and always will be, simple: controlling citizens’ economic decisions. Or, put a little more harshly: stripping depositors of their economic autonomy.
Do away with cash and you can set rates as low as you want them. People not spending enough to get the economy moving? Well to hell with those people - set interest rates at -30%. You can bet they'll start spending then. Economy overheating? No problem, jack interest rates on savings up to +20% and watch the personal savings rate rise.
One of the most high profile cases of a looming cash ban is the ECB’s call for the elimination of the €500 note. Draghi, of course, says it's "not about reducing cash." Which is proof positive that it is. Here's what we said last month:
Recall that the €500 note is the second highest currency denomination in G10, after the CHF1,000 note. More importantly, the total value of €500 notes in circulation amounts to €306.8bn and has been rising as shown in this BofA chart:
Furthermore, as a share of the value of total euros in circulation, the €500 note is the second-highest, after the €50 note.
In other words, if overnight the €307 billion worth of €500 bills were eliminated, the notional value of the entire amount of European physical currency in circulation would decline by 30% to €700 billion!
Well on Sunday we got an interesting tip from a reader with the following attachment:
That's from Piraeus Bank and it can be found here under this table:
Note that 5.9 (where this appears) is apparently a new line item - or at least it wasn't there last month:
While we're not entirely sure what this means in the context of the elimination of the €500 note, we wonder if it's possible that the ECB is going to try and charge citizens for turning in their high denomination bills, thereby making a profit off the €500's "retirement"?
As a reminder, Greeks who stored €500 notes at home "rushed to deposit the money in their accounts" once the ECB made it clear it was considering doing away with the big bills.
Just look at it as a repo for everyday depositors: post your €500 notes as collateral, take the haircut, get smaller bills in return.