The news from Cyprus on Thursday suggests that banks, which opened for six hours for the first time in 12 days, experienced brisk business but there was no panicky mobbing of the banks with depositors breaching public order in attempts to get at their money. The sense imparted through the media is that there was a strong expectation of a visible meltdown, but it just didn’t transpire, which tends to augur well for the future of Cyprus.
According to commenter John Gallaher who was keeping a close eye on the comings and goings at the Fitzrovia, London branch of Bank of Cyprus on Thursday, the London branch was busy and it seemed there was a steady stream of people making withdrawals.
So, how much money is leaving the Cypriot banking system at present? We just don’t know and you can bet that neither the central bank in Cyprus nor the ECB will offer up this information, unless it portrays a positive message. Like our own central bank here in Dublin, the central bank of Cyprus produces monthly banking financial information, and the latest available is for the end of February 2013 which was published this week, but I cannot see in it details of ECB support for Cypriot banks. Old media reporting suggested that the ECB had lent €9-10bn to Cypriot banks two weeks ago. Haircuts on certain deposits will reduce liabilities in banks’ balance sheets which should also reduce reliance on ECB funding, but deposits flying out the door will do the opposite and force banks to seek alternative sources of cash.
The view on here is that €500m per day may have been exiting Cypriot banks during the 12 day shutdown. But who knows? The central bank of Cyprus and ECB, probably, but they’re staying schtum. If the withdrawals had been modest, I would have expected a statement to that effect. So there appears to be a lockdown in effect on information.
We found out on Thursday that the haircutting of deposits in Cypriot banks might be illegal and unconstitutional.
We also found heard allegations of shenanigans yesterday in Greek newspapers alleging that Cypriot banks had written off millions of euros in loans to, amongst others, Cypriot politicians. Cyprus is regarded by Transparency International as the 29th most honest county in the world, that’s just four spots below Ireland at position 25, so Cyprus is no clear-cut banana republic.
We are in the dark over precisely what capital controls apply in overseas branches of Cypriot banks, with a request for information and comment from here last week, met with a meaningless response.
Al Jazeera is reporting that “Bankers have told Al Jazeera that they will only penalise depositors once all their liabilities have been offset against their assets.” In other words, rack up as much expenditure as possible on your credit card and you can offset that against your deposits. I wonder how many Lamborghinis have been purchased on credit card in Cyprus in the past fortnight? After all, if you have a €400,000 balance at Bank of Cyprus or Bank Laiki, it would make sense as you are facing wipeout of deposits in excess of €100,000.
It remains to be seen if we will see information released by the banks. It seems Cyprus has a weak media and political opposition so idiosyncrasies over the implementation of capital controls are unlikely to be closely examined. Our experience in Ireland has told us that people are reluctant to pursue legal challenges to attempts to deal with the financial crises.
So, all of this may blow over. But I wouldn’t bet on it.