Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cyprus Deposit Levy - as dumb as it gets

The proposal to levy a tax steal 6.5% of the first EUR100,000 and 9.9% of amounts over that threshold on all deposits held in banks in Cyprus has to be one of the dumbest political moves in history. Leaving aside the moral implications of arbitrary confiscation of savers' wealth, the practical implications are pretty clear:

1. never put money on deposit with any bank in any country which has anything but the most robust of banking systems, a freely convertible currency and strong recognition of personal property rights. It is a given that all Cypriot banks are now insolvent - no sane person would put anything into them and whatever deposits they hold will be leaving Cyprus at the first opportunity. Further, if I was a depositor with a Cypriot bank, I would withdraw my money as soon as they reopen and then max my credit card to the extent of the amount stolen and refuse to pay it back. Sue me and we can fight it out in court;

2. the Euro is believed by many to have largely held together because money has been fleeing the troubled economies of Greece, Spain Portugal, Italy etc for northern EU members - in particular Germany. The Cypriot bank heist sends a clear message that nationals of countries facing financial difficulties cannot be assured that their money will be safe from confiscation even if parked in German banks in Germany. The negative real return being accepted from German deposits/bonds in exchange for perceived safety of principal now looks like an increasingly bad judgement call. Not only would I expect more money to leave fiscally troubled countries but more money to leave the Euro altogether;

3. people will look for ways to hide their wealth. The loss of confidence in the European banks and the Euro generally will not only accelerate economic contraction/retard economic recovery but will result in more business being done for cash which traditionally is less likely to be reported on tax returns. In effect, tax receipts will be likely to shrink even more than the weak state of the economy would suggest;

4. it goes without saying that Cyprus is finished as an offshore banking centre. I don't know how many jobs will be lost but the loss is likely to be permanent.

Even if the Cyprus parliament decides not to steal depositors' money, the damage is done. The proposal has been raised and the fear that they may try again will linger.

If I had money with any bank in the EU, most of it would be leaving at this stage.


Anonymous said...

completely agree, just when you think eurozone sentiment had started to improve it is back to square one!


Anonymous said...

No, I don't agree with that. Those banks are bankrupt, have been bankrupt for a while and this was known to any investor, particularly the big account holders from Russia. The preferred solution would have been to let these banks go bankrupt and protect accounts up to 100.000 by the EU warranty. The only wrongdoing I would see is to break this waranty and take away money from the small savers as well. The banking system in Cyprus was - besides a huge money laundering system - of completely inflated size for that small country, similar only to the ridiculously big wheel of Iceland's banks a while ago. There is absolutely no justification for support of such crazyness by anyone else but the investors.