Deposits No Longer Safe in EU

After the initial proposal to confiscate 6.75% of all deposits up to EUR 100,000 and 9.9% of all deposits above EUR 100,000, the final plan will instead take as much as 100% of deposits (in excess of EUR 100,000) at Popular and convert approximately 40% of such deposits at Bank of Cyprus into equity.   Strict new capital controls have also been implemented to limit further withdrawals of capital.  The damage to the EU banking system will be permanent.

The Cyprus Euro

A Euro in Cyprus is no longer worth the same as a Euro in other counties of the EU. Debit and credit card use outside of Cyprus has been limited to EUR 5,000 per month.  In addition, only EUR 3,000 in cash can be physically transported out of Cyprus.  A daily EUR 300 cash withdrawal limit has also been imposed.  Finally, checks can be deposited, but not cashed. Seriously? Who in their right mind would deposit more money into a Cyprus bank account?

The capital controls are scheduled to be in place for a week, but this period could be extended if necessary.  Months? Years? The longer the controls remain in place, the more likely depositors will be to remove their funds if and when the controls are ultimately removed.  I do not see a solution to this problem.  They sealed their fate as soon as they proposed stealing money from depositors.

This Could Never Happen Outside of Cyprus

The European Commission initially indicated that Cyprus was unique and that the Cyprus deposit "tax" would not be part of future bailout plans in other EU countries - until Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem suggested that confiscating the funds of uninsured depositors in Cyprus would be a template for future bailouts.

Confidence in the EU banking system has been irrevocably damaged.  Ineptitude on the part of the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the Cyprus authorities has created a powerful incentive to remove funds from all marginal banks throughout the EU.

Take Your Money and Run

Depositors with balances in EU banks above the "insured" amount should remove those excess deposits immediately.  Only modest transactional balances should be maintained and only in stable EU countries with strong banking systems.  The same advice applies to other non-EU countries as well, even the United States.

Now that this precedent has been set, there is simply no reason to accept a risk of 100% losses on your deposits.  You are certainly not being compensated for this risk and it is completely avoidable.  In fact, there is no reason to hold large amounts of money in cash, at banks or even in brokerage accounts.  US T-bills could be held instead.

Will this damage the banking system and the economy?  Unfortunately it will, but the damage was done as soon as the idea of stealing money from depositors was proposed.  We are just playing by the new set of rules.  The last one out the door loses all of their money.

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Brian Johnson

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About Brian Johnson

I have been an investment professional for over 30 years. I worked as a fixed income portfolio manager, personally managing over $13 billion in assets for institutional clients. I was also the President of a financial consulting and software development firm, developing artificial intelligence based forecasting and risk management systems for institutional investment managers. I am now a full-time proprietary trader in options, futures, stocks, and ETFs using both algorithmic and discretionary trading strategies. In addition to my professional investment experience, I designed and taught courses in financial derivatives for both MBA and undergraduate business programs on a part-time basis for a number of years.
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3 Responses to Deposits No Longer Safe in EU

  1. Bill says:

    Hi Brian,

    Very interesting to hear your take on this. It’s frightening stuff.

    Regarding the following:

    Depositors with balances in EU banks above the “insured” amount should remove those excess deposits immediately. Only modest transactional balances should be maintained and only in stable EU countries with strong banking systems. The same advice applies to other non-EU countries as well, even the United States.

    …I’m wondering if you have any thoughts with regards to the impact such withdrawals would have on precious metal prices going forward. Surprisingly (to me at least) they’ve remained quite tame since this story first broke…

    Cheers!
    -Bill

    • Bill,

      As you know, the US Dollar and Gold are both “safe haven” assets. The US Dollar was on a tear in February and March (partially due to the Cyprus situation). The negative correlation between the US Dollar and Gold makes it difficult for Gold to rise significantly when the US Dollar is moving sharply higher. In addition, Gold has been a downtrend since peaking in October of 2012. If Gold had been in an uptrend when the the Cyprus bailout occurred, more money would have flowed into Gold.

      The appreciation in the US Dollar has been driven by investors moving assets out of other currencies. If EU depositors continue to move money into US Dollars (driving up the price), this would make it difficult for Gold to outperform. It is also interesting that buying Gold futures does not move money out of cash (due to the modest margin requirement). The margin requirement could be met with US T-bills, but the purchase of Gold futures by itself would not prevent the confiscation of cash deposits in brokerage accounts.

      Holding physical Gold would solve the confiscation problem, but that would raise a whole new set of problems (insurance, liquidity, transaction costs, security, etc.)

      I am not forecasting the imminent demise of the EU banking system, but the recent moves have permanently undermined the stability and integrity of banking in the EU. There is simply no benefit to holding cash deposits in marginal EU countries or weak banks.

      Best regards,

      Brian Johnson

      • Bill says:

        As always, thanks for your thorough feedback Brian. USD strength as a headwind to gold makes perfect sense, and there’s certainly no arguing with bullish dollar technicals at the moment…

        Cheers,
        -Bill

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