Eleven lessons from Cyprus’ that could apply Anywhere
Cyprus has paid dearly, and will continue to pay a high price for several years, for the profligacy of its public sector, the recklessness of its banks, and the procrastination of its policy makers in taking corrective measures in the face of the crisis. The jury is still out on whether Cyprus has learnt its lesson, a very expensive one indeed. For other countries, Cyprus’ bitter experience holds many lessons, for which a generous tuition fee has already been paid by Cyprus.
Lesson#1: Control public finances and the size of the public sector. If you cannot trust politicians to resist the temptation of paying supporters and cronies with public sector jobs and salary raises and privileges, adopt a constitutional requirement for balanced budgets and a low ceiling on public debt. Keep the power of public-servant unions in check.
Lesson #2: Know what your bankers are doing; they may not have the country’s best interests in mind; they may not even serve their own bank’s best interests. Without effective corporate governance and strict supervision they may be gambling depositors’ money by putting all their eggs in one basket or taking unreasonable risks or expanding into markets they don’t understand. Don’t be reckless, not even careless about risk exposure. Instead, be ruthless about risk assessment and risk management. Don’t trust the central banker blindly to keep the banking sector sound and solvent, or as former President Reagan used to say “trust but verify”.
Lesson#3: Do not allow your banking sector, or any individual organisation or company to become so big that it is too big to let it fail and at the same time too big to save. You are putting yourself in a no win situation, the economy in jeopardy and sovereignty at risk. Healthy competition, diversification, and proportionality have become bywords for prudence. A banking sector eight times the size of the country’s Gross Domestic Product, as was the case in Cyprus, could neither be left to fail, yet neither could it be saved by the country.
Lesson #4: Do not give away your currency and monetary policy by joining a common currency area such as the Eurozone if you are not able to compete. Invest first in research and technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, cost control and quality management to raise productivity, cut costs, upgrade quality and produce innovative products and services that are internationally competitive. Common currency areas, especially those which do not involve transfer payments from the better performers to the laggards, ultimately benefit those who are able to compete effectively at the expense of the rest.
Lesson #5: Do not allow your labour unions to acquire such strength as to hold a chokehold on vital sectors and the economy as a whole, or destroy the flexibility of the labour market. Learn from Cyprus’ experience with the unions; don’t repeat it. The insatiable demands of the unions especially those of banking employees and civil servants have been protagonists in Cyprus’ drama. Even today, with 16 per cent unemployment and rising and the public and banking sectors buckling under the weight of wage bills and overstaffing, the unions are blocking life-or-death reforms.
Lesson #6: Do not buy the economic tale about natural monopoly, or the social tale about the need to provide affordable services to the poor, or the political tale about sectors of national or strategic importance. State enterprises such as Cyprus Airways or semi-public organisations such as CyTA and the Electricity Authority, have proved to be little more than another vehicle to tax the citizen, to allocate positions and favours, and to share the loot among the political parties, while the customer citizen is stuck with exorbitant bills due to greed and inefficiency.
Lesson #7: Beware of easy credit, bubbles and pyramid schemes. The economic history of the world is littered with stories of economic collapses and catastrophes caused by “ingenious” schemes of buying into easy and quick riches. In Cyprus, first there was the rapidly rising stock prices of the late 1990s inflated by easy credit which in the span of a few years led to collapse and the loss of fortunes by many people. It has been labelled “the stock exchange scandal” and, though nobody was punished, the stock market never recovered, despite the institutional reforms.
Then it was the real estate bubble: inflated by easy credit, property prices kept rising at 20-30 per cent a year; yet no one expected them to stop rising much less to collapse. This came to be known as the “real estate bubble” which burst a couple of years ago. Property prices are now continuing to fall steadily increasing the number of unsecured loans. Another bubble kept gathering steam since the early 2000s and accelerated since we joined the eurozone. The financial and banking bubble was built on high deposit rates of interest, poorly secured lending, attraction of “offshore” companies and reckless investments in Greek bonds and global expansion without risk assessment; it collapsed under its own weight and it is still in a coma.
Lesson # 8: Do not deviate from the iron rule that ties the growth of wages to the growth of productivity; measure public sector productivity, and assess and pay civil servants accordingly. If you earn and spend more than you produce on a long-term basis you are not building a sustainable economy. Sooner or later the economy will collapse, sooner if it is hit by a global economic crisis, as in the case of Cyprus. With the meddling of political parties, the pressure of the labour unions, and the support of parliament, wages and benefits in the wider public sector rose well above productivity, contributing to budget deficit and increased taxation on the private sector, sinking the economy into deeper recession.
Lesson #9: Save for a rainy day. Build an emergency fund, the size of your GDP, as a security against uncertainties, world economic crisis and generally the vagaries of markets and nature. Save in good years for the bad years. If you spend the unusually high revenues in good years on salary raises and overstaffing as well as marginal and unproductive show-off projects, you increase the state’s financial obligations for bad years too without having the means to meet them and you set yourself for deficit spending, escalating debt, and a need for a bailout (or a bail in).
Lesson# 10: Anticipate problems and challenges and formulate alternative strategies. Act early and proactively while you still have time and resources, while the problems are still manageable and you can still set your own terms. Always have a plan B ready. Delays and procrastination carry a heavy price: the problem becomes that much bigger and more pressing, while you lose any bargaining power you may have had to influence the terms of support when you finally resort to it. Cyprus learned this lesson the hard way.
Lesson #11: Establish strong alliances but never forget that in international politics there are no friendships, only shared interests. While this was known since ancient times and was repeated many times in modern history, Cyprus almost blindly counted on its friends and allies in the EU to show their solidarity and run to its rescue. Instead, they were quite unsympathetic administering bitter medicine or “tough love”, as some of us see it. Even our blood brothers, the Greeks, officially have shown little empathy, despite the help from our side in their moment of need. Our interest and theirs in this juncture did not coincide.
Other countries in the European south and beyond should heed the lessons of the bitter experience of Cyprus with its banking and fiscal crisis that brought down its economic edifice, like a house of cards. Avoiding Cyprus’ mistakes can make the difference between a sustainable economic model or a casino-type economy with easy riches alternating with economic collapse.
Dr Theodore Panayotou is director of the Cyprus International Institute of Management (CIIM) and ex-professor of Economics and the Environment at Harvard University. He has served as consultant to the UN and to governments in the US, China, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and Cyprus. He has published extensively and was recognised for his contribution to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. Contact: email@example.com
IF THERE IS one topic that I get asked questions on more than any other it is in the area of bank deposits, the Deposit Protection Guarantee Scheme (DGS) and Deposit Interest Rates. The first answer I always give is that we should worry about the areas we can control, and ignore things that we cannot control.
Reading and discussing economic and investment updates seems to have replaced past discussions on property values and everyone seems to have an opinion on the Bank Guarantee, Euro Stability, Yen Devaluation and German Government Bond Yield. In reality, the investment world is very simple, but investment managers, stockbrokers and economists make their living from selling fear, greed and excitement in equal doses!
€150 million is on deposit in Irish banks
To set the scene, there is over €150 billion on deposit in customer deposit accounts in Irish Banks as of February 2013. This figure has been steadily falling ever since the banking crisis began in the summer of 2008, but is still a significant figure.
At that time, the Irish Government introduced the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee (ELG) which covered all deposits and some bonds in Irish covered institutions, in their entirety. I won’t cover the merits or otherwise of this blanket guarantee, or whether they were forced into it by higher powers. However, the ELG did give Irish depositors some comfort that all of their hard earned savings were fully guaranteed by the Government, and at the end of the day, the European institutions.
This comfort was taken away at the end of March when the ELG expired and we reverted to the historic guarantee. This guarantees €100,000 per institution. Therefore any individual who has a deposit with a covered institution with a balance under €100,000 can take some amount of comfort in a government guarantee.
If you’re lucky to have over €100,000, you should protect it
This does cause some confusion for individuals with multiple accounts, as the guarantee is per ‘institution’ not per account. For example, if an individual is lucky enough to have a savings deposit with AIB for €100,000, and also a portion of their pension on deposit with AIB for another €150,000, these accounts are taken in aggregate and only €100,000 of the combined balance (€250,000) is guaranteed)
Most sensible individuals are now rightly worried about the security of their cash and how to mitigate all the risks associated with savings and investments at the moment.
While I don’t personally believe the European Institutions or the Irish Government will default on their guarantee, recent news in Cyprus has, at least partially, brought this possibility into focus. It is clear that spreading deposits around the guaranteed banks and keeping exposure to any one bank below €100,000 is the obvious way to reduce this risk to a minimum
The threat to people’s deposits
Since banks have had some success with recent bond issues and seem to be stabilising, deposit rates have fallen significantly. There were wide spread offers during the summer of 2012 for 5 Year Fixed Deposits earning over 5 per cent. The best rate on the market as of the time of writing is now 2.75 per cent (excluding specialist accounts with Danske Bank).
This return, after DIRT is deducted, will only just beat inflation and I see this as being a larger threat to people’s deposits over the long term than any short term default risk. However, inflation never gets the headlines and is an invidious threat which is hard to understand in the short term.
The only true way to protect you from risks is to be widely diversified across a whole range of asset classes. €150 billion on deposit in Ireland would indicate to me that we are over-invested in cash at the moment, just as we were over-invested in property and Irish Equities in 2007.
Diversifying is the only way to protect your cash
In the long run, well managed and well protected portfolios never have too much in any one asset class. I would recommend assistance from a professional (ideally from a Fee Based Financial Advisor) before deciding exactly how to invest in a widely diversified portfolio but it’s the only way to truly protect against all the threats to our wealth and wellbeing in the current economic environment.
My biggest fear for Irish Investors and any of those individuals sitting on large deposits is that as the interest rates keep falling, they will become more and more restless. Equity markets have been on a fairly steady bull run since the market bottom in March 2009. The US indices are at or above all-time highs and this strong short term past performance might tempt some of these depositors to finally leap back into the markets.
I don’t know what is going to happen, but I would be nervous about equity markets at their current valuations and can easily see a correction in the second half of 2013. As markets keep going up, the risks of this correction keep getting larger and I just hope Irish depositors don’t’ get caught out by the markets again.
In summary then, the only way to reduce risk is to diversify. At a minimum this diversification should be across all the guaranteed banks, and for funds with a long term focus, diversification into other asset classes is ideal.
David Quinn is the Managing Director of Investwise.ie. Established in 1988, Investwise is the trading name of Fitzpatrick Morris Financial Services Limited. With years of experience in the financial industry, they offer independent services and advice on a range of financial matters.
We’re going to need a bigger acronym.
In the beginning, it was just the “Greek debt crisis“. Then markets realized Portugal, Ireland, Italy, and Spain were in bad shape too, and the PIIGS (or GIIPS) were born. But now Cyprus and Slovenia have run into trouble as well, giving us the … SIC(K) PIGS? At this rate, we’re going to have to buy a vowel soon, assuming Estonia doesn’t end up needing a bailout.
The euro crisis is entering its fourth year, and, sorry world, this won’t be its last. Now, its long periods of boredom have gotten a bit longer, and its moments of sheer financial terror a bit less terrifying ever since the European Central Bank (ECB) promised to do “whatever it takes” to save the common currency. But, as Cyprus and Slovenia show, the battle for the euro isn’t over yet. Not even close.
Here’s the Cliff Notes version of the euro crisis. The euro zone doesn’t have the fiscal or banking unions it needs to make monetary union work, and it’s not close to changing that. In the meantime, the euro’s continuing flaws continue to suck countries into crisis. And their politics get radicalized. Most recently, Cyprus was forced to accept a bailout and bail-in, because its too-big-to-save banks made some horrendously bad bets on Greek bonds. Slovenia looks like it could next on the euro-bailout tour, because, as Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post points out, its too-big-to-save-ish banks made some horrendously bad bets on its own companies. Now, banks make bad bets all the time, but those bad bets can bankrupt you as a country if you don’t have your own central bank. Like euro countries.
Of course, this “diabolic loop” between weak banks and weak sovereigns isn’t the only problem in euroland. The common currency has plenty of other flaws. Here’s why the euro, as it’s currently constructed, is a doomsday device for mass bankruptcy. (How’s that for solidarity?).
1. Too Tight Money
The euro zone isn’t what economists call an “optimal currency area”. In other words, it was a bad idea. Its different members are different enough that they should have different monetary policies. But they don’t. They have the ECB setting a single policy for all 17 of them. That’s a particular problem for southern Europe now, because their wages are uncompetitively high relative to northern European ones, and the ECB isn’t helping them out.
There are two ways to fix this intra-euro competitiveness gap. Either northern European wages rise faster than normal while southern wages stay flat, or northern European wages grow normally while southern European wages fall. It’s the difference between a bit more inflation or not — in other words, between looser ECB policy or the status quo. Now, it might not sound like it really matters which option they choose, but it very much does. Falling wages make it harder to pay back debts that don’t fall, setting off a vicious circle into economic oblivion. The ECB apparently prefers pushing more and more countries into oblivion with too tight money than risk anything resembling more inflation.
2. Too Tight Budgets
Austerity has been a complete disaster. It’s actually increased debt burdens across southern Europe, because it’s reduced growth more than it’s reduced borrowing costs. And now northern Europe is getting in on the act. France (which is really somewhere in between “southern” and “northern”) just missed its deficit target, and is set to slash more; the Netherlands has put through contentious tax hikes and spending cuts, even as its economy has shrunk; and even Germany is contemplating new budget-saving measures. In other words, the euro has become an austerity suicide pact.
3. Too Little Trade
Excluding Germany, just over half of all euro trade is with each other. But with bad policy pushing southern Europe into depression and northern Europe towards recession, euro zone countries can’t afford to buy as much stuff from each other. That adds a degree of difficulty to recovery for southern European countries that need to export their way out of trouble. As you can see in the chart below from Eurostat, intra-euro zone trade has stagnated the past few years after rebounding from its post-crash depths. The euro zone’s weak links are dragging the rest down — but only because the rest refuse to pull the weak ones up.
4. Too Much Financial Interconnection
Other country’s problems can quickly become your own if your banks own their bonds. Especially if your banks are bigger than your economy. That’s the lesson Cyprus learned the very hard way after its banks loaded up on Greek debt in 2010, only to get wiped out a year later. The Financial Times has a great infographic (that you should play around with) on which country’s banks are exposed to which other country’s debt across the euro zone. As you can see below, any kind of Italian restructuring would be tremendously bad for French banks.
The euro is the gold standard minus the shiny rocks. Both force countries to give up their ability to fight recessions in return for fixed exchange rates and open capital flows. But giving up the ability to fight recessions just makes it easier for recessions to turn into depressions. And that puts all of the pressure on wages to adjust down when a shock hits — the most painful and destructive way of doing things.
But the gold standard had an even bigger design flaw than creating depressions. That was perpetuating depressions. Under the rules of the game, countries short on gold were supposed to raise interest rates, which would push down wages, and push up exports. More exports would mean more gold, and then lower interest rates. But there was an asymmetry. Countries needed gold to create money, but countries didn’t need to create money if they had gold. During the Great Depression, the U.S. and France sucked up most of the world’s gold, but didn’t turn it into money out of fear of nonexistent inflation. Countries that needed gold needed to push down wages even more to make their exports competitive — not that there were any booming markets for them to export to, due to the self-inflicted economics wounds of the U.S. and France. Instead, the depression just fed on itself.
The euro suffers from a similar asymmetry. Debtor-euro countries are to cut wages and deficits, but creditor-euro countries aren’t forced to increase wages and deficits. Perversely, the opposite. In other words, northern Europe isn’t doing enough to offset the demand destruction in southern Europe. And it’s sinking them all. Even worse, this slow-motion collapse is turning loans that would have otherwise been good into losses — losses that force bailouts and faster collapses. But, to be clear, this isn’t only a problem for the periphery. As the U.S. and France found out in the 1930s, it’s generally not a good idea to force your customers into bankruptcy. That just creates depression without end — until the gold (or euro) standard ends. It’s no coincidence that the countries that ditched the gold standard first recovered from the Great Depression first.
History doesn’t need to repeat, or even rhyme. Europe doesn’t have to keep crucifying itself on a cross of euros, the gold standard of the 21st-century. The euro’s northern bloc could decide to let the ECB do more. Or it could decide to start spending more. Or not. Eurocrats seem content to do just enough to keep everything from falling apart, and nothing more. It’s one part inflationphobia, and another part strategy. Indeed, it’s how they try to keep the pressure on the southern bloc to push through unpopular labor market reforms. But doing enough today eventually won’t be enough tomorrow if the southern bloc doesn’t have any hope of recovering within the euro. The politics will turn against the common currency long before that.
By that point, Europe won’t need an acronym anymore.
Bank Depositor “Haircuts”: Grand “Financial Theft” is the Money Market’s “New Normal”
On March 29, Cyprus Mail said banks opened Thursday. They did so amid calm.
Long lines queued. People waited patiently. A feared stampede didn’t materialize. Whether it’s the calm before the storm remains to be seen.
Looting Cypriot bank accounts reflects the new normal. It set a precedent. It did so for Europe. More on that below.
Grand theft reflects official policy. Money is made the old-fashioned way. It’s stolen. Nothing’s done to stop it. Corrupt politicians and regulators permit it. They do so for benefits they derive.
Scamming investors is commonplace. Goldman Sachs derisively calls them “muppets.”
MF Global’s CEO Jon Corzine formerly headed Goldman Sachs. He looted customer accounts. He did so brazenly.
He used client money to speculate. More went for internal purposes. Much went to cover debt obligations and losses. Top firm executives made millions. They did so at customers’ expense.
Financial reform accomplished nothing. Grand theft is institutionalized. Europe’s no different from America. Anything goes is policy.
Banks deposits were considered safe. No longer. Eurocrats changed things. Euro Group head Jeroen Dijsselbloem explained.
Expect more wealth extracted from depositors. Cyprus established a template. Bank accounts in other troubled economies aren’t safe.
“If there is a risk in a bank, our first question should be ‘Okay, what are you in the bank going to do about that,” he asked? “What can you do to recapitalize yourself?’ ”
“If the bank can’t do it, then we’ll talk to the shareholders and the bondholders. We’ll ask them to contribute in recapitalizing the bank, and if necessary the uninsured deposit holders.”
“The consequences may be that it’s the end of story, and that is an approach that I think, now that we are out of the heat of the crisis, we should take.”
In late February, ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure suggested raiding depositor accounts for bail-ins, saying:
“There needs to be an appropriate burden-sharing….because we need to achieve debt sustainability.”
At the time, he suggested not doing it across the board. Whether he meant it isn’t clear.
He added that he doesn’t “pre-judge any instruments because the vocabulary matters, and there are many ways to achieve burden-sharing.”
It bears repeating. Grand theft is official policy. Even bank accounts aren’t safe.
Market analyst Marc Faber believes “governments one day (will) take away 20 – 30% of (his) wealth.” There’s no place to hide.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble proposed a 40% haircut on all deposits. So does IMF head Christine Lagarde.
Cypriot Finance Minister Michalis Sarris said large uninsured Laiki Bank depositors could lose up to 80% of their money. Other European depositors race similar risks. So do people elsewhere.
Some may lose everything. It’s the new normal. Personal savings are up for grabs. Bank bailouts will be borne on the backs of ordinary people.
Think it can’t happen here? Think again. There’s no place to hide. Ellen Brown explained. Banks legally own depositor funds, she said.
“Our money becomes the bank’s, and we become unsecured creditors holding IOUs or promises to pay.”
Banks once repaid depositors on demand. A joint December 10, 2012 FDIC-Bank of England (BOE) paper changed things. Plans to loot customer accounts were made earlier.
The Bank for International Settlements originated them. It’s the privately owned central bank for central bankers. Major ones have final say.
Looting depositor accounts is policy. Cyprus isn’t a one-off. Guaranteed insured deposits don’t matter. They’re up for grabs like all others. It’ll be done clever ways or outright.
Brown said the FCIC-BOE plan involves converting deposits (IOU promises to pay) into bank equity. They get our money. We get bank stock.
Ready cash on demand is gone. Whether it’s ever returned, who knows. Take the money and run looks more than ever like policy. Depositors anywhere may be hung out to dry.
Even gold and silver in safety deposit boxes aren’t safe. Not in America. Homeland Security told banks in writing. It may inspect their contents on demand.
Under Patriot Act provisions, it may seize them with no warrant. It can do so anywhere. Banco de Mattress isn’t safe.
Investor Jim Rogers said “run for the hills now. I’m doing it.” Cyprus is no one-off.
“I want to make sure that I don’t get trapped,” he said. “Think of all the poor souls that just thought they had a simple bank account.”
“Now they find out that they are making a ‘contribution’ to the stability of Cyprus. The gall of these politicians.”
“If you’re going to listen to government, you’re going to go bankrupt very quickly.”
“I, for one, am making sure I don’t have too much money in any one specific bank account anywhere in the world, because now there is a precedent,”
“The IMF has said ‘sure, loot the bank accounts. The EU has said ‘loot the bank accounts, so you can be sure that other countries when problems come, are going to say, ‘Well, it’s condoned by the EU. It’s condoned by the IMF. So let’s do it too.’ ”
The Daily Bell asked “What Is The REAL Euro End Game? It is time to apply the free-market to bank depositors.”
Strategy involves shifting responsibility from taxpayers to depositors. Things ahead won’t be the same. Eurocrats’ policy is wrongheaded. They’re deepening crisis conditions, not alleviating them.
They believe achieving “full-on political union” depends on it. Their well-documented comments reflect it.
“….Cyprus shock and subsequent statements are not only deliberate, but have contributed to spreading uncertainty throughout Europe.”
“Now people no longer trust their banks, contributing to their destabilization.”
“If you have a bank crisis, the last thing you want to do is further destabilize trust and confidence in the system. But Brussels Eurocrats have done just that.”
“Don’t think it was a mistake. If one accepts that line of thinking, the ramifications are serious and deep from a sociopolitical, political and investment standpoint.”
The Economic Collapse blog said global elites plan to loot bank accounts. Don’t be surprised when they steal yours.
“They are already very clearly telling you that they are going to do it.” Your money is theirs. It’s up for grabs on demand.
People put money in banks for safety. Removing it “jeopardize(s) the entire system.” Cyprus is a tip of a giant iceberg. Major global banks are highly leveraged. Many are insolvent.
When their bets pay off, they win. When they don’t, we pay. Wealth confiscation is now policy. Commerzbank chief economist Joerg Kraemer urges a “tax rate of 15 percent on (Italian) financial assets.”
It’s “probably enough to push (government) debt below the critical level of 100 percent of gross domestic product,” he said.
New Zealand Finance Minister Bill English proposed across the board depositor “haircut(s)” in case of major bank failures.
Britain’s Daily Mail headlined “One of the nastiest and most immoral political acts in modern times,” saying:
“People who rob old ladies in the street, or hold up security vans, are branded as thieves.”
“Yet when Germany presides over a heist of billions of pounds from private savers’ Cyprus bank accounts, to ‘save the euro’ for the hundredth time, this is claimed as high statesmanship.”
“It is nothing of the sort….It has struck fear into the hearts of hundreds of millions of European citizens, because it establishes a dire precedent.
If Eurocrats can loot Cyprus, why not anywhere.
“This is the most brutal display since 2008 of how far the euro-committed nations are willing to go to save the tottering single currency.”
“It shows that the zone’s crisis will run and run to the grievous disadvantage” of most everyone.
“Surely the euro cannot long survive by such anti-democratic means. It certainly does not deserve to.”
Graham Summers says “Europe is out of options and out of money.” It’s “totally and completely bust.”
It’s banks are highly leveraged. They can’t raise capital “because no one in their right mind wants to invest in them….”
“European nations are bankrupt because AGAIN no one in their right mind wants to buy their bonds UNLESS they believe they can dump their investments on the ECB at a later date. Who is the greater fool there?”
Europe isn’t fixed because enough capital isn’t there to do it. “Europe and its alleged backstops are out of money. This includes Germany, the ECB, and the mega-bailout funds such as the ESM (European Stability Mechanism).”
The ECB is “chock full of garbage debts.” It’s insolvent. It can print money, “but once the BIG collateral call hits, (it’s) useless because (what’s needed) would implode the system.”
“What could go wrong?” Virtually anything. “It’s only a matter of time before (crisis conditions reach) hyperdrive, and we have an event even worse than 2008.”
Zero Hedge says Russia’s “next in line to restrict cash transactions. (They’re) taking a page from the Europeans’ book.”
Russia Beyond the Headlines said “Russia to ban cash transactions over $10,000.” It plans to “slash the amount of cash in domestic trade.”
It may do so by 2015. It’s “expected to boost” bank reserves “and put a damper on (its) shadow economy. However, the middle class will most likely end up having to pay the price for the scheme.”
According to Zero Hedge, leaders realize that “limits of fiscal and monetary policy have been reached.”
They’re “now changing rules, limiting freedom, and (instituting) outright confiscation (as) the only way to maintain a status quo.”
Doing so reflects predatory capitalism’s failure. It’s a house of cards. It’s heading perhaps for eventual collapse. At risk is whether it takes humanity with it when it does.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
His new book is titled “How Wall Street Fleeces America: Privatized Banking, Government Collusion and Class War”
Why Does No One Speak of America’s Oligarchs?
Overdressed Naked Capitalism
One of the striking elements of the demonization of Cyprus was how it was depicted as a willing tool of Russian money launderers and oligarchs. Never mind the fact, as we pointed out, that Cyprus is not a tax haven but a low-tax jurisdiction, and in stark contrast with the Caymans and Malta, has double-taxation treaties signed with 46 nations and has (now more likely had) with six more being ratified. Nor is it much of a tax secrecy jurisdiction, according to the Financial Secrecy Index. Confusingly, in the overall ranking, lower numbers are worse (Switzerland as number 1 is the baaadest) but in the secrecy score used to derive the rankings, higher is worse, with 100 being utterly opaque. The total rank is a function of “badness” (secrecy score) and weight (amount of business done). You’ll notice that all the countries ranked as worse than Cyprus have secrecy scores more unfavorable than it, with the exception of Germany, which is a mere 1 point out of 100 less bad, and the UK, which scores considerably lower (Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands, would take issue with that reading, but he takes a more inclusive view of the boundaries of a financial services industry. For the UK, thus he not only includes the “state within a state” of the City of London, but also the UK’s secrecy jurisdictions, such as the Isle of Man, in his dim view of the UK as well as the US on secrecy). And even so, its greater volume of hidden activity gives it a much worse overall ranking. Of countries 21 tp 30, only 3 rank as less bad on secrecy: Canada, India, and South Korea.
What does ‘Euro’ mean?
Is a euro in a Cypriot bank, locked down by withdrawal limits and capital controls, the same as a euro in an Irish or French bank? Is a euro sitting in, say, a payroll account in Laiki with a balance of more than €100,000 (and subject to an unspecified “haircut” on Thursday) the same an “Irish euro”?
They’re both euro, both promises to pay the bearer, but honestly, do you have a preference? Of course you do. You’d prefer your money to be outside Cyprus. You’d prefer an Irish euro to a Cypriot one. So they’re not the same. Do we even have a single currency now, then? What does the Euro mean?
And how did this happen? At least in part, it happened because all the finance ministers of the Eurozone sat around earlier this month and let the Cypriots leave the room with a proposal to make depositors pay for bank losses, including insured depositors with balances of less than €100,000. They rowed back on that part, but you can’t undo the damage of their having taken it seriously to begin with. Imagine a snowed-in family just once agreeing “if we get really hungry, we can eat the rabbit”. You can take that back all you like – everybody knows the rabbit’s not safe any more. He’s not just a pet, he’s protein. Depositors aren’t just protected customers now, they’re also a source of money to save the bank.
We sat back and let that happen – all the Eurozone countries did. We let deposits in Cyprus undergo that subtle shift in meaning. We let their banks be closed for ages, with devastating impact on small firms and families. We let their tax rate be changed. We let them hang out there, hoping it would save us, the rest of this uneasy union. Where does that leave solidarity, in this European Project under our presidency?
Just now, you’d prefer an Irish euro to a Cypriot one. Remember that feeling, because, as Martin Niemöller might have written were he more interested in money, and living in more peaceful times, “First they came for the Cypriots …”
NICOSIA (Reuters) – Big depositors in Cyprus’s largest bank stand to lose far more than initially feared under a European Union rescue package to save the island from bankruptcy, a source with direct knowledge of the terms said on Friday.
Under conditions expected to be announced on Saturday, depositors in Bank of Cyprus will get shares in the bank worth 37.5 percent of their deposits over 100,000 euros, the source told Reuters, while the rest of their deposits may never be paid back.
The toughening of the terms will send a clear signal that the bailout means the end of Cyprus as a hub for offshore finance and could accelerate economic decline on the island and bring steeper job losses.
Officials had previously spoken of a loss to big depositors of 30 to 40 percent.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Friday defended the 10-billion euro ($13 billion) bailout deal agreed with the EU five days ago, saying it had contained the risk of national bankruptcy.
“We have no intention of leaving the euro,” the conservative leader told a conference of civil servants in the capital, Nicosia.
“In no way will we experiment with the future of our country,” he said.
Cypriots, however, are angry at the price attached to the rescue – the winding down of the island’s second-largest bank, Cyprus Popular Bank, also known as Laiki, and an unprecedented raid on deposits over 100,000 euros.
Under the terms of the deal, the assets of Laiki bank will be transferred to Bank of Cyprus.
At Bank of Cyprus, about 22.5 percent of deposits over 100,000 euros will attract no interest, the source said. The remaining 40 percent will continue to attract interest, but will not be repaid unless the bank does well.
Those with deposits under 100,000 euros will continue to be protected under the state’s deposit guarantee.
Cyprus’s difficulties have sent jitters around the fragile single European currency zone, and led to the imposition of capital controls in Cyprus to prevent a run on banks by worried Cypriots and wealthy foreign depositors.
Banks reopened on Thursday after an almost two-week shutdown as Cyprus negotiated the rescue package. In the end, the reopening was largely quiet, with Cypriots queuing calmly for the 300 euros they were permitted to withdraw daily.
The imposition of capital controls has led economists to warn that a second-class “Cyprus euro” could emerge, with funds trapped on the island less valuable than euros that can be freely spent abroad.
Anastasiades said the restrictions on transactions – unprecedented in the currency bloc since euro coins and banknotes entered circulation in 2002 – would be gradually lifted. He gave no time frame but the central bank said the measures would be reviewed daily.
He hit out at banking authorities in Cyprus and Europe for pouring money into the crippled Laiki.
“How serious were those authorities that permitted the financing of a bankrupt bank to the highest possible amount?” Anastasiades said.
The president, barely a month in the job and wrestling with Cyprus’s worst crisis since a 1974 war split the island in two, accused the 17-nation euro currency bloc of making “unprecedented demands that forced Cyprus to become an experiment”.
European leaders have insisted the raid on big bank deposits in Cyprus is a one-off in their handling of a debt crisis that refuses to be contained.
But policymakers are divided, and the waters were muddied a day after the deal was inked when the Dutch chair of the euro zone’s finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said it could serve as a model for future crises.
“The content of his remarks comes down to an approach which has been on the table for a longer time in Europe,” Knot was quoted as saying by Dutch daily Het Financieele Dagblad. “This approach will be part of the European liquidation policy.”
The Cyprus rescue differs from those in other euro zone countries because bank depositors have had to take losses, although an initial plan to hit small deposits as well as big ones was abandoned and accounts under 100,000 euros were spared.
Warnings of a stampede at Cypriot banks when they reopened on Thursday proved unfounded.
For almost two weeks, Cypriots were on a ration of limited withdrawals from bank cash machines. Even with banks now open, they face a regime of strict restrictions designed to halt a flight of capital from the island.
Some economists say those restrictions will be difficult to lift. Anastasiades said the capital controls would be “gradually eased until we can return to normal”.
The government initially said the controls would stay in place for seven days, but Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Thursday they could last “about a month”.
On Friday, easing a ban on cheque payments, Cypriot authorities said cheques could be used to make payments to government agencies up to a limit of 5,000 euros. Anything more than 5,000 euros would require Central Bank approval.
The bank also issued a directive limiting the cash that can be taken to areas of the island beyond the “control of the Cypriot authorities” – a reference to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus which considers itself an independent state. Cyprus residents can take 300 euros; non-residents can take 500.
Under the terms of the capital controls, Cypriots and foreigners are allowed to take up to 1,000 euros in cash when they leave the island.
(Additional reporting by Ivana Sekularac and Gilbert Kreijger in Amsterdam; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Giles Elgood)
There’s a hole in the system, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
There’s a hole in the system, dear Draghi: a hole.
Then fill it dear Olli, dear Olli, dear Olli,
Then fill it dear Olli, dear Olli: fix it.
With what shall I fill it, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
With what shall I fill it, dear Draghi: with what?
With taxes dear Olli, dear Olli, dear Olli,
With taxes dear Olli, dear Olli: try tax!
But the tax take is falling, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
But the tax take is falling, dear Draghi: it falls!
Increase them dear Olli, dear Olli, dear Olli,
Increase them dear Olli, dear Olli: whack’em on!
But tax take falls more now, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
But the tax falls more now, dear Draghi: it fell!
Squeeze the sovereigns, dear Olli, dear Olli, dear Olli,
Squeeze the sovereigns dear Olli, dear Olli: squeeze them!
But the sovereigns are bursting, they’re bursting, they’re bursting,
But the sovereigns are bursting, they’re bursting: some burst!
Try the savers, dear Olli, dear Olli, dear Olli,
Try the savers dear Olli, dear Olli: try them!
The hole just got bigger, got bigger, got bigger,
The hole just got bigger, got bigger: it grew!
Then the bondies, dear Olli, dear Olli, dear Olli,
If you must it’s the bondies, it’s the bondies: burn them!
Now the system is creaking, is creaking, is creaking,
Now the whole system is dear, dear Draghi: it creaks!
Inflate it dear Draghi, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
Inflate the system it dear Draghi, dear Draghi: inflate!
But I don’t have a mandate dear Christine, dear Christine,
But I don’t have a mandate dear Christine: don’t ask!
Well then print it, dear Draghi, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
Well then print it dear Draghi, dear Draghi: please print.
But we don’t have a printer, dear Christine, dear Christine,
We don’t have a printer, dear Christine: there’s no ink!
Well who make money, dear Draghi, dear Draghi?
Well who can make money, dear Draghi: who can?!
Well the banks are supposed to, dear Christine, dear Christine,
Well the banks are that system, the banks: that’s who!
[All together now]
But there’s a hole in the system, dear Draghi, dear Draghi,
There’s a hole in the system, dear Draghi – a hole!
10 ways for Ireland to benefit from chaos in Cyprus
From NAMA WINE LAKE
We’ve seen over the past fortnight how the Cypriots are a deeply stupid people that have allowed their economy to collapse, and consigned their society to immiseration and decline for a long period ahead. Well, too bad for Cyprus, how can Ireland benefit from their self-inflicted fiasco?
(1) Cyprus’s corporate tax brand is destroyed. The original Cyprus bailout plan included a term compelling Cyprus to raise its headline corporate tax rate from 10% to 12.5%, there is no mention of that term being dropped in the latest version of the bailout, so it seems the change still stands. Now a 25% increase is still just an additional 2.5% but it has destroyed the Cypriot brand. Businesses now considering basing themselves in Cyprus might appreciate the 12.5% corporate tax rate as relatively low, but they know that it has been changed, and apparently without much resistance from the Cypriots. On the other hand, businesses know that Ireland fought tooth and nail to protect our 12.5% corporate tax rate. We endured the humiliation of a Gallic spat with the French president, quietly supported by the Germans, and we saw Greece get a reduction in its bailout interest rate in March 2011, but because we would not yield on our tax rate, we had to wait until July 2011, and even then we had to give a commitment to constructively engage in discussions on the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base. But in July 2011, domestic politicians wrote that commitment off as fundamentally meaningless, and the message is loud and clear – Ireland has a 12.5% corporate tax rate and it will stay at 12.5%. So, even though Cyprus and Ireland might have the same corporate tax rate, businesses know that ours is more likely to remain at 12.5%.
(2) Tourism. With the cold and wintry Irish weather at present, the 15 degree March climes of Cyprus might look tempting, but who wants to book a holiday to somewhere that is so unstable. What happens if they stop accepting credit and debt cards? What happens if they introduce capital controls on tourists? What happens if they revert to the Cypriot pound and force tourists to exchange their hard currency at an unattractive interest rate? And what about civil disturbances? They had a civil war in 1974, they will shortly have spiraling unemployment, who wants to go on holidays to a potential war zone? On the other hand, come to Ireland, you’ll get a great welcome, we have great scenery and this year, we have a special Gathering campaign when the families of Ireland are coming together from across the globe. Actor Gabriel Byrne might have originally written it off as a shake-down designed to relieve our Yankee cousins of their dollars, but it’s happening anyway, and you are guaranteed a better experience than that potentially on offer in Cyprus, regardless of the weather. Maybe we should get Tourism Ireland to run a negative campaign.
(3) Banking and financial services. Former Taoiseach John Bruton is the ambassador for our International Financial Services Centre in Dublin, and he will be only too happy to explain to you the tax and regulatory advantages of basing your bank or financial services operation in Ireland. Already we have over 400 of the world’s banks operating from a small spot in Dublin city. In previous years, we might have been written off as “Liechtenstein by the Liffey” or the “Wild West of Banking” but we have bolstered our financial regulation, we’ve even appointed a surly Brit to the post of Financial Regulator. But don’t fret, there is an influential industry group that meets with the Department of Finance and An Taoiseach on a regular basis, and the evidence points to the tail of international banks and financial services operations still wagging the dog of democratic politics.
(4) Foreign direct investment. The IDA’s job has become far easier. In addition to maintaining our gold-standard 12.5% corporate tax rate when those about us are losing theirs, Ireland can really stick the boot in during our investor road-shows to deter businesses who might have been considering Cyprus as a base. Does Google really want to open a base in a country with unstable currency, banking system, bailout when Ireland is brimming over with talent, technology and tax incentives.
(5) Hot Russian money more likely to come to Ireland. Let’s face it, do we really care all that much where deposits come from? All deposits support the banks in making more loans available to the economy, and more credit in the economy will drive economic growth and enable us to get a lead on our partners across Europe. So, maybe we should consider a few more Russian-language welcome signs in Dublin. Justice minister Alan Shatter will give them visas if they make some vague commitment to invest €75,000 in Ireland or maybe promise to buy an apartment from NAMA.
(6) Weaker euro helping exports to key US, UK and non-EU markets. The exchange rate between the euro and sterling has fallen from €0.88 to just over €0.84. That’s good news for Ireland given that the UK is our main practical export partner. In fact a weaker euro is altogether better for the exporting marvel that is Ireland. And we can thank the development of the fiasco for the recent decline in the value of the euro. Until a few weeks ago, sterling’s weakness as the UK struggles to generate growth together with the “mission accomplished” tenor from EuroZone leaders that the crisis was over, all pointed to the euro becoming stronger which is the last thing our exporting-economy-on-steroids needs. Thanks to the bungling over Cyprus, the euro is on a weaker trajectory which gives our economy a boost.
(7) No Irish exposure to recapitalizing Cypriot banks. The ESM, the fund that was set up last year, and to which Ireland has already contributed €509m will not be used to bailout insolvent Cypriot banks. And furthermore, it is understand that the exposure of Irish banks including the Central Bank of Ireland to Cypriot bank debt is minimal. So, Ireland faces practically no financial consequence in respect of Cypriot meltdown. If we were exposed to losses, then we might consider bilateral loans from Ireland to Cyprus. Like the British chancellor George Osborne in 2011, we might even be patronizing enough to say “Cyprus is a friend in need, and we are there to help” before providing a loan at market interest rates so that our banks, businesses and citizens might be repaid.
(8) Although we’re still the dumbest people in Europe, the Cypriots make us look a lot better. In Cyprus, they actually have finally landed on a good design to solve their financial mess. But the problem for Cyprus is firstly, they originally came up with a plan which would undermine their deposit guarantee and secondly, their implementation has been horrible with banks closed for 12 days and capital flight now guaranteed. Of course the agreement to change the corporate tax rate was also not bright, but in principle, forcing the debtors of banks to shoulder losses in specific banks ring-fenced the problem to badly run banks, keeps smaller depositors safe and imposes losses on those best able to pay for them. Contrast that with Ireland where we have repaid €11bn to junior bondholders, 10s of billions to senior bondholders and all depositors, even those with millions have walked away with 100% of their deposits, whilst the burden for the banking collapse has been placed on the shoulders of citizens who have seen PRSI increases, public service cutbacks, cuts to childrens allowance, VAT hikes, pension levies and other assorted measures which have hit the most vulnerable in society. So, we were the dumbest in Europe by a country mile for our own bailout, but the implementation of the Cypriot bailout makes us look just a little smarter.
(9) If PTSB or AIB go bust, the additional impact on the taxpayer will be limited. We now seem to have a model for dealing with insolvent banks, and keeping in mind that both PTSB, AIB and even venerable Bank of Ireland are facing extreme challenges with their mortgage books, should the banks need more capital, we don’t have to stump any more in a national bailout. Depositors with more than €100,000 and bondholders will face losses, and the problem will be contained. Well done to Cyprus for path-finding this model for us.
(10) Scales are falling from our eyes. By studying developments in Cyprus and keeping the theme of this blogpost in mind, perhaps we can now place ourselves in the shoes of the French, Germans and British in November 2010 when Ireland was frog-marched into a bailout. Perhaps now, we can step in George Osborne’s shoes and understand why he advanced a €4bn bilateral loan to Ireland. Perhaps we can now understand why Nicolas Sarkozy sought to take advantage of our woes to press for an increase in our corporate tax rates to help the French economy. Perhaps we can now understand that EU politicians can behave like a bunch of bozos and that ultimately, we must rely on our own abilities to defend our interests, because no-one else will.
[The above is a deliberately provocative commentary on the Cypriot bailout, and apologies for any offence caused. But think on, in November 2010 when Ireland was frog-marched into a bailout, do you think it beyond the bounds of possibility for other nations to have viewed our woes in the same manner illustrated above?]
The economic news last week highlights what happens when governments are unable to confront the root cause of the financial collapse – the risky speculation and securities fraud of the big banks. What happens? They blame the people, cut their benefits, tax their savings and demand they work harder for less money.
In the United States there have been no criminal prosecutions for securities fraud in the big banks. Just as the Justice Department has made it clear that the big banks are too big to jail because doing so jeopardizes the stability of the banking system; financial fraud investigator Bill Black points out that the SEC cannot institute fines that are too big for the same reason. “The art is to make the number sound large to fool the rubes, but to insure that the fine poses only a modest inconvenience to our ‘most reputable’ fraudulent banks.” So, the SEC trumpets “more than 150 firms and individuals, with sanctions totaling $2.7 billion.” Black points out that this number sounds big, but it isn’t compared to the losses caused by the fraud epidemic in the US which are well in excess of $15 trillion. A trillion is a thousand billion. Are we, ‘the rubes’ or do we know that our government is in cahoots with big finance?
In fact, the big banks have been engaged in all sorts of nefarious activity for a long time, asWashington’s Blog points out with this jaw-dropping list of crimes, and are rife with fraud. And, this week the biggest of the too big to prosecute, JP Morgan, had its financial fraud and disrespect for government on display when the Senate Banking Committee issued a massive 300 page indictment, errr report, documenting the $6.2 billion “London Whale” scandal. The report traces the scandal right to the top, CEO Jamie Dimon, and shows how the bank lied to bank examiners and investors. Experts state the obvious from this evident fraud; investigations and fines, and possibly a large monetary settlement are possible but a prosecution by DOJ remains unlikely. Obvious because everyone knows the game in Washington is one of no criminal prosecutions.
Although, another too big to jail bank, Goldman Sachs did have a loss in court this week, when the US Supreme Court refused to overturn a Court of Appeals decision requiring the bank to defend a civil suit by investors claiming securities fraud. There are lots of hurdles ahead, but this provides a glimmer of hope.
This week our too big to prosecute philosophy of the (lack of) Justice Department was shown to apply to foreign banks as well. The second largest bank in Germany got a pass when it offered a job to an IRS agent who cut its tax burden. Again, the rubes were told that Commerzbank paid $210 million in tax liability, sounds good, but it was only 62% of what it owed. The day after the agreement the IRS officer was offered a job at Commerzbank. The agent pled guilty to charges this week, but the bank and the officers involved were not prosecuted.
Europe is showing us what happens when government fails to confront the big banks – the people pay and the economy collapses into depression. Is this our future?
The horror story of the week for struggling workers and poor countries has to be Cyprus. The country was being built up as a big banking area but when it all went sour, they went to the EU for a bailout. The EU hemmed and hawed and finally agreed, but with a very big requirement which takes structural adjustment to a new level of abuse – they required “a one-off 10 percent tax on savings over €100,000 and a 6.75 percent tax on small depositors. Senior bank bondholders and investors in Cyprus’ sovereign debt will be left untouched.” [See update below.]
This is causing a run on the banks in Cyprus, but is also raising red flags in many other struggling Euro countries. Can bank accounts in Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or any other country in Europe be safe? Are more and more people going to take their money out of the banks and keep it under their mattress? It may seem like the sane thing to do but a run on the banks will just weaken shaky banks further.
Leaders of the EU, IMF and Germany are all staying with their demand for more austerity and greater productivity (i.e. lower wages for greater output). At the same time they are urging bailout of the banking system which remains weak. This same leadership recognizes their approach may lead to a “social explosion” and Standard & Poors is also warning that the situation is socially explosive. The reality is that southern Europe is essentially in a depression and Germany, EU and IMF are demanding that they squeeze more money out of impoverished people.
In Washington, DC, the two Wall Street parties keep talking about cuts to the budget – austerity measures that will hurt the old, the poor, the young and working class – and disregard the fact that government spending is actually not the problem. While they push austerity, they remain silent as big business interests go into their sixth year of big tax avoidance. Paul Buchheit summarizes “For over 20 years, from 1987 to 2008, corporations paid an average of 22.5 percent in federal taxes. Since the recession, this has dropped to 10 percent – even though their profits have doubled in less than ten years.” He highlights the worst of the worst. On top was Obama’s jobs czar, General Electric.
There is some sanity, but not much, among the US financial elite. Dallas Fed Chairman Richard Fisher told the Conservative Political Action Conference that it was time to break up the big banks and end the crony capitalism that protects them. Liberal Democrat Sherrod Brown has introduced a bill to do just that. Of course it is opposed by the administration so it will probably not go anywhere.
Instead, President Obama is pushing the anti-democratic Trans Pacific Partnership which is a gift to the big banks and other transnational corporate interests. For the big banks it will require countries to let capital flow in and out without restriction, not allow the banning or regulation of risky investments like derivatives and credit-default swaps and will prevent the formation of much-needed public banks. Our Wall Street government continues to serve Wall Street first at the expense of the people’s necessities.
All of this shows it is time to remake the banking system: hold security fraud violators criminally accountable, break up the too big to jail banks, support community banks and credit unions and create public banks at least at the state and local level; and make the Fed transparent and accountable to democracy. This would be a transformed banking system that would serve the people and the economy, move toward economic democracy and take power away from corrupt Wall Street. Failure to confront and remove the plague of Wall Street-centered banking will continue to infect the entire economy. Is Cyprus in our future? It doesn’t have to be.
Update: On Tuesday, March 19, the Parliament in Cyprus rejected the tax on bank accounts after mass protests by the people. This leaves Cyprus in a mess with no bailout and no money to contribute to a bailout. Will Russia invest in future oil found recently off the coast of Cyprus in return for the Parliament protecting $30 billion in Russian deposits that are in Cyprus banks? Will Germany and the EU bend, not requiring Cyprus to raise money for the bailout? Will Cyprus leave the EU? Lots of questions without answers right now, but the banks in the country will remain closed until they figure it out.
Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host ClearingtheFOGRadio.org on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and were organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8via The Plague of Wall Street Banking » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.