Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Cyprus bail-out: Unfair, short-sighted and self-defeating

March 16, 2013

Ii is not a fudge, but it is still a failure. The euro zone’s bail-out of Cyprus, which was sealed in the early hours of Saturday, did get the bill for creditor countries down from €17 billion to €10 billion, as had been rumoured. But the way it did so was somewhat unexpected.

Almost €6 billion of the savings for taxpayers in euro-zone countries came from losses imposed on depositors in Cyprus’s outsize banks. A one-off 9.9% levy will be imposed on all deposits over the insurance threshold of €100,000 before banks reopen after a bank holiday on Monday. That idea had been in the air for a while, not least because a lot of those uninsured deposits came from outside Cyprus, and from Russia in particular. The politics of saving wealthy Russians with money loaned by thrifty Germans were always going to be tricky.

What had not been anticipated was a 6.75% loss for savers with deposits in Cypriot banks below the insurance ceiling. Cypriots woke up this morning to find bank branches closed to them. By the time they will be able to get at their money, it will be too late. The offer of equity in banks to replace the value of their savings is meant to be a balm but it’s not a choice they would have made. Why this decision was taken is not yet clear. The most plausible explanation is that the Cypriot government itself preferred to spread the pain rather than wipe out non-resident depositors and jeopardise its long-term prospects as an offshore financial centre for Russian and other money.


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