Non-Template Becomes Template, Continued

We have previously written about the fact that the 'depositor haircut' in Cyprus has indeed become the 'template' for dealing with bank insolvencies in the EU. As we have pointed out at the time, this is in a fundamental sense a salutary event: it should finally open the eyes of depositors as to what risks they are exposed to when keeping money at fractionally reserved banks. Moreover, there is no reason why tax payers should foot the bill for bailing out insolvent banks.

So far, so good, if only it were that easy! This week a report made the rounds   regarding German ECB board member Jörg Asmussen informing a reportedly 'astonished' EU parliament in Strasbourg about the 'new template'. The original article can be found at 'Deutsche Wirtschaftsnachrichten' in German language (a Google translation should serve to get the drift). 'Savers must bleed', as the article states. Moreover, it points out that citizens will now be asked to so to speak pay up twice: once as tax payers funding the ESM, and in individual cases as savers keeping money at banks that happen to go under.

A major bone of contention remains however the fact that in order to avert bank runs, the EU wants to make sure that the deposit insurance for deposits of less than €100,000 remains in place. It is a bone of contention mainly for the reason that a number of countries could not possibly swing even that. Hence the urge to create the so-called 'banking union', because once it is in place, German tax payers and savers will be liable for insuring bank depositors in Greece and elsewhere just as they are now doing in Germany. France is very eager to get this banking union off the ground, as are understandably Spain and Italy. It is a good bet that none of these nations have the wherewithal to bail out their own banking systems if push really comes to shove. For instance, the three largest French banks hold assets worth 240% of GDP (with the assets of the banking system as a whole clocking in at over 400% of GDP).

 

Orwellian Language

An article at Reuters recently also discussed these topics. It reads almost like a satire in places. Consider the beginning of the article:

 

“Depositors should be the very last to suffer losses when a bank collapses, according to a proposal being discussed by European Union countries and seen by Reuters, which would shield savers from the kind of losses they face in Cyprus.”

 

So in other words, depositors will be liable, but it won't be like Cyprus, promise! If they are to be 'shielded' from losses akin to those suffered by depositors and savers in Cyprus, something must be different. However, nothing actually is.

 

“The idea comes as member countries finalize a new draft law for the European Union that could make losses for larger savers a permanent feature of future banking crises. EU officials, however, are nervous that such a regime will panic savers, prompting them to withdraw money.

In the paper, outlining the process of 'bailing in' savers and other steps to deal with troubled banks, officials in Brussels said that it might be wise to put depositors behind all bondholders when dividing losses from a bank collapse.

Small savers, with less than 100,000 euros, will, in any event, be protected. But officials also raise the possibility of allowing national exemptions from losses for big depositors in their country if a bank fails.”

 

(emphasis added)

Again, we repeat that there is no reason why depositors should not suffer losses, after shareholders and bondholders have been subjected to a 100% haircut. We wonder though at the manner in which this is formulated above: 'officials in Brussels think it might be wise' to proceed in this manner. What else did they have in mind? Anyway, how on earth is this different from Cyprus?

The Orwellian language (the assertion made at the outset, that this new policy is somehow different from the Cyprus case) is designed to keep up a false sense of security among depositors, one that is by no means warranted. The next assertion, namely that 'deposits of less than €100,000 will be protected in any event' cannot remain unchallenged either. This is simply not true in a number of countries, unless they get the necessary funds from the EU's bailout funds or from the net paymasters in the EU once the 'banking union' is established.

Also, there seems to be widespread apathy regarding the fact that all fractionally reserved banks are de facto insolvent. There are more than €3.5 trillion in uncovered money substitutes held in overnight deposits in the euro area. As the term 'uncovered' already implies, these are at present nothing but numbers in accounts. The banks do not have this money. They have either lent it out, or invested it otherwise. This is money that was created from thin air in the process of fractional reserve lending. In fact, these data reveal the fundamentally fraudulent nature of the system: since every single cent in overnight deposits must in theory be available on demand at any time, the fact that €3.5 trillion of this money are simply not there already constitutes a fraudulent breach of contract, whether or not there is a bank run.

There was a truly funny chart in a recent edition of the Elliott Wave Theorist regarding the now defunct Bank of Cyprus (a.k.a. Laiki Bank) that illustrates nicely the apathy we mention above. Even while the bank's share price collapsed and it careened inexorably toward bankruptcy, it was showered with accolades from 'financial industry professionals' (ranging from financial magazines, to other banks such as JP Morgan, to various professional associations) all the way down.

However, Laiki was of course fractionally reserved, could only keep functioning due to 'ELA' (emergency liquidity assistance) and held a huge amount of worthless Greek sovereign bonds to boot (we have previously discussed how the Cypriot bankers foolishly fell for the lies of assorted leading eurocrats regarding the 'impossibility of a Greek default'). None of this could keep the accolades from pouring forth. Depositors may be excused for wrongly believing they were perfectly safe.

 


 

award-winning decline

The award-winning collapse of the Bank of Cyprus, chart via Prechter's Elliott Wave Theorist.

 


 

If not for receiving a bailout, Cyprus would not have been able to protect small depositors either. The government would have been just as bankrupt as the banks. This danger is one the EU wants to hide from depositors, because it rightly fears that an admission of this fact could provoke a run on the banks.

As Brian Whitmer of EWI remarks:

 

“The Bank of Cyprus website described its bookending tribute from Euromoney this way: “This is yet another major international distinction which confirms the successful path taken by the Bank of Cyprus Group, placing it among the world's top financial insitutions offering private banking services”.

The startling irony is that the bank's description is exactly correct. Thanks to an entrenched system of fractional reserve banking, most of the world's top financial institutions are fundamentally no sounder than the bank of Cyprus.”

 

Indeed.

 

Slovenian Three Card Monte

In this context it behooves us to point out that Slovenia has now decided to transfer €3.34 billion in bad assets from three banks that are up to their eyebrows in bad loans, to a state-owned 'bad bank'. The three banks concerned will nonetheless require an additional  capital injection of at least €900 million to remain afloat. Maybe Slovenia should plant a money tree somewhere.

 

“Three troubled state-owned Slovenian banks will transfer 3.34 billion euros ($4.33 billion) in non- performing loans to a newly established state-run Bank Assets Management Company, known as a bad bank, the Finance Ministry said Friday.

"Reducing the shares of non-performing assets in banks and ensuring capital adequacy are key measures to improve financing conditions and regulate corporate repayments," the ministry said in a document which supplements its National Reform Program, unveiled Thursday, and which is seen as vital for this small euro-zone country, burdened by the Ireland- style excessive bad bank loans, to avoid needing an international bailout.

The ministry said that it will value the total bad assets to be taken over by BAMC at EUR1.15 billion, yielding "an average transfer price of 38%."

 

(emphasis added)

Yes, it is probably a 'vital' step. The problem is only that the Slovenian government not only owns the 'bad bank'. It also owns the three banks it will transfer the toxic assets from. In other words, net-net, nothing really changes for Slovenia, as the government is just as liable as it was before. The only good thing about this maneuver is that it will lead to at least a partial recognition of losses (since the transfer will value the non-performing loans at 38% of face).

Depositors in Slovenian banks may want to engage in a little introspection in light of the new 'template'. The question they should ask themselves is: do I want to be among the first to panic, or among the last? We know who did better in Cyprus.

Finally, here is a recent chart of the TARGET-2 claims of the German Bundesbank. After declining for several months, they have recently begun to tick up again. That may be a sign that money is once again beginning to leak out from banks in the periphery and moving to the perceived safety of the 'core', or more precisely, Germany. However, Germany's biggest banks are more leveraged than Lehman Brothers ever was, so even such a move of money to the euro area's 'core' requires a sizable modicum of faith.

 


 

BuBa Target Balance
The BuBa's TARGET-2 claims have begun to rise again. Just a blip, or the beginning of a new uptrend? Stay tuned (chart via CLSA) – click to enlarge.

 


 

asmussen and rehn

German ECB board member Jörg Asmussen and EU monetary affairs commissar Olli Rehn. The bearers of bad news to an astonished parliament.

(Photo credit: Consilium)

 


 

 

 

Charts by: EWI, CLSA


 

 

 

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One Response to “Asmussen’s Musings and the Orwellian EU”

  • JasonEmery:

    Nice synopsis.  I don’t see how the USA is significantly different from Cyprus of Slovenia, though.  The FDIC has funds enough to bail a few small banks here and there, and maybe one single medium sized one, and zero large ones.  So you could argue we’re worse off, since these small countries are bailing out their largest banks.
    Also, isn’t the Fed our version of the ‘bad bank’, with their monthly mortgage bond purchase program.  You could also argue that Fannie and Freddie are govt. owned and run ‘bad banks’, of sorts.

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