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Cyprus: The next blunder | Charles Wyplosz | vox

The question is: "how bank depositors will react in Cyprus and elsewhere?" The short answer is that we don't know but we can build scenarios:

  • The benign scenario is that depositors in Cypriot banks will accept the tax and keep their remaining money where it is. Depositors in other troubled countries will accept that Cyprus is special and remain unmoved.
  • A less benign scenario is that depositors in Cypriot banks come to fear another round of optimal, time-inconsistent levies. This is what theory predicts. After all, if policy makers found it optimal once, why not twice, or more?

Under the less benign scenario:

  • We will have a full-fledged bank run as soon as the corralito is lifted. Since bank assets amount to some 900% of GDP, there is no hope of any bailout by the Cypriot government.
  • Any new European loan would immediately translate into a run on the public debt.

At this point in the scenario script, the ECB enters the play. Being the only lender of last resort, the ECB will have to decide what to do.

  • In principle, it could stabilise the situation at little cost as total Cypriot bank assets represent less than 0.2% of Eurozone GDP or 0.5% of the central bank's own balance sheet.
  • But this would involve the risk that it could suffer losses - especially if the banks are badly resolved, i.e. the bankruptcies are badly handled.

This is not unlikely since the ECB does not control Cypriot bank resolution.

Remember that the current version of the banking union explicitly leaves resolution authority in national hands. In Cyprus, as almost everywhere else, national authorities are deeply conflicted when it comes to their banking systems. Powerful special interest groups become engaged when banks go bust and governments decide who pays the price. Thus, it is a good bet that Cyprus's bank resolution will be deeply flawed. The risk to the ECB is real.

Proper resolution under European control could have been part of the conditions for the loan just agreed. But this does not seem be the case. The omission most likely reflects a belief by policymakers that the Cyprus crisis has been solved successfully. The problem is that this belief is false: Cyprus's predicament remains even under the benign scenario.

The really worrisome scenario is that the Cypriot bailout becomes euro-systemic - in which case the collapse of the Cypriot economy will be a sideshow. This will happen when and if depositors in troubled countries, say Italy or Spain, take notice of how fellow depositors were treated in Cyprus.

All the ingredients of a self-fulfilling crisis are now in place:

  • It will be individually rational to withdraw deposits from local banks to avoid the remote probability of a confiscatory tax.
  • As depositors learn what others do and proceed to withdraw funds, a bank run will occur.
  • The banking system will collapse, requiring a Cyprus-style programme that will tax whatever is left in deposits, thus justifying the withdrawals.

This would probably be the end of the euro.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Mar 18th, 2013 at 03:27:02 AM EST

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