Depositors at Cyprus’ largest bank await the fate of the money in their accounts
Big depositors in Bank of Cyprus, the island’s largest lender, anxiously awaited the outcome of last-ditch talks between the government and eurozone officials on Saturday on the scale of the hit they will take.
Savers in number two lender Popular Bank, or Laiki, already saw legislation passed on Saturday to hive off their deposits over 100,000 euros ($129,000) into a separate “bad bank” where their money will be tied up for years while non-performing loans are absorbed.
Now it is the turn of BoC savers to see how big a hit they will take as the government haggles with eurozone representatives over the scale of the tax that will be imposed on their deposits to rescue a bailout deal to save the island from looming bankruptcy.
On the table is a 25 percent levy on all BoC deposits over the 100,000 euro threshold. The government desperately wants that reduced to a level it believes it can get through a hostile parliament.
Fellow eurozone members anxious about winning approval in their own parliaments for the proposed 10 billion-euro ($13 billion) loan package for Cyprus are likely to want at least that amount to ensure the island meets its undertaking to come up with 5.8 billion euros of its own in return.
The scale of the hit being taken by larger depositors in the two biggest banks is the result of parliament baulking earlier this week at an original plan that would have seen depositors in all of the island’s banks, troubled or not, paying something.
“The philosophy seems to be that the banks who have the problem are the ones that should pay,” said Laiki economist Yiannis Tirkides as he reflected on the restructuring of his own bank approved by MPs on Saturday.
He said that deposits in Laiki over the threshold would be put into the “bad bank” where they would be used to help absorb the bad debts.
“The bad bank will take years to go through and people’s money will be blocked,” Tirkides said.
“It will need to resolve non-performing loans by trying to liquidate the capital, and then what remains after loss has been absorbed by deposits will be returned to owners.
“Deposits are a buffer for the bank’s bad debts,” he said.
Tirkides said as much as three billion euros of Laiki’s 10 billion euro loan book might have to be absorbed by in the bad bank.
He said there were “hidden problems” with the legislation as some of the deposits being hit were made by companies who had borrowed the money to invest or buy supplies and now faced being “knocked out.”
Economist Fiona Mullen said that pensioners as well as Russian oligarchs faced being caught up in the bad bank.
“Everyone thinks this will only affect Russians but people’s pensions are involved here,” she said.
Tirkides said the government’s haggling with the troika of the EU, the European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund over the size of the haircut on BoC deposits could yet scupper the whole bailout deal.
“They are trying to convince the troika to take a lower haircut than 25% because parliament might not accept it. If they do try and lower the haircut the Eurogroup might not accept it — so I’m worried,” he said.
Mullen said she doubted there would be much leeway from the Eurogroup.
“Estimates on how much you would need to haircut changes from minute to minute but, if we go with (German Finance Minister Wolfgang) Schaueble’s number last week, it was 40%. That probably just increased to 50% because of the recent events,” she said.
Tirkides said that in the end the government might decide to duck the debate on the percentage figure altogether and simply put all BoC balances over the threshold into the “bad bank” too.