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The Cyprus Crisis 101 : Story Behind the Bailout

20 Mar

Talk about blindsided. Friday was a normal day in the recent bull market; although the market sold off slightly, the fact that the Dow continues to print all-time highs is barely news anymore. Investors went into the weekend thinking all was well, but when news that Cyprus had entered into a bailout deal with the European Union emerged, investors were blindsided.

First, where is Cyprus?

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Cyprus is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, east of Greece and South of Turkey. In 2011 i stopped by Cyprus for 6hours en route to Greece and fell in love with it. Very calm,wether-i hate cold!

It’s one of those sleepy countries that frankly isn’t large enough for most of the investing world to care about.

According to the CIA Factbook, the country has a population of 1.1 million – about as many people as the state of Rhode Island. The country is 77% Greek, 18% Turkish and 5% other ethnicities with a median age of 35.

Its land mass is about 7,800 square miles – roughly the size of New Jersey. This doesn’t sound like a country that would become the subject of international headlines, but there’s a lot more to the story.

It’s Greece All over Again

Economic history:
Until 2009, Cyprus had turned its economy around. After a deficit of 6.3% in 2003, it implemented a series of austerity measures that gave it a surplus of 1.2% in 2008. When the recession hit, Cyprus fell back on hard times because of its large exposure to Greek debt. In 2012, the country contracted by 2.3%.

The country was downgraded numerous times in 2012 with agencies like Fitch giving it a BB- rating and warning of further downgrades. This drove Cyprus’ borrowing costs higher.

A Closer Look at the Banks

According to CNBC, the Cypriot banking sector is about eight times the size of the economy with almost $19 billion, or one-third of all deposits, coming from Russian sources. Dmitry Rybolovlev, the largest Russian investor, has almost a 10% stake in the Bank of Cyprus equaling $8 billion to $10 billion.

The Canadian Press reports that the Russian elite use Cypriot banks to avoid political uncertainty and corruption in Russia. In addition, money earned through illegal means is often funneled to Cyprus because of its policy of turning a blind eye. Russia estimates that $49 billion was illegally wired to foreign accounts last year – 2.5% of Russia’s GDP.

There’s concern that if Cyprus imposes capital controls, Russian banks could face losses equal to 2% of the country’s GDP because Russian banks have loaned Cyprus-based companies of Russian origin $40 billion. Although Russian officials may show outward discontent for the practice, their actions prove that it’s as Russian as the cosmonaut.

What’s the Story on the Bailout?

Cyprus was systemically damaged due to its exposure to Greece. It, like Greece and so many other countries, was forced to ask the European Union for a bailout but this time the EU didn’t reluctantly say yes, as it repeatedly did with Greece.

Instead, the EU said, “If we’re going to help you, you can first help yourself.” That was the beginning of a controversial and unprecedented move to force everybody with money deposited in a Cypriot bank to pay for the bailout.

Who threw the biggest fit? Germany, and most would say rightfully so. They are tired of being the “go to” place for the EU when it needs money. Michael Fuchs, deputy parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party said, “Why should Germans bail out these people and they are not willing to accept at least a minor bailing out by themselves?”

With Chancellor Angela Merkel facing election in September, she can no longer afford to hand out Germany’s money without much regard for public sentiment. This was clearly a public display for the sake of her country.

What resulted wasn’t a small tax; anybody with more than 100,000 euros in deposits could pay a 9.9% tax, and those with less than 100,000 euros, a 6.75 % tax. The idea was simple: Stick it to the Russians – let them pay for the bailout. But during what had to be a very late meeting with an empty coffee pot, somehow they forgot about Cypriot citizens who are also bank depositors and living in a country deep in recession. The plan is supposed to raise 5.8 billion euros, but there may be a new plan on the horizon.

Monday just so happened to be a bank holiday (hardly a coincidence) so there could be no run on the banks to get the money out before the tax was imposed. Once it became clear that parliament was not going to vote to adopt this plan, the state-run banking system said they were remaining closed until at least Thursday. (So politicians in favor of this plan could lobby for votes.)

What now seems clear is that Cyprus should brew some stronger coffee and come up with a better plan.

CNBC reports that the first 20,000 euros could be exempt or those with savings up to 100,000 euros might only pay a 3% tax.

What Does This Mean to the World?

First, it means that the way banks do business can no longer be completely trusted. Dennis Gartman, author of The Gartman Letter, said Monday, “The very nature of banking has been shaken to its roots.”

Imagine if you woke up Sunday morning to an email from your bank saying, “As a result of an agreement with government officials, 6.75% of your bank account will be withdrawn before the beginning of the business day.” You would reconsider keeping your money in any bank. That’s the fear going forward. How safe is a person’s money in any bank around the world if this precedent is set?

Second, the United States has been in a bull market not just because of the Fed injecting money into the economy but because the drama in Europe that made headlines over the past couple of years has been noticeably absent. Investors are worried that this story signals the return of eurozone troubles.

Talk about blindsided. Friday was a normal day in the recent bull market; although the market sold off slightly, the fact that the Dow continues to print all-time highs is barely news anymore. Investors went into the weekend thinking all was well, but when news that Cyprus had entered into a bailout deal with the European Union emerged, investors were blindsided.

First, where is Cyprus? Cyprus is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, east of Greece and South of Turkey. It’s one of those sleepy countries that frankly isn’t large enough for most of the investing world to care about. According to the CIA Factbook, the country has a population of 1.1 million – about as many people as the state of Rhode Island. The country is 77% Greek, 18% Turkish and 5% other ethnicities with a median age of 35.

Its land mass is about 7,800 square miles – roughly the size of New Jersey. This doesn’t sound like a country that would become the subject of international headlines, but there’s a lot more to the story.

It’s Greece All over Again

Until 2009, Cyprus had turned its economy around. After a deficit of 6.3% in 2003, it implemented a series of austerity measures that gave it a surplus of 1.2% in 2008. When the recession hit, Cyprus fell back on hard times because of its large exposure to Greek debt. In 2012, the country contracted by 2.3%.

The country was downgraded numerous times in 2012 with agencies like Fitch giving it a BB- rating and warning of further downgrades. This drove Cyprus’ borrowing costs higher.

A Closer Look at the Banks

According to CNBC, the Cypriot banking sector is about eight times the size of the economy with almost $19 billion, or one-third of all deposits, coming from Russian sources. Dmitry Rybolovlev, the largest Russian investor, has almost a 10% stake in the Bank of Cyprus equaling $8 billion to $10 billion.

The Canadian Press reports that the Russian elite use Cypriot banks to avoid political uncertainty and corruption in Russia. In addition, money earned through illegal means is often funneled to Cyprus because of its policy of turning a blind eye. Russia estimates that $49 billion was illegally wired to foreign accounts last year – 2.5% of Russia’s GDP.

There’s concern that if Cyprus imposes capital controls, Russian banks could face losses equal to 2% of the country’s GDP because Russian banks have loaned Cyprus-based companies of Russian origin $40 billion. Although Russian officials may show outward discontent for the practice, their actions prove that it’s as Russian as the cosmonaut.

What’s the Story on the Bailout?

Cyprus was systemically damaged due to its exposure to Greece. It, like Greece and so many other countries, was forced to ask the European Union for a bailout but this time the EU didn’t reluctantly say yes, as it repeatedly did with Greece.

Instead, the EU said, “If we’re going to help you, you can first help yourself.” That was the beginning of a controversial and unprecedented move to force everybody with money deposited in a Cypriot bank to pay for the bailout.

Who threw the biggest fit? Germany, and most would say rightfully so. They are tired of being the “go to” place for the EU when it needs money. Michael Fuchs, deputy parliamentary leader of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party said, “Why should Germans bail out these people and they are not willing to accept at least a minor bailing out by themselves?”

With Chancellor Angela Merkel facing election in September, she can no longer afford to hand out Germany’s money without much regard for public sentiment. This was clearly a public display for the sake of her country.

What resulted wasn’t a small tax; anybody with more than 100,000 euros in deposits could pay a 9.9% tax, and those with less than 100,000 euros, a 6.75 % tax. The idea was simple: Stick it to the Russians – let them pay for the bailout. But during what had to be a very late meeting with an empty coffee pot, somehow they forgot about Cypriot citizens who are also bank depositors and living in a country deep in recession. The plan is supposed to raise 5.8 billion euros, but there may be a new plan on the horizon.

Monday just so happened to be a bank holiday (hardly a coincidence) so there could be no run on the banks to get the money out before the tax was imposed. Once it became clear that parliament was not going to vote to adopt this plan, the state-run banking system said they were remaining closed until at least Thursday. (So politicians in favor of this plan could lobby for votes.)

What now seems clear is that Cyprus should brew some stronger coffee and come up with a better plan. CNBC reports that the first 20,000 euros could be exempt or those with savings up to 100,000 euros might only pay a 3% tax.

What Does This Mean to the World?

First, it means that the way banks do business can no longer be completely trusted. Dennis Gartman, author of The Gartman Letter, said Monday, “The very nature of banking has been shaken to its roots.”

Imagine if you woke up Sunday morning to an email from your bank saying, “As a result of an agreement with government officials, 6.75% of your bank account will be withdrawn before the beginning of the business day.” You would reconsider keeping your money in any bank. That’s the fear going forward. How safe is a person’s money in any bank around the world if this precedent is set?

Second, the United States has been in a bull market not just because of the Fed injecting money into the economy but because the drama in Europe that made headlines over the past couple of years has been noticeably absent. Investors are worried that this story signals the return of eurozone troubles.

20130320-221933.jpg

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2 Comments

Posted by on March 20, 2013 in General Knowledge, International News

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

2 responses to “The Cyprus Crisis 101 : Story Behind the Bailout

  1. GK

    March 21, 2013 at 11:38 am

    Cyprus is my favorite country. Its beautiful island i wish to visit once. I wish Cyprus strongly come out of financial crisis soon.

     

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