May 24, 2013
A Safe and a Shotgun or Publicly Owned Banks? The Battle of Cyprus
Posted on Mar 22, 2013
By Ellen Brown, Web of Debt
This article first appeared at Web of Debt.
The deposit confiscation scheme has long been in the making. US depositors could be next . . . .
On Tuesday, March 19, the national legislature of Cyprus overwhelmingly rejected a proposed levy on bank deposits as a condition for a European bailout. Reuters called it “a stunning setback for the 17-nation currency bloc,” but it was a stunning victory for democracy. As Reuters quoted one 65-year-old pensioner, “The voice of the people was heard.”
The EU had warned that it would withhold €10 billion in bailout loans, and the European Central Bank (ECB) had threatened to end emergency lending assistance for distressed Cypriot banks, unless depositors – including small savers – shared the cost of the rescue. In the deal rejected by the legislature, a one-time levy on depositors would be required in return for a bailout of the banking system. Deposits below €100,000 would be subject to a 6.75% levy or “haircut”, while those over €100,000 would have been subject to a 9.99% “fine.”
The Long-planned Confiscation Scheme
The deal pushed by the “troika” – the EU, ECB and IMF – has been characterized as a one-off event devised as an emergency measure in this one extreme case. But the confiscation plan has long been in the making, and it isn’t limited to Cyprus.
In a September 2011 article in the Bulletin of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand titled “A Primer on Open Bank Resolution,” Kevin Hoskin and Ian Woolford discussed a very similar haircut plan that had been in the works, they said, since the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The article referenced recommendations made in 2010 and 2011 by the Basel Committee of the Bank for International Settlements, the “central bankers’ central bank” in Switzerland.
The purpose of the plan, called the Open Bank Resolution (OBR), is to deal with bank failures when they have become so expensive that governments are no longer willing to bail out the lenders. The authors wrote that the primary objectives of OBR are to:
• ensure that, as far as possible, any losses are ultimately borne by the bank’s shareholders and creditors . . . .
The spectrum of “creditors” is defined to include depositors:
Most people would be surprised to learn that they are legally considered “creditors” of their banks rather than customers who have trusted the bank with their money for safekeeping, but that seems to be the case. According to Wikipedia:
The bank gets the money. The depositor becomes only a creditor with an IOU. The bank is not required to keep the deposits available for withdrawal but can lend them out, keeping only a “fraction” on reserve, following accepted fractional reserve banking principles. When too many creditors come for their money at once, the result can be a run on the banks and bank failure.
The New Zealand OBR said the creditors had all enjoyed a return on their investments and had freely accepted the risk, but most people would be surprised to learn that too. What return do you get from a bank on a deposit account these days? And isn’t your deposit protected against risk by FDIC deposit insurance?
Not anymore, apparently. As Martin Hutchinson observed in Money Morning, “if governments can just seize deposits by means of a ‘tax’ then deposit insurance is worth absolutely zippo.”
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