Greeks Withdraw $1 Billion a Day as they Await for Decisive Vote

REUTERS | JUNE 13, 2012

Greeks pulled their cash out of the banks and stocked up with food ahead of a cliffhanger election on Sunday that many fear will result in the country being forced out of the euro.

Bankers said up to 800 million euros ($1 billion) were leaving major banks daily and retailers said some of the money was being used to buy pasta and canned goods, as fears of returning to the drachma were fanned by rumors that a radical leftist leader may win the election.

The last published opinion polls showed the conservative New Democracy party, which backs the 130 billion euro ($160 billion) bailout that is keeping Greece afloat, running neck and neck with the leftist Syriza party, which wants to cancel the rescue deal.

As the election approaches, publishing polls is now legally banned and in the ensuing information vacuum, party officials have been leaking contradictory “secret polls”.

On Tuesday, one rumor making the rounds was that Syriza was leading by a wide margin.

“This is nonsense,” one reputable Greek pollster said on condition of anonymity. “Our polls show the picture has not changed much since the last polls were published. Parties may be leaking these numbers on purpose to boost their standing.”

The pollster said there was some consolidation, with voters turning to New Democracy and Syriza from smaller parties but the pool of undecided voters remained unusually large so close to the election and the result was impossible to predict.

Both parties say they want Greece to remain in the single currency but Syriza has pledged to scrap the bailout agreement signed in March which has imposed some of the toughest austerity measures seen in Europe in decades.

The European Union and International Monetary Funds have warned that Greece, which has only enough cash to last for a few weeks, must stick to the conditions of the bailout deal or risk seeing funds cut off.

Euro Or Drachma Dilemma

New Democracy has been telling voters they must choose between the euro or the drachma, while Syriza promises to end the austerity measures imposed by Greece’s international lenders, such as salary and pension cuts, that have driven many Greeks into abject poverty.

Fears that Greece will collapse financially and leave the euro have slowly drained Greek banks over the last two years. Central bank figures show that deposits shrank by about 17 percent, or 35.4 billion euros ($44.4 billion) in 2011 and stood 165.9 billion euros ($208.1 billion) at end-April.

Bankers said the pace was picking up ahead of the vote, with combined daily deposit outflows from the major banks at 500-800 million euros ($625 million to $1 billion) over the past few days, and 10-30 million euros ($12-36 million) at smaller banks.

“This includes cash withdrawals, wire transfers and investments into money market funds, German Bonds, U.S. Treasuries and EIB bonds,” said one banker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Retailers said consumers were stocking up on non-perishable food while almost all other goods were seeing a huge drop in sales as cash-strapped Greeks have no money to spare in the country’s fifth year of recession.

“People are terrified by the prospect of returning to the drachma and some believe it’s good to fill their cupboard with food products,” said Vassilis Korkidis, head of the ESEE retail federation.

“It’s over the top, we must not panic. Filling the cupboard with food doesn’t mean we will escape the crisis,” he said.

Global Bank Run Begins in Greece

by Ferry Batzoglou
Spiegel Online
December 6, 2011

Many Greeks are draining their savings accounts because they are out of work, face rising taxes or are afraid the country will be forced to leave the euro zone. By withdrawing money, they are forcing banks to scale back their lending — and are inadvertently making the recession even worse.

Georgios Provopoulos, the governor of the central bank of Greece, is a man of statistics, and they speak a clear language. “In September and October, savings and time deposits fell by a further 13 to 14 billion euros. In the first 10 days of November the decline continued on a large scale,” he recently told the economic affairs committee of the Greek parliament.

With disarming honesty, the central banker explained to the lawmakers why the Greek economy isn’t managing to recover from a recession that has gone on for three years now: “Our banking system lacks the scope to finance growth.”

He means that the outflow of funds from Greek bank accounts has been accelerating rapidly. At the start of 2010, savings and time deposits held by private households in Greece totalled €237.7 billion — by the end of 2011, they had fallen by €49 billion. Since then, the decline has been gaining momentum. Savings fell by a further €5.4 billion in September and by an estimated €8.5 billion in October — the biggest monthly outflow of funds since the start of the debt crisis in late 2009.

The raid on bank accounts stems from deep uncertainty in Greek households which culminated in early November during the political turmoil that followed the announcement by then-Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou of a referendum on the second Greek bailout package.

Papandreou withdrew the plan and stepped down following an outcry among other European leaders against the referendum, and a new government was formed on Nov. 11 under former central banker Loukas Papademos. That appears to have slowed the drop in bank savings, at least for the time being.

Bank Withdrawals Worsening Crisis

Nevertheless, the Greeks today only have €170 billion in savings — almost 30 percent less than at the start of 2010.

The hemorrhaging of bank savings has had a disastrous impact on the economy. Many companies have had to tap into their reserves during the recession because banks have become more reluctant to lend. More Greek families are now living off their savings because they have lost their jobs or have had their salaries or pensions cut.

In August, unemployment reached 18.4 percent. Many Greeks now hoard their savings in their homes because they are worried the banking system may collapse.

Those who can are trying to shift their funds abroad. The Greek central bank estimates that around a fifth of the deposits withdrawn have been moved out of the country. “There is a lot of uncertainty,” says Panagiotis Nikoloudis, president of the National Agency for Combating Money Laundering.

The banks are exploiting that insecurity. “They are asking their customers whether they wouldn’t rather invest their money in Liechtenstein, Switzerland or Germany.”

Nikoloudis has detected a further trend. At first, it was just a few people trying to withdraw large sums of money. Now it’s large numbers of people moving small sums. Ypatia K., a 55-year-old bank worker from Athens, can confirm that. “The customers, especially small savers, have recently been withdrawing sums of €3,000, €4,000 or €5,000. That was panic,” she said.

Marina S., a 74-year-old widow from Athens, said she has to be extra careful with money these days. “I have no choice but to withdraw money from my savings,” she said.

Bad Loans

The shrinking Greek bank deposits compare with bank loans totalling €253 million. Analysts say the share of bad loans could rise to 20 percent next year, or €50 billion, as a result of the recession. This in turn will worsen the already pressing liquidity problems faced by Greek banks.

Nikos B., a doctor in the Greek military, has had enough of the never-ending crisis his country is going through. While the 31-year-old has a secure job, repeated salary cuts have made it increasingly hard for him to make ends meet.

He needs most of his money to make loan repayments for a small car. “How can I clear my account? There’s hardly anything in it,” he says. He started learning German two months ago and wants to leave Greece. “As soon as possible!”

Nikos pauses and looks down. He quietly utters words that must be painful for a proud Greek. “It would be best to change nationality.”

Is 2011 the Year of the Bank Run?

CNN Money

Some market watchers say yes, pointing ominously to the torrents of money pouring out of Ireland.

Irish bank deposits declined in November for the fourth straight month, the central bank said last week. Overseas deposits fled the country at their fastest pace in more than a year.

The deposit flight compounds the stress on a financial system whose massive property-lending losses already have driven the government to accept an unpopular bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Worse yet, it shows that the solutions policymakers slapped together in the fall of 2008 helped in some cases to create even bigger problems — ones that are now coming due.

Unconditionally guaranteeing bank deposits is just such a policy, in a country where loan losses made the banks insolvent, job loss left many taxpayers peniless and deposits now at least double annual economic output.

And this time, given the unpopularity of bailouts and dysfunctional European politics, there is ample reason to fear the banking mess won’t so easily be swept aside.

“Facing facts like these, each morning when I wake up I have to wonder, ‘Why is today not a good day for a wholesale run on the Irish banking system?'” asks Scott Minerd, chief investment officer at Guggenheim Partners. “And if there is a wholesale run on the Irish banking system, then what stops the same scenario from cascading into Portugal, Greece, Italy, and most importantly, Spain?”

That is very much the question being asked in bond markets, where the cost of borrowing surged in all the so-called peripheral European countries in the second half of 2010. The yield on Irish 10-year government bonds, for instance, surged to 9% at year-end from around 5% in August.

The high cost of market borrowing ties the hands of government officials who have promised to ride to the rescue of the bubble-ridden banks. Ireland has already ponied up outlandish sums to keep the banks afloat. Officials have said at every turn they believed they had the ability to stabilize the system, but stability has remained beyond their reach.

Now, with the state locked out of the bond market and the banks losing depositors, who is going to lend in an economy that already has shrunk drastically from its bubbly size of just a few years ago?

Bank runs “will seriously undermine the prosperity of this country for a generation,” Pimco’s Mohammed El-Erian said in November. He said the first steps to stemming the run would include “a big external aid package and steps by the Irish government.”

The IMF, the EU and the Irish government committed to those steps this fall. But there is still no sign people in Ireland or elsewhere believe the $113 billion bailout package will keep their money safe. Among many other things, there has been a rush out of the euro for the Swiss franc, not to mention the ever-present embrace of gold.

On Minerd’s mind 

The flight from Irish banks has been most pronounced among foreigners, who presumably are less attached to their bailed-out bankers and can easily find other banks that, at least for the moment, appear less apt to go out of business.

Some 20 billion euros ($27 billion) of overseas deposits fled the country in November alone, according to the Central Bank of Ireland. The level of foreign deposits has plunged 28% in the past year and is down 42% from its bubbly peak.

But don’t blame just the foreigners. Domestic deposits tumbled by 6.3 billion euros in November, in their steepest decline since August 2009.

All told, the Irish banking system’s deposit base has contracted by 15% over the past year — which isn’t making it any easier for taxpayers to keep the deeply troubled banking sector afloat.

Meanwhile, the aid the Irish banks took from the eurosystem more than doubled over the past year, to 97 billion euros from 45 billion in November 2009.

The flight of deposits from troubled Irish banks is an unhappy irony because Ireland was lauded in some quarters in 2008 when it became the first state to guarantee bank deposits. That decision led to a short-lived surge of funds into the Irish banks — not that the money stuck around for long. Since the late 2008 peak, more than 100 billion euros of overseas deposits have left the Irish banking system.

When you consider that similar trends could easily play out in the other euro countries, you have the recipe for a hangover-inducing New Year that is likely, in the view of Minerd, to see the euro plunge anew against the dollar. He expects the euro to test its decadelong low against the dollar of 85 cents before all is said and done, compared with a recent $1.33.

“As sovereign credit downgrades continue to flow in and deposits in Europe’s weakened banking system flow out, a broader crisis in Europe appears to be imminent in 2011,” says Minerd.