The Dow is at an all-time high, first time jobless claims are near a post-recession low, the real estate market is beginning to boom again, foreclosures are falling sharply.
And yet, you have a thing like this:
ATHENS — In a move that could set off new fears of contagion across the euro zone, anxious depositors lined up at cash machines in Cyprus on Saturday to withdraw money hours after European officials in Brussels required that part of a new 10 billion euro bailout must be paid for directly from the bank accounts of ordinary savers.
The move — a first in the three-year-old European financial crisis — revived fears that bank runs could be set off elsewhere in the euro zone, especially after a top European official on Saturday declined to rule out similar measures on depositors in countries beyond Cyprus.Under an emergency deal reached early Saturday in Brussels, a one-time tax of 9.9 percent is to be levied on Cypriot bank deposits of more than 100,000 euros effective Tuesday, hitting wealthy depositors — mostly Russians who have put vast sums into Cyprus banks in recent years. But even deposits under that amount would be taxed at 6.75 percent, meaning that Cyprus’s creditors will be taking money directly from pensioners, workers and regular depositors to pay off the bailout tab.“What the deal reflects is that being an unsecured or even secured depositor in euro area banks is not as safe as it used to be,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, an economist and European specialist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. “We are in a new world.”
Market Oracle puts this in some perspective:
Overnight last night, the Eurogroup (Eurozone executive committee) negotiated a deal for a bailout of the banking system in Cyprus. As part of the deal, a one-time, one-off levy on depositors was agreed: deposits below €100,000 are subject to a 6.75% levy, while those over €100,000 are subject to a 9.99% "fine".
While none of the timing is surprising - late Friday, early Saturday is always the ideal time to push such measures down people's throats -, neither did it come as a surprise that a bank run ensued as soon as those few Cypriot banks that do business on Saturday mornings, opened their doors.
This had been foreseen, of course. And so capital controls had been set up beforehand. In this case, limited deposit withdrawals and a full suspension of internet banking. The justification for all this can be found in the large amounts of Russian - allegedly black market - deposits in Cyprus. But while that may be presented as justification, it's by no means not where the potential fall-out will halt.
After all, what's to say that what can be done to depositors in Cyprus' banks, cannot just as easily be repeated for Greek, Italian, Spanish ones? If the EU wasn't yet scared enough of Beppe Grillo and his still surging popularity, now would be a good time to start being afraid. While everyone's focus is on the Russian mob, nobody (just read the press reports today) talks about the law-abiding Cypriots who see their hard earned savings wealth forcibly taken from them. Nobody but the likes of Grillo, that is. Who said earlier this week that (northern) Europe would drop Italy like a stone once German, French and Dutch banks have shed their risky Italian assets.
Besides, if you think the Russian deposit holders are fatally wounded right now, think again. They've seen this coming for at least 6 months, they've had all the time they need to move assets around, and, if anything, will simply use this decision to launder a lot of capital, and happily pay a 10% fee for the honor.
Cyprus is small, and the hope is that hardly anyone will notice what happens there, or be interested. But throughout the Eurozone over the past five years, deposit guarantees have risen, in a so far pretty successful attempt to prevent bank runs. Overnight, that model has now been thrown out with the bathwater. And all of Europe should be wary of what happened. A precedent has been set, and what's good for the goose fits the gander.
Not that German, French, Dutch depositors will lose sleep right this moment, but then that's precisely the idea. The EU core nations have so far been able to convince their citizens that they are rich and their economies recovering, and everything's under control. Moreover, the story that Russian criminals get a 10% haircut goes down well among the respectable citizenry. What happens if and when Italy or Spain need a bailout like Cyprus is not even considered. But maybe that's not so smart.
The Cyprus bailout was ostensibly executed to "save the Eurozone”. And it was presented as a one-off. But so was Greece and its forced haircuts for investors. You can only have so many one-offs and remain credible. European economies are all still deteriorating, though admittedly there are a few choice German numbers that are not all bad. But there can be no doubt that pressure on the EU/Eurogroup to step in again in some country will arise some time soon. Will that country's depositors leave their money in the bank when that threat becomes real, or will they take it out? What would you do now the Cyprus example is in place?
Don't worry, the economy is turning around.
Ignore the signs from abroad.
Law-abiding Cypriots having their money taken forcibly from them late Friday/early Saturday?
That could never happen here.
Go back to sleep, America.
You're government has it all under control.
You're safe, and so's your money - if you have any.
Just keep spending.
Run up those credit cards again.
Buy that house you've had your eye on.
It's all turned around and everything's swell in Barack Obama's Bank of America, er, United States of America.