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18 March 2013

The Extraordinary Thing Is That There Hasn't Yet Been A Bank Run Across The Mediterranean


 There comes a point when bank runs are rational

By Daniel Hannan
It is irrational to start a bank run, Mervyn King once observed, but rational to join one. It remains to be seen whether the EU has irrationally started one with its expropriations in Cyprus; but there is no question that it is rational for anyone with a bank account in the Mediterranean eurozone states to join in.

Until now, the EU has sought to reassure depositors by guaranteeing – absolutely guaranteeing – that savings up to €100,000 are secure, a pledge solemnly repeated by the Cyprus government. Any Cypriots who believed that assurance now know better. The EU got around its promise through a disgusting ruse. The banks are not technically bust, and so the deposit insurance doesn't apply; and the seizure is theoretically a wealth tax rather than a loss.

What would you do now if you had savings in a Greek, Spanish or Portuguese bank? Or an Italian bank? Or even a French bank? It's not as though you're getting any interest anyway. And now it turns out that, despite all the promises, your savings are vulnerable to arbitrary confiscation.

In theory, the European Central Bank is ready to step in in the event of a panic by depositors. But its funds have already been heavily tapped. Italian banks now hold €281 billion in ECB loans, Spanish banks €278 billion. Huge as these numbers are, they are only a tiny proportion of the total banking sectors of those two countries: less than 8 per cent.

Cyprus is not a one-off, but a grisly forerunner. As I argue in the Daily Mail, Brussels has plainly decided that the only way out of the euro crisis is to come after savers. A bank run, as I say, is rational.

Indeed, the curious thing is that it hasn't yet happened. The rich have moved out of these countries, stashing funds in Switzerland and snapping up properties in London. But, even in Greece, the overall level of bank deposits has fallen by just 30 per cent since the crisis struck. Do the Greeks know something we don't?

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