Cyprus – Oh The Irony!
In history seemingly innocuous events portend more serious outcomes – albeit we recognise them in hind(e)sight. This is the dramatic irony of history. Just as a single shot in Sarajevo, took out a largely unknown European aristocrat, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who would have known then that the world would plunge into World War I. The Cypriot savers must have thought the authorities were being highly ironic, of the Socratic kind, when they were told they were receiving a bail-out, except it was a “bail-in”. I don’t know the Greek/Turkish for – you are having a laugh, but I bet that’s what they are saying. So what is a bail-in?
A bail-in takes place before a bankruptcy, and involves losses being imposed on bondholders, something that has rarely taken place throughout the GFC and euro crisis. In fact taxpayers (the government) have consistently bailed-out the private sector in full. The Cypriot bank rescue is no exception, except this time there is a bail-in and ironically again not of bondholders but of the depositors first. This is a direct contravention to the usual legal claims on the capital structure.
So there you have it – on Friday 14th March Cyprus became the 5th country to receive an EU bail-out (in), except this one was a bail-in but one with a significant and severe twist of fate. The Cypriot government in Nicosia is scheduled to vote on a EU bail-out plan which calls to extract a “tax” on bank depositors (savers) some €5.8 billion: 6.75 per cent for anyone with less than €100,000 in a Cypriot bank account, 9.9 per cent for anyone with more than that.
This is an unprecedented assault on individual property rights and every individual in the developed world should take notice, and far from stabilising the eurozone, the bail-out likely heightens contagion risk across the EU.
Why bother holding a bank account when your government can expropriate your savings? Far from containing a bank run in Cyprus it will exacerbate it, absent capital controls, and likely begin significant depositor flights across the European periphery.
These events I believe signify one of the most alarming developments in the Eurozone crisis and by dint the global economy since the financial crisis began.
Cypriot Disputes and Levies
For a sovereign entity so small, Cyprus is a country that has had more than its fair share of international controversy and disputes. Cyprus has a long and convoluted history with the British, Turks and Greeks, whose tensions have wreaked havoc across Europe over two World Wars. This weekend marked yet another period of disquiet in the history of this troubled island.
Cyprus is reeling from an oversized and ailing banking system. Technically bankrupt, domestic banks stand at €126.4 billion in size, or over 7 times the size of the economy. Without a bail-in, depositors would be wiped out and Cyprus would undergo economic collapse, bringing along with it all the attendant social misery and deprivation of a depression.
Ironically Cyprus is no stranger to levies. The British extracted taxes in the 19th century to cover the compensation they owed to the Ottoman Sultanate, who had conceded the island to the British.
In 1878, under the Cyprus Convention, the Cyprus became a protectorate of the British in a secret agreement between the United Kingdom and Ottoman Empire. The Greek Cypriots believed the British would eventually help Cyprus unite with mother Greece, just as with the other Ionian Islands. The indigenous Cypriots believed it their natural right to reunite the island with Greece; after all the very first census showed the population was comprised of 74% Greeks and 24% Turks.
Fast forward half a century and most of us over the age of 40 refer to the Cyprus dispute as that of the conflict between the Republic of Cyprus, and Turkey, over Turkish-occupied North Cyprus. My knowledge of the origins of the Cyprus dispute is a little sketchy but as I understand it, the dispute originally was born out of the Cypriots’ desire for self-determination away from the British Crown, which had unlawfully declared itself the constitutional ruler after Greece failed to fulfil its WWI obligations to invade Bulgaria; in return the Republic of Turkey recognized British rule of the island.
Eventually this colonial dispute became an ethnic one between Greek and Turkish islanders and their respective mother countries. In 1974 Turkey invaded Northern Cyprus and declared unilateral independence, as well as itself a sovereign entity – the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus – but has never received UN and international recognition. There has been a UN no-go zone buffering North and South ever since. read more zero hedge