RBS: 'Cyprus: The World's Biggest Poker Game'
by Harvinder Sian and Michael Michaelides of RBS,
Cyprus: the world’s biggest “poker game”
The deal to effectively haircut Cypriot deposits is an unprecedented move in the Euro crisis and highlights the limits of solidarity and the raw economics that somebody has to pay. It is also the most dangerous gambit that EMU leaders have made to date.
- What did they do? Hit depositors.
- Why did they do it? Politics, economics, and because they think they can get away with it.
- Cyprus needs to vote on this and any delay of opening the banks on Tuesday is more risk-off.
- Short term market reaction: Risk-off. The situation is fluid but watch politics, Cyprus bank runs risk, weak periphery banks impact and rating agencies. Worst case scenario? EMU exit talk. The Best case scenario? Germany is correct and the ECB bridges the time to when this is clear.
- Big picture: This is toxic and a policy error.
- Long bunds, sell the euro, sell periphery, Spain could underperform Italy, but nobody in the periphery wins.
1. What did they do?
In the early hours of this weekend, the Troika decided to impose an effective haircut to both uninsured and even more interestingly insured (<€100k) Cypriot bank deposits. More precisely, the €10bn bank rescue in Cyprus will end up with a bail-in on junior bondholders and a one-time tax on depositors. Deposits below €100k will be taxed 6.75%, and those above at 9.9%, for a total contribution of €5.8bn. Depositors will receive bank equity as compensation and the Cypriot President has offered Gas-linked notes if deposits are kept in the country for two years.
In addition, the Eurogroup expects the Russian government to come to an agreement with Cyprus soon to make a contribution to the rescue.
The Eurogroup head, Dutchman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, has refused to rule out that Cyprus will be the last instance where deposit holders get hit. Olli Rehn however has ruled this out by saying Cyprus is unique. The difference is that Mr Dijsselbloem represents the views of national finance ministers and leaders.
2. Why did they do it?
There is an excess debt problem and somebody has to pay. The division of costs is a policy choice.
The typical choices beyond growth and inflation, are via (a) getting friendly foreigners to pay such as Germany/EFSF/ESM etc; (b) getting wealthy domestics to pay (c) forcing the debtor nation to make good the loans over time through austerity; and (d) force losses on creditors such as the expropriation of SNS Reaal subordinated bonds, losses on Anglo Irish senior bonds, OSI, and of course PSI.
The signal is on the limits of core solidarity
The haircut on the deposit base in Cyprus is unique in hitting the most secure ladder in bank capital, when Cypriot government bonds and senior bank paper are still planned to be made whole. That policy choice was unexpected. One key message is that the decision represents visible evidence of the limits of core EMU solidarity. In truth, this was already evident via the ESM’s seniority and the CACs in 1y+ new government bonds.
...and the limits of the economics
According to media reports (FT) the Cypriot leaders were felt to be left with little choice. We discuss this below but why should Germany, other core countries and even the ECB threaten to take down the Cyprus’ largest banks or threaten full bail-in of depositors? The answer is that resources are limited. Core EMU is not large enough to bailout the periphery risk and so default has to be part of the solution.
Politicians are taking on the prospect that Cyprus is not systemic
Behind this political and economic backdrop is also another crucial factor: The implicit gambit here from the Troika is that the actions in Cyprus will not have systemic consequences. For instance, UK Sky television sources reported that this was indeed the message to the Cypriots over the weekend.
Is that true? Yes, on a myopic level this is correct. Cyprus has special features which include the size of the banking sector with assets of €126.4bn, or over 7-times GDP. The deposit base is €68bn, of with over €20bn is by non residents, mostly Russian. Moreover, there was little else in the banking sector to haircut with around €2bn in senior and sub, and PSI in Cypriot government bonds is was always problematic given that a large share of the debt is under English law where the CACs mean 25% holdings can provide a block while 55% domestic debt ownership implies PSI would necessitate further bank recapitalisation.
- In other words, breaking the taboo on hitting depositors, was a deliberate policy on politics, economics and a ‘bet’ from the Trokia that Cyprus’ problems will not radiate into more widespread Euro risk concerns.
- Very clearly, the OMT announcement effect coupled with the moderate reaction to SNS Reaal, Anglo Irish, and Italian elections have helped to embolden political ‘poker-like’ tactics with the markets.