Cyprus – The Waterloo of Eurocratic management or the ultimate catalyst for Euro zone growth?

3/18/2013 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…

While the management of the ongoing banking crises on this side of the Atlantic has been dishonest, the management on the other side of the pond, or in today’s case, sea, has been an unmitigated disaster.  Or so it would seem.

We are talking about Cyprus.  For those who have yet to hear about Cyprus, it is an island nation located in the far eastern Mediterranean Sea, just below Turkey.  It is currently inhabited by a fiery mix of Greeks and Turks, who have lived in an uneasy peace with each other for some 40 years after the events that took place during the summer of 1974.

Like many island nations, Cyprus has been able to find common ground with those who have been unable to find common ground on the mainland.  It has found that it can leverage its sovereignty and willingness to bend the rules to offer banking services without the nagging regulations which increasingly plague banks and their clients in the Western nations on the mainland.

Now that the government of Cyprus is bankrupt and in need of a bailout, showing that even a tax and banking paradise can be poisoned by a bad currency, they have gone hat in hand to Belgium, a strange country in the north with absolutely nothing in common with Cyprus, save the currency in question.

The Eurocratic apparatus in Belgium, either on its own or at the behest of the global banking giants in Cyprus, has decided that the terms of the bailout, or “bail in”, which is the Euro friendly way to say “Corralito,” {Editor’s Note:  Corralito is the Argentinean term for when the Government decides to unilaterally make use of the funds in its country’s banks to fund the government because there is literally no one willing to lend them currency on any terms}, would be the direct confiscation of funds from depositors bank accounts in the form of a tax, in this case between 3 and 9.9% (because 10% just looks bad in print) to ultimately pay back the countries who have been generous enough to provide the funds, which, despite the technicalities involved, for most Europeans means Germany.

Predictably, the people of Cyprus, who caught wind of the confirmation of the rumors on Friday and awoke Monday to find that their government had declared what is, at this writing, an indefinite banking holiday (meaning banks and ATMs are closed) to prevent anyone who did not want to participate in the bail in from withdrawing their funds from the country’s banks, are channeling their anger at the German Embassy, quite naturally:

Henry Blodget has written a decent analysis on the details of the Cyprus bail in over at the Daily Ticker.  Blodget does a good job of analyzing the events up until the point where He presumes:

“…the moment depositors think that there is risk to their savings, they rush to banks to yank their money out.

That’s called a run on the bank.

And since no bank anywhere has enough cash on hand to pay off all its depositors at once, runs on the bank cause banks to go bust.

That’s what happened to hundreds of banks in the Great Depression.

And it’s what happened to Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, and other huge banks during the financial crisis (though, with Bear and Lehman, the folks who yanked their money out weren’t mom and pop depositors but other big financial institutions). It’s what threatened to bring the entire U.S. financial system to its knees. And it’s why the U.S. and European governments have been frantically bailing out banks ever since.

But now, thanks to the eurozone’s bizarre decision in Cyprus, the illusion that depositors don’t need to yank their money out of threatened banks because they’ll be protected has been shattered.”

What Blodget presumes is that a bank run is bad for the bank.  Here at The Mint, we postulate that this tax on depositors is taken precisely for the benefit of the Cypriot banks.  Further, it has been taken not only for the benefit of the banks in Cypriot, but to serve as the catalyst for the Euro zone to return to growth, or the activities which pass as economic growth circa 2013.

How can this be?  To understand this will take a basic understanding of the banking revenue model.

Ever since 2008, the Federal Reserve and the ECB have been underwriting the banking sector by providing cheap cash to banks and, indirectly, the governments and people’s of their respective countries.  This is where Blodget’s parallel of today’s bank runs and those that occurred during the Great Depression falls apart.  For all of the mistakes that Ben Bernanke has made, the unconditional guarantee of liquidity in the banking system is the one that he will never relinquish, despite appeals to reason, for he mysteriously sees it as his life’s calling.

However, in an effort to stem the fall in asset prices, which is largely a product of the insane “jack the rate 25 basis points every month or so” policy that the Greenspan and Bernanke Fed followed from June 2004 until June 2006, the policy that caused markets to seize up like a car engine losing oil as they accelerated to record speeds, the Feds and the ECB have largely ignited an increase not in economic growth, but in bank deposits.

Bank deposits, far from being a boon to the receiving bank, are a huge problem when market conditions force them to reinvest (read lend out) those funds for rates that are unconscionably low (3.75% to consumers for 30 years, in a fiat currency system, are you out of your mind?).  Making matters worse, the consumers have been slow to take the bait, resulting in a big time squeeze on the traditional banking revenue model.

Enter Cyprus, an island that holds a disproportionate amount of bank deposits.  As a thinking Eurocrat, of which we suspect there are few, save Nile Farage, who is hunting for a way to both ensure that the banking revenue model continues to function, the government of Cyprus retains legitimacy, and that economic activity in the Euro zone will increase, the pile of Euros in Cypriot banks looks like a great target not to loot, as most analysis of the situation will paint this move as, but to force billions of Euros out of the digital vaults of the banking system to wash from the shores of Cyprus outwards into the other Euro zone countries in search of real goods, not simply another cash warehouse.

One sees the Eurocratic genius in the move at the moment one (again, that is you and I, fellow taxpayer) understands that the mere threat of a unilateral tax on deposits as a condition for a Euro zone bailout is causing lines to form at ATMs from Andalu to Cataluña, across the border into Torino and down to the lonely parts of Sicily.

Cyprus Flag
Will the Cyprus Misadventure by the catalyst for elusive economic growth in the Euro zone?

Within a matter of days, billions of Euros which were locked up in the accounts of villainous savers and otherwise useless to the European economy will be running around the Spanish and Italian streets in a desperate attempt to purchase anything real in which to hold said savings.

With what appears to have been a typically boneheaded Eurocratic move, the Eurocrats may have managed to do what Ben Bernanke and all of the helicopters in the world could not have done to the club Med economies:  Shower them with foolishly spent cash while at the same time bailing out both the banks and the governments as a grotesque side effect.

To be sure, it is a short term fix and will leave the Euro zone further down the scorched earth economy path in a matter of years.  Even so, you have to give the Eurocrats some credit for pulling out all the stops, even if they did stumble upon their ultimate stimulus, which relies upon their own stupidity to function, completely by accident.

Meanwhile in Cyprus, the latest is that the government wants to “think over” the terms of the bailout.  The formal vote has been postponed until Friday, and we presume that the banking holiday will remain in effect until after the vote is taken and any taxes are skimmed.

It is a hard assignment, and we do not envy them nor blame them for thinking it over.  The decision before Cyprus’ government officials is simple.  Should they accept the bailout, they face being blamed by their countrymen for sacrificing their parched island on the Eurocratic altar as well as spending the rest of their lives dodging the hit men of any oligarch’s who did not have sufficient forewarning of the move.

Should they reject the bailout, their government may even find a few contributions from said oligarchs to keep operating, and the only cost will be a few less German tourists on their shores, which, given the alternative, seems a small price to pay.

In the end, if our hunch is correct, the mere threat of corallito should be enough to stimulate the Euro zone.

Were we in their shoes, and we are glad we are not, we would reject the bailout.  Either way, it is a strong argument for exiting the formal banking system or becoming a large net creditor.  It is much easier for “crats” of any stripe to confiscate assets with a few keystrokes than for them to lift a finger to grab something in the real world.

Stay tuned and Trust Jesus.

Stay Fresh!

David Mint


Key Indicators for March 18, 2013 (PM)

Copper Price per Lb: $3.43
Oil Price per Barrel:  $93.79
Corn Price per Bushel:  $7.20
10 Yr US Treasury Bond:  1.96%
Gold Price Per Ounce:  $1,606 THE GOLD RUSH IS STILL ON!
MINT Perceived Target Rate*:  0.25%
Unemployment Rate:  7.7%
Inflation Rate (CPI):  0.7%
Dow Jones Industrial Average:  14,452
M1 Monetary Base:  $2,466,100,000,000 LOTS OF DOUGH ON THE STREET!
M2 Monetary Base:  $10,499,300,000,000

Adios Pesetas: A look back at adoption of the Euro in Spain

3/18/2013 Portland, Oregon – Pop in your mints…

The following is an essay written by a dear friend of ours, Tom Baker, in February of 2002.  Tom and his wife have lived in the region of Catalunya for a number of years.  His observations regarding the currency transition which was about to take place in Spain from pesetas to the full adoption of the Euro may prove timely if and when a similar event takes place in your locale.  Enjoy!

Adios pesetas

A major milestone has come to Europe with the introduction of the common currency known as euros.  Actually the Economic Union of 12 countries (Trivia question–can you name the 12 countries? answer below) has been on the euro standard for the last 2 years, with exchange rates fixed permanently between the currencies of the member countries.  Everyone was really using euros, but they just looked different in each country.

Now in the last month, the last major hurdle has been addressed with the withdrawal of all local currencies from circulation, and their replacement with euro coins and bills.  Think of the problems involved in changing the currency of 12 countries (approximately the size of the US) with 12 different monetary systems simultaneously.

Prices for goods have been posted in both pesetas and euros in the larger stores for the last year to accustom people to thinking in euros.  It isn’t easy-we have gotten used to valuing items in pesetas, and even though the euro is close to a dollar in value, that hasn’t helped much.  So it must be worse for those that have lived with pesetas all their lives.

Spanish FlagThe schedule is for 2 months of dual circulation, with only euros after that.  Now for some details of the tactics used.  Most cash registers are electronic and have been reprogrammed to handle both currencies.  Banks had kits of euro coins available in December for their customers so people could start getting used to the feel and appearance, but they could not be used until Jan 1.

The big change-over day (Jan 1) was of course very quiet, the major change being that most cash machines only dispensed euro bills.  Then the tactic to force the change-over was that customers could pay in either currency, but always received their change in euros.  So all the stores were sucking pesetas out of circulation.

It was a bit chaotic in the first week, with small merchants having to do the conversions on calculators.  Lots of mistakes were made, lots of people were confused, but the pesetas were disappearing briskly.  A few operations had problems with machines that accept coins, especially the toll roads.  So they decided to shut down the automatic coin machines until the conversion period is over, giving them time to convert them to euros.  If you want to pay cash, you have to give it to a human operator, otherwise use a credit card for automatic payment.EU-flag

The use of credit cards in general was encouraged to reduce the demand for change initially.  There were some shortages of coins, especially when the big traditional sales kicked in on Jan 8.  Now after a month of usage, the euros are seeming more natural and the prices are starting to make sense.  Pesetas have disappeared-all transactions are in euros now.

[A cartoon that I saw showed a bank robber at the counter, and the cashier asked if the transaction would be in pesetas or euros].

In our house, and I’m sure in most others, there was a sweep to collect all the pesetas and get them spent.  Then you find another coat pocket with a handful of coins, plus an envelope with French francs, another with Italian lira, etc.  There are cans with slots in all the banks for those last few stray pesetas to help children around the world.  We’re going to haul our francs to France for one last meal there before the pumpkin-hour.  The lira we sent with friends that are visiting Italy.

If you are holding on to European currency, send it to me immediately :-).  No, just kidding, but you do need to change it.  Bills you should be able to change at major banks until March 1 when all local currencies will disappear; after that you will have to change the money at the state bank in the country of the currency.  They predict that at least a third of the currencies will never be turned in.  That is pure gravy for the governments.

A side effect of the change-over is its effect on black money.  Spain and other areas of Europe have a sizeable underground economy, with all transactions in cash, not reported to the government for tax purposes.  Now some people are stuck with bundles of currency that will soon be unusable.  So the sales of luxury items skyrocketed in December, especially expensive cars.

Also there seemed to be a lot of money being poured into new construction, and housing prices have risen dramatically in the last year.  We will see if they subside in the coming year.  The government has promised to look into suspicious purchases of luxury items.  There were reports of Germans hauling carloads of marks into Switzerland.

On your next trip to Europe, you will find things much easier, with only one currency to carry unless you visit England, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, or Norway.  I wonder how much this will affect tourism into these countries?

The last thought is the number of colloquial sayings that will disappear from the language.  “No vale ni un peseta” = “It’s not worth even a peseta”.  The common words used for money were duros (5 pesetas, or like a nickel), and pelas (1 peseta).  These will disappear.

Euro coins:

1, 2, 5 Cents, Centims, Centimos-Copper colored
10, 20, 50  Cents-Gold colored
1, 2 Euros-Gold outer band, silver inner section

The “front” side of each coin is unique to each country, while the “back” side is common to all.

Euro Bills: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500

Euro countries:  Spain, Portugal, Ireland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Greece, Holland, Luxemburg, Belgium, Finland

We wish to thank Tom for allowing us to share his essay with you, our fellow taxpayers.  It is both an interesting, first hand look at a significant event in the history of world currencies as well as an instructive guide as to how one may prepare and what to expect should the monetary authorities in your locale choose to swap their existing national currencies for some flavor of supranational currency, such as the Euro.

At the time the Euro was adopted, it appeared to have a number of benefits for the adherents despite the minor inconveniences and sometimes painful price adjustments (we are told that the typical café, which before the Euro went for 100 pelas (see above) was immediately repriced up to a round 1 Euro (roughly 162 pesetas), an instant 62% increase) that were experienced in its adoption.

Now, some eleven years later, five of the countries on the above list have experienced significant economic distress, while others teeter on the fine line between growth and solvency.

It is important to note, however, that the countries that are now in distress experienced substantial economic booms related to the Euro adoption.  Their governments were allowed to borrow at rates which were aided by the strength of their European neighbor’s finances and, as Tom pointed out, the Central Banks made a windfall profit on the quasi confiscation of nearly 1/3 of the currency in circulation.

Was it worth it?  In terms of currency history, 11 years is a bit too soon to make a call, but either way, we have a feeling that a similar sort of currency “consolidation” awaits many in the not too distant future.  It will not be some sort of conspiracy, as many believe, but simply an attempt by the desperate governments of the world to shore up their ailing finances.

It will ultimately fail, but that time may be farther off than it seems.

Stay tuned and Trust Jesus.

Stay Fresh!

David Mint


Key Indicators for March 18, 2013

Copper Price per Lb: $3.51
Oil Price per Barrel:  $93.21
Corn Price per Bushel:  $7.16
10 Yr US Treasury Bond:  2.01%
Gold Price Per Ounce:  $1,596 THE GOLD RUSH IS STILL ON!
MINT Perceived Target Rate*:  0.25%
Unemployment Rate:  7.7%
Inflation Rate (CPI):  0.7%
Dow Jones Industrial Average:  14,496
M1 Monetary Base:  $2,466,100,000,000 LOTS OF DOUGH ON THE STREET!
M2 Monetary Base:  $10,499,300,000,000