Monday, March 18, 2013

Primary difference between financial repression and deposit confiscation: speed

In an excellent Telegraph column, Ian Cowie looks at the depositor haircut in Cyprus to bailout its banking system as petty theft compared to what savers have been "stealthily robbed" robbed of by financial repression (think zero interest rate policies) to bailout the global financial system.

The primary difference, other than sheer quantity of money pilfered, is speed.

The depositor haircut happened over-night.  Financial repression has been going on since the beginning of the financial crisis.

Your humble blogger uses the word "primary" on purpose.  Both the depositor haircut and financial repression are the result of government policies to bailout the financial system by imposing its losses on savers/taxpayers.

Regular readers know the politicians are making a conscious decision to impose losses on savers/taxpayers and not on the bankers who caused the loss in the first place.  In fact, these bankers continue to be rewarded with nary an interruption in their bonuses.

Politicians are making a conscious decision because the banking system is designed to absorb losses on the excess debt in the financial system and continue operating even though the banks have low or negative book capital levels.

Banks can do this because of the existence of deposit insurance and access to central bank funding.    Deposit insurance effectively makes the taxpayers the banks' silent equity partner when the banks have low or negative book capital levels.  As a result, banks have unlimited capital against which to continue lending.

Every day since the financial crisis began, politicians have made the decision to steal, whether through financial repression or a depositor haircut, from savers/taxpayers and give to the bankers rather than use the banking system as it is designed to be used.

I admit that having the banking system absorb the losses on the excess public and private debt in the financial system would be bad for banker cash bonuses.  However, given the choice between the government stealing from the savers/taxpayers or reducing banker cash bonuses (not necessarily the total size of banker bonuses), I opt for reducing banker cash bonuses.
Outrage about the Cyprus banks euro tax bail-out should not be allowed to obscure the fact that millions of savers in British banks have already lost much more of the real value or purchasing power of their money to prop up financial institutions closer to home. 
Savers in British banks and building societies have been stealthily robbed of more than £43bn of the real value of their savings since the Bank of England froze interest rates at 0.5pc four years ago. 
That's the total shrinkage of bank and building society depositors' purchasing power caused by inflation exceeding frozen interest rates, according to calculations by the pressure group Save Our Savers, following similar calculations by Yorkshire Building Society that the average saver has lost £2,500 in real terms since the credit crisis began. 
Both figures have got much bigger than they were a couple of years ago, as inflation has continued to run ahead of interest paid on deposits.  
Pensioners have suffered even more because higher than average proportions of their fixed incomes are spent on food and fuel. They are the largely silent victims of the Bank of England's policy of running negative real interest rates. 
But this slow-motion bank robbery is more difficult to describe than the short, sharp, smash-and-grab in Cyprus. So, despite the best efforts of this column to blow the whistle, more attention will be given to smaller losses for fewer people in Cyprus than millions of savers and pensioners who have lost much more in British banks and retirement funds. 
Suggested levies of 6.75 per cent of all deposits up to €100,000 (£86,500) and 9.9 per cent for larger deposits caused many savers in Cyprus to withdraw their money from banks over the weekend.... 
Elsewhere, Government sources stressed that deposits held in the London branches of Bank of Cyprus UK and Laiki Bank would not be subject to the new levy. Treasury sources said that “deposits in UK subsidiaries and branches [of Cypriot banks] aren’t affected” by the crisis. 
If only small savers with Britain’s high street banks and building societies could say the same. Nor are they the only victims to pay a high price for quantitative easing and QE’s aim of protecting over-stretched banks and borrowers at the expense of savers. 
Unfortunately, in a vicious seesaw effect, extra demand for gilts created by QE has pushed up the price of bonds, pushing down their yield or the income pensioners can obtain with their savings. Laith Khalaf of wealth managers Hargreaves Lansdown reckons annuity yields have fallen by about a fifth during the last four years. 
So savers of all descriptions are paying a high price for the Bank of England’s strategy of maintaining negative real interest rates. 
Sadly for the millions of victims of this slow-motion bank robbery in Britain, it remains too complex to explain on the front page or in TV bulletins and so much more coverage will be given to a relatively small scale smash and grab with fewer victims in Cyprus.

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