Cyprus banks lose billions in deposits in 2 months

Cyprus banks lost billions of euros since the country agreed with international rescue creditors to raid savings in its two biggest lenders. Confidence in Cyprus' banks dropped when the IMF forced depositors with over 100,000 euros to take major losses. Cyprus banks also put restrictions on money withdrawals and transfers.

By Menelaos Hadjicostis
May 31, 2013
Yahoo! News

Deposits in Cyprus' beleaguered banks shrank by more than 10 billion euros ($13 billion) since the country agreed with international rescue creditors in March to raid savings in its two biggest lenders, new figures showed Friday.

Deposits dropped by 6.34 billion euros ($8.25 billion) in April, much more than the 3.75 billion euros ($4.88 billion) lost the previous month, the central bank said.

April's losses, however, include 2.8 billion euros of deposits in Cyprus' largest lender, Bank of Cyprus, which had to be converted into bank shares as part of the country's bailout deal.

The losses brought total deposits to 57.4 billion euros ($74.65 billion) at the end of April, a steep drop from the 72 billion euros ($93.64 billion) stacked in Cypriot bank accounts — much from Russian and other foreign clients — at their peak in May, 2012.

Cyprus Central Bank spokeswoman Aliki Stylianou denied the outflows were a matter of concern, arguing they are part of normal transactions, mainly by foreign banks active in Cyprus.

Confidence in Cyprus' banks tanked when Cypriot authorities agreed with their euro partners and the International Monetary Fund to force depositors with over 100,000 euros in the country's top two banks to take major losses. Cyprus was asked to do so to help raise 13 billion euros ($17 billion), a condition for receiving a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) loan.

In order to prevent a full-blown bank run, Cypriot authorities put restrictions on money withdrawals and transfers, such as a 300 euro ($385) daily withdrawal cap, which have gradually been relaxed.

But while the controls have avoided a run, Friday's figures suggest that depositors used the means available to keep pulling money out.

Cyprus' limits on money flows are the first to be imposed on banks in the euro currency's 14-year history. Cypriot officials say they'll be fully lifted once trust in the banks is restored.

Cyprus' economy nosedived after its two biggest banks — Bank of Cyprus and Laiki — lost billions on bad Greek debt and loans. Unable to borrow from international markets since mid-2011, Cyprus was on the verge of bankruptcy when its euro area partners agreed on the loan.

Besides raiding the bank deposits, the government will also raise money by selling state-owned companies and making deep spending cuts.

Cyprus' Finance Minister Harris Georgiades told state-run Cyprus Agency Friday that the economy could contract by more than the projected 8.7 percent this year and that deeper government salary cuts may be necessary.

Loans in April decreased by 1.46 billion euros, less than the 1.97 billion euro drop in March, according to the Cyprus Central Bank. Total loans at the end of April stood at 68.4 billion euros.

The Cyprus Finance Ministry said in a statement Friday that the government has deposited 75 million euros ($97.5 million) in the country's commercial and cooperative banks in a symbolic gesture of confidence in the banking system. The Ministry said the money comes from the government's accounts and that more such deposits will be made.

Also on Friday, Cypriot authorities lifted restrictions on money withdrawals and transfers for international clients of Beirut-based BankMed.

A Finance Ministry decree raised the number of exempted foreign banks to 15, although limits still apply to clients residing in Cyprus.

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