What are the features of capital or deposit flight in practice?

The Greek bailout saga goes on and on with deadline after deadline being passed. If we wish to know what happened over the weekend we find out quite clearly from what has happened in Greek financial markets this morning.

@RANsquawk 2Y yields +110 bps, Greek ATG index -6.3% and Greek Banking Index -2.8% following latest breakdown in talks.

So bond yields up and shares down. Actually I think that they were underplaying the fall in Greek banking stocks.

@ReutersJamie  Greek bank stocks -12% at the open. That follows -12% on Friday.

If we stick with the banking stocks it is helpful to introduce some perspective. If we look back five years which takes us back to just after the “shock and awe” bailout so beloved back then by Christine Lagarde I note that its share price was around Euros. It then pushed above 2 Euros. If you consider all the money which has been poured into the Greek banking sector to keep its nose above water it is rather instructive to note that the share price is now 0.26 Euros and the one-year return is -62% according to Bloomberg. It will not exactly be a fun General Meeting on the 26th will it?

Of course shareholders have had to give up much of their ownership of the bank as the Hellenic Financial Stability Facility (which now owns ~70%) stepped up to the plate. Have you noticed that organisations with “Financial Stability” in their title are invariable involved in anything but? Unless of course you find this below to be stability.

The balance includes the Fund’s investments in the 4 systemic banks following the completion of their recapitalization. As of 31/12/2014 the Fund’s portfolio fair value amounted to € 11,622.1m (31/12/2013: € 22,584.7m).

So it just about halved in 2014 and 2015 so far is looking very poor too. Not exactly an environment where we would be expecting the Greek banks to support Greek businesses and offer loans to consumers is it? For today’s purpose of looking at capital flight it is clear that a factor is the heavily damaged banking sector which in spite of the substantial sums spent bailing it out still looks like a patient in intensive care.

Underlying problems

This can take many forms but there is a litany of issues for Greece. For example economic performance is an obvious issue with the economy having shrunk by around a quarter since the onset of the credit crunch and Euro area crisis. Indeed things are still struggling as the whole concept of “Grecovery” becomes a very unfunny joke.

Available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 1st quarter of 2015 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms2 decreased by 0.2% compared with the 4th quarter of 2014.

So as yet another recession becomes a feature of an ongoing economic depression we also see that there is political turmoil. This is not internal as Syriza have formed a new government what I mean is that Greece has become so dependent on the bailouts it has received that it needs ongoing support from its Euro area partners. As it has become more dependent on these the uncertainty has risen which has been exacerbated by the fact that meeting after meeting and deadline has passed with no deal. In fact the situation has got more fractious.

Also the Greek government has had to take measures to improve its cashflow. For example it has twice called on local and municipal governments to pass any surplus funds to it. Also it has delayed repayments to the International Monetary Fund to the end of the month. In a fevered atmosphere such developments will cause investors and depositors to fear for the safety of their cash.

Backing this up comes the now apparently interminable cycle where negotiations between the Greek government and what used ti be called the troika and now calls itself the institutions start and break-down again. The word “close” has gone into my financial lexicon for these times as we it begins to feel like we have been close to a deal forever! How many crunch weeks can you actually have? Such thoughts remind us again of this from Otto Von Bismarck and Jim Hacker.

Never believe anything until it is officially denied

Thus we see a situation where reality and the official presentation of it are diverging widely and we get to the bit which is where human psychology steps in. On this road rather than precise mathematical calculations we find ourselves discussing fear, uncertainty and indeed contagion. In a way this famous quote from President F.D Roosevelt is both true and untrue.

the only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Yes fear is a factor here but as I have described above it is far from the only one. On this road depositors move into a situation described more accurately by the trailer from the remake of the film The Fly.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

On that particular thought I present this headline from the Financial Times yesterday.

Greece running out of options to avoid capital controls

The  Central Bank

Deposit flight involves in one form or another a failure of central banking. It can come from a currency collapse whether real,expected or both but that is not true here as the other Euro nations are not suffering from deposit flight. Regular readers will be aware that I have argued for quite some time that the ECB (European Central Bank) has flaws right at its heart and we are seeing an example of this right now. Putting this another way who is the Lender of Last Resort in Greece?

If you say it is the Bank of Greece you have the problem that it needs ECB permission to do certain things (Emergency Liquidity Assistance or ELA and Treasury Bill limits). If you say it is the ECB then why is it imposing strict ELA limits via the Bank of Greece? Indeed the concept of the weekly ELA limit has the seed of its own destruction written into its very soul. Something which is a sword and shield to beat away the risk of banking contagion has with it the fear that it can be withdrawn on any Wednesday the ECB Governing Council chooses in the way that it did with Cyprus.

The Governing Council of the European Central Bank decided to maintain the current level of Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) until Monday, 25 March 2013.

Thereafter, Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) could only be considered if an EU/IMF programme is in place that would ensure the solvency of the concerned banks.

This precedent poses its own problem as depositors note that there is quite a high danger of an EU/IMF programme not being in place in Greece. For now the ECB is unlikely to pull the ELA line. I would argue this for two reasons. Firstly it wants somebody else to take the blame. Secondly there would be something of an own-goal about this as it has some 6.6 billion Euros of Greek bonds which are due to be repaid in July and August so it has a clear interest in the stalemate continuing.

Also the numbers themselves are an issue as the amount of ELA rises and rises. Last week the ECB raised the limit by 2.3 billion Euros to 83 billion. Here we see the contagion issue as what is on its own a good thing also poses the question why was so much needed this week? Has the deposit flight increased? Also that is a lot of money when you consider that this phase of ELA only began in January.

Deposit flight itself

The simple fact is that deposit flight creates deposit flight as of the two human investing motives fear and greed the former takes charge. Hence the situation reported on by Kathimerini on Saturday.

Deposits in the Greek credit system have dropped from 164 billion euros at end-November to just 128 billion euros today.

Just when Greece needs a boost to credit and liquidity it has seen quite a drop in the other side of the balance sheet of around 22% so far. As fear begats fear mostly symbolised in the media these days by Greek citizens being pictured at ATMs the falls look set to continue. As they do so then the level of deposits and the ELA support provided by the central banks will get ever nearer as the system gets ever more unbalanced.


It is a grim feature of Greek economic life that seven years after the credit crunch hit the world that Greece is having its own domestic credit crunch via deposit flight. This does not have one of the features of deposit flight which is a collapsing currency because Greece shares its with a much larger group. But the price being paid for this is that its central bank is rather a fumbling lender of last resort and this is a case where the aphorism “time is money” certainly applies.

Having a normal central bank is not a cure-all as for example the collapse of Northern Rock in 2007 showed. But after a few misfires Mervyn King and the Bank of England stepped in decisively and the panic period was mercifully short. What the Greek deposit flight crisis lacks is anything like this from ECB President Mario Draghi.

whatever it takes…

Meanwhile quite a squeeze is being applied to the Greek economy by all of this as the soil required for deposit flight gets tilled over once again. Or as Jay-Z via the musical Annie put it.

It’s the hard knock life…
It’s the hard knock life..

It’s the hard-knock life for us
It’s the hard-knock life for us


19 thoughts on “What are the features of capital or deposit flight in practice?

  1. “Have you decided to surrender unconditionally to neo-liberal policies?”
    “NO???? Then these talks are at an end.”

    • The problem was excessively close ties between French Banks (who were damn near bust if Greece defaulted in 2010) and the top troika employees. Strauss-Kahn and cohorts broke from the tried, tested and proven ” default, devaluation and disciplined spending”. The latest example (that I can remember) was Iceland’s recovery.

      The French banks are closely tied into their socialist system, with some Statism and corrupt crony capitalism thrown in. So far, the neo-liberal Yankee capitalists have had little say, but I hope for another US led “fifa” style investigation of the IMF actions in Greece ….

        • The French banks had greater exposure and the French govt less ability to pay for a rescue – so my guess is that Merkel dithered and followed ….

          If IMF losses end up costing the US taxpayer, political pressure may rise …

  2. ZZZZZZzzzzzz,

    are we there yet ? yes the markets have discounted the Greek exit about three years ago or more

    So the BBC’s Preston the Dog , sorry Pest-wrong , is giving the same subject , Greek exit , some copy as well . Shame he can’t add 2 and 2 together ! Yours is a better read anytime , Shaun.

    The ECB could just bail them out , its got the QE now , so why doesn’t the Greek central bank just print more Euros anyway ? Aren’t they all together now ? ( in no man’s land )

    I know they have limititations but lets just say that the Greek CB just printed ?

    That surely would lead to a Greek boot-out ……. if not the other little countries will do the same?

    Then Italy …

    I predict that actuallly they will not leave because of this but be drawn in close financial union thats been the goal of the central burocrats all along .

    watch this space !!


    • Interesting question about printing, but I think the ECB holds exclusive privilege to print notes. Minting euro coins won’t pay the creditors. The sooner Greece defaults, the better. Then a recovery can start.

      • mint you say

        wasn’t this the solution to the US debt ceiling ?

        Greek CB mints 6 x 1 billion euro coins……

        now there’s a thought/


        • Hi Guys

          The ECB has the rights to the note printing but it delegates it to the national central banks as shown below.

          “In April 2001 the ECB’s Governing Council decided that the production of euro banknotes should be decentralised and pooled after the initial cash changeover. Therefore, since 2002 each national central bank of the euro area has been allocated a share of the total annual production of euro banknotes in respect of certain denominations. The respective bank bears the production costs for the share allocated.”

          How it checks whether someone is doing a De La Rue (who had the contract for India and produced some extra Rupees…) I do not know.

          As to minting 6 coins worth a billion would it not be easier for Greece to simple mint one worth a trillion Euros as wasn’t that Finance Minister Varoufakis’s estimate of the cost of default?

          In practice there are a lot more small denomination coins around than you might think.

          “At the end of 2013, 106 billion coins worth €28 billion were in circulation. The share of low-value coins (1, 2, 5 cent coins) has been steadily increasing and amounted to about 63% of all coins in circulation.”

  3. I notice that the reports now refer to ‘amateurish’ Greek government and deride the Greek PM whilst other reports try to drive a wedge between the government and the Greek people by claiming that the government no longer represents what the Greeks want. Once again, as in Ireland, Italy and Cyprus, the EU shows its nasty side when you don’t do what they want! I am just waiting for all the veiled threats that will be aimed at Britain when we get nearer the in/out referendum. They really are an unpleasant bunch.

  4. ok Shaun

    by the end of August the IMF will be paid off and the ECB will then hold the Greek debt

    QE is ready

    press the print key ?


    • Right on Forbin, I think we agreed this a fortnight ago. It will be presented as shock and awe. Greece gets some debt relief and a balanced budget, IMF is paid out and ECB prints! After all our experience in the uk is that more QE is better ;-/

    • Hi Forbin

      In a way Greece has had its own form of QE as so much of its debt was bought by the ECB as part of its SMP (Securities Markets Program) back in the early days of the bailout. The catch is that some of that is maturing soon and the ECB already has it! So it would be a form of debt monetisation if it bought it from itself and the Frankfurt tower of the Bundesbank would probably spontaneously combust. Or to put it another way we have finally arrived where that can was kicked to.

      Of course being the Euro area they think of giving the can another good kick and letting the ESM buy it all! Or they would if they could strike any sort of deal with the Greek government. That same deal which feels like it has been “close” for ever.

      • Shaun,
        I like your answer, as ever your technical grasp is dis-arming. Well I think we can forget about those small details in the circumstances of “can in a corner”, special needs and all that. Rename debt monetisation as something “Greek” and say “tell her is wasn’t you”. We are then sorted.

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