Cyprus deal: takes and double takes

The next Cyprus will be Malta.

If there is one thing today's Eurogroup statement is keen to get across, it's that deposits below €100,000 are now safe. They'll be no tax or haircuts for anyone but uninsured depositors at Cyprus' two biggest banks. That's the good news. The bad news is that the economic pain has been transferred to the financial sector, from whence it will trickle down to everyone else. There probably won't be a bank run, but there will be bank shrinkage which won't be good for Cypriots in the long term. Political contagion throughout the Eurozone will also be a big problem. And as I wrote last week, the damage to depositor trust was done the minute the 6.75 per cent tax was announced.

As Citi's Steven Englander says (my emphasis):

It makes the euro zone more susceptible to bank deposit runs in the event that banks come under question. This may make any future bank-related crisis more intense. The fact that deposit insurance was called into question so casually will make other depositors wary of policymaker assurances that they would not behave similarly. It told depositors that policymakers could act that way if they wanted to. The German FM’s comments that deposit insurance does not apply to levies and is only as good as the sovereign backing the insurance will be remembered at the next crisis. So now we have a deal that does not involve repudiating deposit insurance or imposing a levy on deposits  -- yet is has managed to raise fears of deposit insurance repudiation and deposit levies down the road.

Here's UBS’s Reinhard Cluse on what Eurozone policy-makers might do to try and restore it this trust (my emphasis):

A good aspect of today’s decision, compared with the rejected decision from 16 March, is that deposits below €100,000 will not be bailed in. In our view, European policymakers clearly realized that they had made a mistake by originally signing off the 6.75% haircut, as this arguably increased the risk of future bank runs in other periphery countries with troubled banking sectors. European policymakers where therefore keen to reverse this decision, and this was also stressed in subsequent Eurogoup statements. Nevertheless, the ‘credibility’ of the EU’s €100,000 deposit guarantee benchmark has been damaged. We therefore expect Eurozone policymakers to come out with a strong statement in due course, stressing that the €100,000 limit will be secure in the EU in the future and that this will also be written into the EU’s future bank resolution framework in the context of the European banking union project. 2.They will hope that this sends a strong signal to depositors in other troubled Eurozone countries (above all Greece, Spain) where depositors might react a lot more nervously in the future.

Marc Ostwald at Monument Securities on where to look for the next Cyprus - which will be Malta, he thinks:

Returning to Cyprus, outside of the colossal damage to the Cyrpiot economy, the other issues to consider are the precedents that this set: in the first instance, it keeps alive Mario Draghi’s promise to do “whatever it is possible” to save the Euro very much alive, though the price that the citizens of whatever country requires assistance will always need to be prepared for the principles of law and democracy to be bulldozed, and per se to be treated with the utmost disdain and contempt. To be sure, the Cypriot economic model, or rather banking model was always doomed to failure, as had already witnessed in Iceland and Ireland, and one has to ask why there was not more effort expended in addressing this, given the Icelandic collapse was now 6 years ago – this is not to say that it would have been successful, but to highlight that policymakers have been dilettante voyeurs at this particular car crash. Eminently one needs to look at other economies which are vulnerable to such a collapse, Malta to some extent, and one has to wonder a) where Russian offshore deposits will now be re-directed to – Hong Kong and Singapore look to be the most obvious beneficiaries, especially given the much closer ties that are being forged between Beijing and Moscow, for which Germany, traditionally a very close confidante of the Moscow political elite (of whatever type), may suffer, and b) the fall-out in terms of deposit outflows in the Eurozone at any point where a crisis appears to be emerging.

 

Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's U-Turn may have just traded one problem for another

The problems of the policy have been moved, not eradicated. 

That didn’t take long. Theresa May has U-Turned on her plan to make people personally liable for the costs of social care until they have just £100,000 worth of assets, including property, left.

As the average home is valued at £317,000, in practice, that meant that most property owners would have to remortgage their house in order to pay for the cost of their social care. That upwards of 75 per cent of baby boomers – the largest group in the UK, both in terms of raw numbers and their higher tendency to vote – own their homes made the proposal politically toxic.

(The political pain is more acute when you remember that, on the whole, the properties owned by the elderly are worth more than those owned by the young. Why? Because most first-time buyers purchase small flats and most retirees are in large family homes.)

The proposal would have meant that while people who in old age fall foul of long-term degenerative illnesses like Alzheimers would in practice face an inheritance tax threshold of £100,000, people who die suddenly would face one of £1m, ten times higher than that paid by those requiring longer-term care. Small wonder the proposal was swiftly dubbed a “dementia tax”.

The Conservatives are now proposing “an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs”. The actual amount is TBD, and will be the subject of a consultation should the Tories win the election. May went further, laying out the following guarantees:

“We are proposing the right funding model for social care.  We will make sure nobody has to sell their family home to pay for care.  We will make sure there’s an absolute limit on what people need to pay. And you will never have to go below £100,000 of your savings, so you will always have something to pass on to your family.”

There are a couple of problems here. The proposed policy already had a cap of sorts –on the amount you were allowed to have left over from meeting your own care costs, ie, under £100,000. Although the system – effectively an inheritance tax by lottery – displeased practically everyone and spooked elderly voters, it was at least progressive, in that the lottery was paid by people with assets above £100,000.

Under the new proposal, the lottery remains in place – if you die quickly or don’t require expensive social care, you get to keep all your assets, large or small – but the losers are the poorest pensioners. (Put simply, if there is a cap on costs at £25,000, then people with assets below that in value will see them swallowed up, but people with assets above that value will have them protected.)  That is compounded still further if home-owners are allowed to retain their homes.

So it’s still a dementia tax – it’s just a regressive dementia tax.

It also means that the Conservatives have traded going into the election’s final weeks facing accusations that they will force people to sell their own homes for going into the election facing questions over what a “reasonable” cap on care costs is, and you don’t have to be very imaginative to see how that could cause them trouble.

They’ve U-Turned alright, but they may simply have swerved away from one collision into another.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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