04 April 2013: ECB under fire for Cyprus handling

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Asian stocks fell as worse-than-estimated US economic data spurred concern about the pace of the US recovery as investors speculated whether the Bank of Japan (BOJ) would be able to meet forecast for monetary expansion and an inflation target of 2%. The MSCI Asia Pacific index slid 1% with carmakers as Toyota Motor declining on a stronger Yen. USD/JPY trades at 93.00. Copper prices, a strong indicator for economic growth, sank to its lowest level since August. Gold and silver prices plunged with Gold at USD 1546 an ounce. Oil prices fell two dollar a barrel.

The European Central bank (ECB) is meeting today in the aftermath of a botched attempt to rescue Cyprus. Bank shares have been tumbling across the Euro area and rattled confidence in policy maker’s ability to tame the sovereign debt crisis. With unemployment reaching a record high of 12,5%, doubts are growing about Mario Draghi’s forecast for a second-half economic recovery. The austerity measures prescribed from European bankers and politicians have so far dragged Europe into an even deeper recession.

The disconnect between official low lending rates and those businesses are actually charged, is also a growing concern for the ECB. More than four times as many small businesses in Spain were rejected loans in the second half of 2012 than in Germany or walked away from, too, expansive offers. The excess liquidity in the banking sector has halved over the last half year and lenders in the south European periphery might be in need of more central bank funding.

In front of today’s meeting critical questions are asked on the role ECB plaid in the Cyprus bailout. ECB initially welcomed and supported the Cypriot government’s plan to confiscate funds on all banking accounts including those below Euro 100 000. This was rejected by the Cypriot Parliament. A revised agreement was negotiated a week later under the threat of ECB cutting emergency funding to Cypriot banks. Additionally; capital controls were for the first time in the EU history introduced to avoid capital flight. Free movement of capital is one of the four basic freedoms EU cooperation is built upon.

The confiscation of private accounts and introduction of capital control have damaged investor confidence and banks reputation across the Euro zone. Between March 15 and 27 the Stoxx Europe 600 Bank index dropped 6,8%. The cost of insuring against default on European bank bonds have surged 41% in the same period. Partially responsible for a flawed bailout plan being presented to Parliament, ECB exacerbated markets reactions to the bailout and simultaneously harmed the trust in Europe’s crisis fighting abilities.

Analysts stress that even if the error originated in Cyprus, Euro Finance ministers and ECB’s big miscalculation were to support a flawed plan. This resulted in increased financial stress and uncertainties in global markets. The trust in the Euro was undermined. Whether Mario Draghi and the ECB today would be able to present the right damage limiting response, is an open question.

Three Supreme Court judges appointed by President Nicos Anastasiades will today start investigations into a decade of financial profligacy which brought Cyprus to its knees. They have also a mandate to look into the President’s own affairs after accusations of tipoffs that presumably saved close family for big amounts when of 21 million euros were transferred abroad days before the bailout plan was announced. 

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