May 26, 2012

Eurozone Capital Flight

Citi' analyst Matt King has been monitoring the situation of bank assets in Europe and his results are most disturbing: "In Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, foreign deposits have fallen by an average of 52%, and foreign government bond holdings by an average of 33%, from their peaks.
The same move in Spain and Italy, taking into account the fall that has taken place already, would imply a further €215bn and €214bn in capital flight respectively, skewed towards deposits in the case of Spain and towards government bonds in the case of Italy.
Economic deterioration, ratings downgrades and especially a Greek exit would almost certainly significantly accelerate the timescale and increase the amounts of these outflows.


Below a summary of all the less than pleasant capital flows out of Europe's periphery.




 How far is the flock likely to run? In Greece, Ireland, and Portugal, foreign deposits have fallen by an average of 52%, and foreign government bond holdings by an average of 33%, from their peaks (Figure 18). The same move in Spain and Italy, taking into account the fall that has taken place already, would imply a further €215bn and €214bn in capital flight respectively, skewed towards deposits in the case of Spain and towards government bonds in the case of Italy (Figure 19).

Although large, if these flows occur slowly enough, they might not represent a major problem. After all, Portugal’s banks have managed to replace fleeing foreign deposits with domestic ones, and ECB repo should allow a further ramp-up in banks’ holdings of government bonds.

But we think the risks are skewed towards larger outflows occurring considerably more rapidly. Admittedly there are a great many unknowns, including the potential policy response. But none of these estimates allow for the possibility of domestic deposit flight. In the case of a Greek exit from the euro, that outcome seems highly likely. Nor is there any sign that the flight from Ireland and Portugal is diminishing (if anything, we expect the opposite).11 Moreover, banks’ appetite to buy further government bonds may prove limited if they start to suffer deposit flight – and all the more so if they suspect that deposit flight stems in part from their holdings of government bonds
Once the run (either bond or bank) starts, there is no stopping it:
Above all, though, we think capital flight, like so much in markets, is a self-reinforcing process. Provided other depositors and bondholders are grazing quietly, there is no reason to run. But as risks come ever more into the spotlight – whether through the TARGET2 imbalances, benchmark shifts or the threat of EMU exit in Greece – the unattractiveness of the risk-reward becomes ever more obvious.
What is the only possible outcome that will prevent this virtually catastrophic outcome?
To our minds, capital flight will stop only once there is decisive policy intervention. The longer investors have to wait for this, the more decisive it will need to be. Even a Euro area-wide deposit guarantee scheme might struggle to be credible if investors fear the incentives for redenomination are strong enough... Quite simply, investors in ‘safe assets’ need to be reasonably sure they will get their money back. Foreign investors in peripherals can no longer be sure of that.

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