September 21, 2012
Source: Wash Post
In early September, Mario Draghi and the European Central Bank announced a grand plan to come to the aid of euro-zone governments facing unworkably high borrowing costs — countries like Spain and Italy. It seemed like a reasonable enough plan, despite all the potential hitches, and the euro crisis quickly faded from the headlines. Well done.
But before anyone breathes easy, it’s worth taking a look at this new investigation from Bloomberg’s Yalman Onaran. As the story details, there’s still a massive bank run going on in the euro zone that’s threatening to tear the currency union apart. Over the past 12 months, some $425 billion in deposits have been pulled from banks in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. And about $390 billion in deposits have piled up in core euro countries, particularly France and Germany.
That might sound like a mundane bit of accounting. But it’s potentially quite dire. And this slow bank run is a major reason why the crisis in the euro zone isn’t likely to go away just yet.
First, a rundown of why these deposits are shifting about in the first place. Imagine that you have tens of thousands of dollars stashed in a bank account in Greece. You keep reading Wonkblog and hearing that your country might get kicked out of the euro — in which case Greece would go back to using drachmas for currency. If that happened, your bank would forcibly convert all your saved euros to less-valuable drachmas, and you’d have a harder time affording imported goods or traveling abroad. That sounds unpleasant. So, one sensible thing to do is put all your euros in a German bank, for safekeeping.
As Bloomberg details, people have been doing this all across the euro zone on a breathtaking scale. Depositors in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece are all sending their money abroad. And this has all sorts of economic consequences.