Investors wary of 'slow panic' after Cyprus rescue
London, April 2, 2013
By Mike Dolan
World markets have reacted calmly to the twists and turns of Cyprus's financial rescue in the last fortnight but many investors fear the economic fallout is yet to come.
They have sold European assets, rather than make a global dash for safety that could signal concerns about a euro breakup.
Euro blue chip and bank equity prices , regional bank bonds and the euro exchange rate all fell sharply last week but Wall St stocks set a record closing high.
Mutual fund data released by fund tracker EPFR on Friday showed that European equity, bond and money market funds all saw hefty redemptions in the week even as investors continued to pile into Japanese and US equity funds.
Cyprus's 10 billion euro rescue averted an immediate financial meltdown that could have caused a Lehman Brothers-style shock in financial markets.
But it came with a forced shut down of the island's second largest bank and a raid on bank deposits of over 100,000 euros, that forced big depositors to become part of the rescue.
Global investors are worried that the precedents set in the messy rescue will strain bank funding, hurting businesses and the fragile regional economy and delaying any recovery.
Ben Bennett, strategist at British fund managers Legal and General Asset Management described the scenario of depositor fear, bank solvency and recession as a "slow panic".
"I don't think there's anyone who's woken up in a cold sweat at midnight wondering what assets they need to dump - this is much more of a slow grind," said Ben Bennett, strategist at British fund managers Legal & General Asset Management.
Investors are worried that the precedents set for resolving a bank's problems has pushed up the cost of lenders' funding.
If banks have to pay more to borrow they will be reluctant to lend to businesses, already grappling with a recession and difficult credit conditions.
This would hurt growth and questions about the ability of the bloc to shake off its debt spiral and the viability of Europe's single currency would resurface.
Forcing savers to take a hits also sets a precedent that may mean depositors in other countries withdraw money more quickly in the future if they hear of troubles in the banking system.
While the principle of bail-ins for senior creditors may have been flagged for some time the impact of the depositor exposure is a wild card.
Investors are looking for any sign that savers elsewhere in Europe withdrew deposits from banks fearing they might end up losing money like the depositors in Cyprus.
But it will be at least another four weeks before Europe's central banks release data on depositor behaviour post-Cyprus for March and a fuller picture will take another month.
Until there is clear evidence, investors will be nervous, being led by anecdotal evidence and market pricing.
Euro bank stocks have lost more than 10 percent since mid-March to their lowest since September and default insurance costs on senior European bank bonds have jumped about 50 basis points over the same period to six-month highs.
While these price moves are relatively contained, the impact on growth of the higher costs bank will pay to fund themselves appears to be a much bigger worry for many investors.
The world's biggest bond fund manager PIMCO said last week it was cutting exposure to the euro currency and its chief executive Mohamed El-Erian told German tabloid Bild on Thursday that after three years of euro crises, recession on the periphery was hurting the core and "the costs are rising."
John Stopford, co-head of fixed income and currency at Investec Asset Management, said the confidence bought by the European Central Bank's promise last summer to do what was necessary to save the euro hinged on growth returning and policy finding a coherent tack.
The events in Cyprus raised questions about both, he said.
"I'm increasingly pessimistic," said Stopford. "It does seem to me the goalposts are being moved quite a lot at the moment and there's a danger (investor) trust will go again if they're not careful."
"There's a slow credit crunch going on where banks are having to strengthen balance sheets and events in Cyprus can only exacerbate that." - Reuters