...news is now coming out that the Cyprus parliament has postponed the decision and may in fact not be able to reach agreement. They may tinker with the percentages, to penalize smaller savers less (and larger savers more). However, the damage is already done. They have hit their savers with a grievous blow, and this will do irreparable harm to trust and confidence.
As well it should! In more civilized times, there was a long established precedent regarding the capital structure of a bank. Equity holders incur the first losses as they own the upside profits and capital gains. Next come unsecured creditors who are paid a higher interest rate, followed by secured bondholders who are paid a lower interest rate. Depositors are paid the lowest interest rate of all, but are assured to be made whole, even if it means every other class in the capital structure is utterly wiped out.
As caveat to the following paragraph, I acknowledge that I have not read anything definitive yet regarding bondholders. I present my assumptions (which I think are likely correct).
As with the bankruptcy of General Motors in the US, it looks like the rule of law and common sense has been recklessly set aside. The fruit from planting these bitter seeds will be harvested for many years hence. As with GM, political expediency drives pragmatic and ill-considered actions. In Cyprus, bondholders include politically connected banks and sovereign governments. Bureaucrats decided it would be acceptable to use depositors like sacrificial lambs. The only debate at the moment seems to be how to apportion the damage amongst “rich” and “non-rich” depositors.
Also, much more on the matter here, mostly expressing similar sentiments. And do read The War On Common Sense by Tim Duy:
This weekend, European policymakers opened up a new front in their ongoing war on common sense. The details of the Cyprus bailout included a bail-in of bank depositors, small and large alike. As should have been expected, chaos ensued as Cypriots rushed to ATMs in a desperate attempt to withdraw their savings, the initial stages of what is likely to become a run on the nation's banks. Shocking, I know. Who could have predicted that the populous would react poorly to an assault on depositors?
Everyone. Everyone would have predicted this. Everyone except, apparently, European policymakers....