Deposit Flight Seen Eroding Europe’s Common Currency

Banks in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece see $425 bln withdrawn over 12 months.

An accelerating flight of deposits from banks in four European countries is jeopardizing the renewal of economic growth and undermining a main tenet of the common currency: an integrated financial system.

A total of 326 billion euros ($425 billion) was pulled from banks in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece in the 12 months ended July 31, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The plight of Irish and Greek lenders, which were bleeding cash in 2010, spread to Spain and Portugal last year.

IMF Warning

Organizations such as the International Monetary Fund have warned about the danger of such fragmentation. Financial disintegration along national lines “caps the benefits from economic and financial integration” that underlie the common currency, the IMF wrote in an April report.

Accelerating Flight

The pace of withdrawals has increased this year. Spanish bank deposits fell 7 percent from the beginning of January through the end of July, compared with a 4 percent drop the previous six months. The decline in Portuguese savings accelerated to 6 percent from 1 percent, while Irish deposits fell 10 percent compared with almost no change in the last six months of 2011.

Plugging Holes

ECB cash may have plugged holes at lenders that otherwise would have had to sell assets at fire-sale prices as they lost private financing. The aid didn’t prevent funding costs from rising for the rest of the banks’ borrowing, including deposits.

‘Backdoor Bailout’

By taking over the financing of weak banks, the ECB is in effect bailing out their creditors in the core, according to Edward Harrison, an analyst at Global Macro Advisors, an economic consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland. If Irish or Spanish lenders burdened with losses from their nations’ housing busts were allowed to fail, German and French banks would lose money on loans to financial institutions in Europe’s periphery.

‘Vicious Cycle’

“Our banking system was in good shape before the crisis,” Rossi said in an interview in New York. “If the spread goes down, credit-market conditions would ease, contributing to halt a vicious cycle, which is hampering economic activity.”

‘Difficult Road’

Germany, which spent about 50 billion euros to rescue its failed lenders in 2008, has opposed placing all banks under ECB supervision. At an EU finance ministers’ meeting in Cyprus last weekend, Germany was joined by the Netherlands in warning against a hasty move toward central supervision, while non-euro members such as Sweden criticized the plan for not protecting those outside the common currency.

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