DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Cyprus, banks reopened yesterday after being close for nearly two weeks. And the fear was that depositors would be rushing to get their money out of their accounts and out of the country. This explains a restriction put in place. ATM withdrawals are limited to 300 euros a day. NPR's John Ydstie reports on the controversial strategies used to resolve this banking crisis.

JOHN YDSTIE, BYLINE: The final Cyprus deal protected bank customers with up to 100,000 euros in their accounts. But it's imposing large losses of as much as 40 percent on many big depositors. Jacob Kirkegaard of the Peterson Institute for International Economics says it's bad news for big depositors, but it's a positive precedent for euro-area taxpayers.

JACOB KIRKEGAARD: They are no longer on the hook for bailing out bank shareholders and bank bondholders and individual failing banks.

YDSTIE: That's what happened early in the EU banking crisis. In countries like Ireland, the government, and ultimately the taxpayers, assumed the losses of the country's failing banks. If the Cyprus deal becomes a template for the future, as some EU officials have suggested it will, Kirkegaard says investors and big depositors better beware.

KIRKEGAARD: Uninsured depositors or corporations, typically, are now going to have to pay more attention to the health of the bank that they put their money in. But I think, you know, welcome to capitalism.

YDSTIE: Kirkegaard acknowledges there's a short-term downside. Weaker banks will have a harder time attracting investors and big depositors, undermining them even further. But while Kirkegaard sees the Cyprus outcome as hopeful, Harvard economist Ken Rogoff isn't so sure. He says EU officials are doing things they said they'd never do. First, they're inflicting pain on big depositors.

KEN ROGOFF: Second, they're having to put controls on money flowing out of Cyprus, because of course now everybody wants to pull anything they can get out. And when you have controls on money going in and out of a country, well, then you don't really have one currency anymore. So it's a big drastic step.

JENS NORDVIG: Something that people thought was impossible has actually happened.

YDSTIE: That's Jens Nordvig, global head of currency strategy at Nomura Securities. He says the Cyprus deal calls into question whether the euro is really a common currency.

NORDVIG: For people who have deposits in eurozone banks, if you have to worry about whether you can actually get your money out, whether euros you have in Cyprus and in other countries are the same as the euros they have in Germany and France, that can create a level of uncertainty that's potentially quite disturbing.

YDSTIE: Despite that, world financial markets have reacted quite calmly to the Cyprus event. But Nordvig says because of the crisis, EU banks are paying more to attract funds from investors and depositors. And those higher costs will be passed on to both private and business borrowers.

NORDVIG: And that obviously has implications for the economy.

YDSTIE: And that's unfortunate, since one thing that could ease the situation is economic growth in the European Union. But given government austerity and the hit to credit and confidence from the banking crisis, it's hard to see how growth can get traction. What's clear, says Ken Rogoff, is that the euro project remains a work in progress.

ROGOFF: I still think that at the end of this, there'll be a core eurozone, but there may be some breakup with some periphery countries having some kind of junior relationship with maybe capital controls.

YDSTIE: Capital controls, like the ones in Cyprus, to protect their economies. Rogoff says it could be a long time before they became full members of the Eurozone again. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.