Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Could Spain "do a Cyprus" and raid Spanish bank accounts?

Last year I posted "Are Spanish bank accounts safe?" but its assessment of the risks is now out of date because of the crisis in Cyprus.

Could Spain also start confiscating money from bank deposits in the country?

Will Spanish bank customers be effectively be blocked from accessing their accounts or moving money in  a crisis?

Is the €100,000 deposit guarantee offered on Spanish banks safe?  It didn't count for much in Spain where even tiny accounts were raided by the government and are now locked.

The Spanish government have point-blank denied there is the remotest chance of this happening in Spain and there is certainly no need to panic.

On an optimistic reading of current events you would say that Spain has already sorted out its bank recapitalisation and, even if a further bailout were needed, would learn from the Cyprus episode and not take a slice of its citizens' cash to do it.

However the crisis is a stark reminder of three worrying points for anyone with Spanish assets:

- the Eurozone crisis is still very much unresolved and will keep coming back in nasty and unpredictable ways
- the real powers that be, such as the IMF and Germany, carry all the clout and will happily trample all over Spanish national interests when there is a risk to their money
- governments are getting desperate and no liberty is too sacred to be trampled on.

I never thought I would see a European country locking its people away from their own money, but its part of pattern of governments getting increasingly aggressive and intrusive in attempts to raise cash.  In Spain we have already seen the forced declaration of foreign assets which surely is the forerunner of more punitive taxes on them.

However some of the recent reports of Spain already planning a raid on deposits is alarmist (example - Cyprus copycats: NZ and Spain).  They refer to the "moderado" levy which is being introduced at 0% (!) initially but will rise to something like 0.1-0.2%.  The key point though is that this is a pre-announced tax on the banks themselves and not a preemptive raid on deposits of their customers.

Call me naive but I don't think the "moderado" and the Cyprus levy are comparable and there is little likelihood of it mutating into a serious government bank account attack.  Not to say that the government will not get their hands on their people's cash in other ways of course - ever higher taxes on spending and income or a big increase in the wealth tax that was brought back recently.

All in all though I would say it is unlikely that the Spanish government will "do a Cyprus".  Most likely nothing will happen so long as the government debt crisis doesn't start flashing red again.  If that happens, and I think it probably will because the Spanish economy can't survive the measures announced last year to cut the deficit, then all bets are off and the fears I spoke about in my original article may be realised.

From our website:  Autonomo Guide

Thursday, March 7, 2013

EU withdrawal is losing its appeal

I have been a Eurosceptic for decades so it might seem strange, with an in-out referendum promised and anti-EU sentiment at an all time high, I am cooling on the idea of a UK exit.

Don't get me wrong, I have not suddenly learned to love Brussels.

Just last week, the British government was overruled on bankers' bonuses.  Regardless of what you think about our friends in the City, the effects of this move will overwhelmingly be felt in Britain and yet we have no right to say no.

The Eurozone shambles has reduced pro-European voices to a whisper and not just in Britain.  Any notions of being better off "at the heart of Europe" are now widely derided as those who warned about the single currency are  completely vindicated (Euro doubters are being proved doubly right).

Consequently the Europhiles have adopted fear tactics.  Fear of lost trade, jobs and inward investment.  Fear of declining influence and isolation. Fear of retribution from Brussels, Berlin and Paris.

I would liken the situation now to a spousal abuse victim finally plucking up courage to leave her husband.

Britain has been marginalised, overruled and bullied by the EU for a long time but only now, when the resolve to do something about it has hardened, do the doubts creep in...

She thinks: "What will I do for money?", We think: "who will we trade with?"

She worries: "What if he comes after me?". We fear regulatory retaliation.

She worries:"What will our friends say?".  Will Obama still take the PM's calls?

The temptation is to dismiss the Europhile fear-mongering and marginalise the downside of leaving the EU.  That would be a mistake because some of the issues are genuine and could easily turn a referendum in favour of remaining in the EU.

It is obviously true that leaving the EU will have downsides. Yes we will lose a measure of influence in the world and particularly in trade negotiations.  Of course our spurned partners (especially France) may try and put the knife in and, for example, stack the regulatory cards against the City of London.  Multinationals will certainly be worried about the security of access to the giant, albeit, shrinking market across the Channel.

None of this means that the UK should just lump it in the EU, like the victim who keeps giving their abuser another chance.  And that old reform-it-from-within line is starting to sound pretty lame.  The Eurozone countries have their own existential struggle going on and are not going to listen  to Britain however polite and obedient we are.

Besides some of the fears can be dealt with by securing guarantees in exit negotiations which could take years and in which we hold some cards, a big trade deficit prime among them.

However to make a case for withdrawal, EU opponents must do more than try and talk away the negatives. They must present a positive case for being a free and independent country once again.  How would we use that room for manoeuvre?

Theoretically the UK could reap massive economic and social advantage from being fully sovereign again: a more rational immigration policy, a massive reduction in red tape and converting saved budget contributions into tax cuts aimed at growth.

But there is a big difference between being offered an opportunity and taking it.  Given that the two main British parties are both firmly wedded to the high spending, high taxing, bank bashing, welfarist, interventionist consensus that currently prevails, EU withdrawal would be unlikely to usher in a new era of economic liberal radicalism.

And without hope of turning into the Hong Kong of Europe, why take the risk of leaving?

The best quote I ever read about withdrawal was from a Europhile who said "Britain has a competitiveness problem not a Europe problem".   Germany out-exports us handily under exactly the same regime of EU regulation.

Much as you might loathe the EU, without serious commitment to reform Britain is in deep trouble whether it leaves or not.

From our website:   Spanish non resident tax

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