AFTER a black week on global markets, many Europeans are turning to other options to keep their money, but local economists still say Cypriot banks are a safe bet.
While reports flowed in about a huge increase in the sale of home safes in France, the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia and India, Cypriot analysts say banks on the island can weather the storm.
And Cypriots are not out buying safes either, according to Piperaris, one of the biggest security firms on the market.
A spokesman for the company said there had been no noticeable increase in the sale of safes related to the global crisis.
“The Cyprus economy is strong so there is no necessity to resort to buying a safe,” he said. “So far, the aim of buying safes has not been for this reason,” he added.
The first two economists that the Sunday Mail asked for the safest place to keep out money replied: “In Cypriot banks,” without feeling the need to comment further.
One person with total confidence in the system is former Finance Minister Michalis Sarris.
“My own sense is that the Cypriot banking system is sound and there is no need for concern and no basis for panic,” he said. “I wouldn’t make any significant adjustments on my own portfolio. It might be better to weather the storm and see where the dust settles.”
However, he did say that in times of extreme trouble it was always good “to err on the side of minimum risk”.
Indeed, the government’s pledge during the week to guarantee bank deposits up to €100,000 has gone a long way to easing the public’s minds about their bank savings.
“The global crisis is definitely a situation we will eventually be affected by indirectly, but the effects are not likely to be very large. The banks have followed a generally conservative policy and are able to withstand the crisis,” said another economist, Symeon Matsis. “But okay, things are not great.”
However, he said he did not foresee a run on the banks in Cyprus, “although Mr Evagoras did almost trigger something during the week,” he added.
He was referring to a comment by AKEL deputy Stavros Evagoras, who stated he had information that a subsidiary of a Greek bank in Cyprus was in trouble. He did not name the bank and there are five such subsidiaries on the island. The comment caused problems for all of them, and forced the Central Bank to issue reassurances.
“It’s all a matter of confidence,” said analyst Stelios Platis.
Once a rumour starts that a bank is in trouble, people run to remove their money, ultimately causing the bank to collapse solely based on the consequences of the rumour.
“It seems where we are right now, banks in the EU will have their deposits guaranteed so people won’t take their cash out of the bank,” Platis said.
Yet in times of trouble people do tend to consider other options for their savings, from the old reliable under-the-mattress, to land, to gold or silver or even government bonds, anything but the stock market, as was seen on Friday, as investors all over the world rushed to turn their stocks back into cash.
But even the other options have their own risks, according to both analysts. “Is there anything really safe right now?” asked Matsis.
“Land is one safe alternative, but land prices will come down in the short term anyway. Also one could think government bonds. You could also certainly think about gold and silver and other jewellery as a safe haven. Sometimes it’s better to have something solid in your hands.”
But keeping the money under the bed was not necessarily a good idea, according to Matsis. “Inflation is high so it would be losing value every day,” he said. Buying up tins of food as an investment for barter purposes was a bit too much of a doomsday scenario for him to contemplate.
Platis also said there were risks no matter what you chose to do. By keeping money under the bed it was subject to such things, remote as they might be, as fire and theft.
“The money will also lose out to inflation. If you put €100 under the bed, by the end of the year it will be only worth €95,” said Platis.
He said historically land was always a good investment unless it was being sold for ridiculous amounts. Precious metals like gold and silver were also an interesting alternative, he said. But these also carried the same risks as money under the mattress in terms of theft.
“Government bonds can be a safe way to keep money as long as governments don’t collapse,” he said. “If governments collapse, money won’t be worth anything anyway,” he added, but called this a total doomsday scenario.
By Jean Christou, Cyprus Mail, October 12, 2008