Slovenia rejects Cypriot comparisons

By bne IntelliNews March 19, 2013

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With the country also reported to be heading towards an EU bailout, Slovenia insisted on March 18 that its situation is not comparable with that of Cyprus, where banks and depositors are in uproar over the proposed punitive levy on accounts.

Banka Slovenije said in an emailed statement: "total assets at Slovenian banks represent 135% of the nation's GDP versus 800% in Cyprus, while deposits at Slovenian banks are safe and withdrawals are stable." In the midst of concern that the Cypriot deal could spark panic amongst depositors in other struggling EU states, Slovenia's local lenders said there were no unusual money withdrawals or transfers following the March 16 announcement on the rescue plan for the island state's banks.

The finance ministry in Ljubljana told Reuters "the comparison with Cyprus in this context is completely inappropriate". The central bank said Slovenia's banking sector is much smaller relative to its economy than Cyprus's, and denied any risk that it would follow Cyprus in taxing bank deposits.

"One of the reasons for the tax on the deposits in Cypriot banks is the large share of deposits of foreign citizens there. In Slovenia, the share of foreign depositors is symbolic," the bank added in its statement, referring to speculation that EU officials insisted Cypriot depositors must be "bailed in" due to concern over the size and origin of Russian deposits.

Tim Ash of Standard Bank says that Bank of Slovenia is right to insist its problems are different to those in Cyprus. "First, the banking sector is much smaller," he agrees. "The scale of the problem is thus much smaller, and much more manageable - ie. likely bank bailout costs in Slovenia will be 10-15% of GDP, versus magnitudes higher (and rising) in Cyprus."

"Second," he continues, "the sovereign balance sheet at the start of the crisis was much stronger in Slovenia, with a general government debt/GDP ratio of 57% at the end of 2012, versus 86% in Cyprus. I don't think any bank bailout will yet sink the sovereign in Slovenia, but it clearly is in Cyprus. Third, the deposit base in Slovenia is mostly domestic, unlike Cyprus where there is a weight of foreign (mostly CIS) deposits, which grates with potential donors when it comes to providing a bailout."

However, the analyst also worries that a precedent is being set in Cyprus, which could impact Slovenia despite the differences. If politicians don't pull their fingers out and put in place a comprehensive reform programme to win the confidence of the market and allow Slovenia to finance itself independently of the EU/IMF, then the "concern of some is that the Cypriot precedent has been set of bailing in depositors," he suggests. The risk is that it all becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as expectations of a depositor bail in pushes people to withdraw their cash from the banks, and thus push them over the edge.

"Clearly, the market will be watching Slovenian bank deposit data to see any evidence of deposit flight," Ash concludes, "but the hope will be that the problems in Cyprus concentrate the minds of the Slovene policy elite ... to push ahead with its own bad bank rehabilitation programme, which has been stalled in recent weeks pending a resolution over the future of the Jansa government, and now the new Bratusek administration."

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