Economy

New Signs Of “Invisible” Bank Run in Southern Europe, Cash Shifts To Scandinavia

Throughout the euro zone, banks are quietly hemorrhaging money as nervous clients seek safer havens for their cash. Some large companies deposit directly with the European Central Bank. Other clients are looking north, to the presumably more secure Scandi

In the third quarter alone, Spain's BBVA saw deposits by businesses and institutional investors fall by over 10%
In the third quarter alone, Spain's BBVA saw deposits by businesses and institutional investors fall by over 10%
Catherine Hoffmann

MUNICH -- The clients want their money, and they want it in cash. Whether it's because they need it to get by, or because they fear the drachma will return, many Greeks are pulling their money out of their banks. The hemorrhage is so big it threatens to sink some banks altogether.

The situation looks critical in other euro zone crisis countries as well. So far, bank customers wanting to withdraw their money haven't suddenly descended on the banks in droves. But in Ireland, Spain and Italy, an invisible – though no less threatening – bank run is ongoing. Statistics from national central banks show that billions of euros are flowing out of Irish, Spanish, Italian and even French banks.

The most flagrant example is Greece. There, since the end of 2009, deposits in commercial banks have dropped 25%, down 60 billion euros to 180 billion euros as of this past October. In Spain and Italy too, business clients in particular are turning away from their banks. "Companies have started withdrawing their funds from banks in Spain, Italy, France and Belgium," says Kinner Lakhani, an analyst at U.S. banking giant Citi.

At the two biggest Spanish banks, BBVA and Santander, deposits by businesses and institutional investors fell by more than 10% in the third quarter alone. Italy‘s Unicredit also lost 10% of its deposits, while rival Intesa suffered a whopping 16% loss. Also affected by lack of client confidence are some French banks, particularly Société Générale, but also market leader BNP Paribas.

For banks, the result has been serious liquidity problems. The drop in deposits is partly to blame, but the bank run is taking place on several other levels as well. Money market funds, struggling with high outflows, are no longer buying short term securities from the banks, and there are no takers for long-term bank bonds. Since the end of June, some 17 billion euros in unsecured European bank bonds have been sold. At the same time last year, that sum was 120 billion euros.

Many European credit institutions have been virtually squeezed out of the interbank market -- bankers are lending very little, whether it be in euros or dollars, to each other. That means the banks' main financial sources have dried up. They are being drip-fed by the European Central Bank (ECB), which is generously keeping them going with short term credits.

Cash flowing northward

Scandinavians banks are the main beneficiaries of banking problems in the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) nations. "People are fleeing the euro zone," says Georg Andersen of the Nykredit in Copenhagen. "The northern countries are proving to be more secure ports." A lot of money belonging to businesses, insurers and pension funds is going to Swedish banks like SEB and Swedbank. Investors also perceive Germany's Deutsche Bank and the Dutch bank ING as secure places for their money.

Those who are able to shovel money directly to the European Central Bank (ECB). Some German car manufacturers and Siemens, which have banking licenses, have quietly and secretly put cash reserves with the ECB in Frankfurt, where it is protected from any potential bank failures.

Both banks and governments are in a vicious circle. The worse the debt crisis gets, the more the bonds of highly indebted euro members lose value – and the worse it gets for the banks. Particularly hard hit are institutions like BNP Paribas and Société Générale, but also Commerzbank, which lent PIIGS money. Bad notes from the ratings agency make the situation that much more complicated. One thing is clear: unlike in 2008, the industrial western nations no longer possess the strength to rescue every bank and guarantee client deposits.

Capital flight already has one victim: Dexia Bank collapsed because it couldn't get any money short term. The united action taken by the central banks, including the Fed and the ECB, last week turned on the money faucet – and stokes the suspicion that there may be other banks facing collapse. The more difficult it is for banks to cover their financial requirements, the greater the danger that a large bank fails.

People haven't lost complete confidence in their banks – not even in Greece. But it cannot be excluded that the nightmare of a spiraling run on deposits becomes reality, with clients suddenly turning up in droves saying: "I want my money."

Read the original story in German

Photo - www_ukberri_net

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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