Garth Kant is WND Washington news editor. Previously, he spent five years writing, copy-editing and producing at "CNN Headline News," three years writing, copy-editing and training writers at MSNBC, and also served several local TV newsrooms as producer, executive producer and assistant news director. He is the author of the McGraw-Hill textbook, "How to Write Television News."More ↓Less ↑
“The eyes of Texas are upon you” goes the song, but right now those eyes seem to be squarely focused on the financial crisis in Cyprus.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry is supporting a bill that would return the state’s $1 billion in gold reserves currently stored by the Federal Reserve at a vault in New York to the state.
The sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, told the Texas Tribune, “For us to have our own gold, a lot of the runs on the bank and those types of things, they happen because people are worried that there’s nothing there to back it up.”
Bank runs were the great fear in the Mediterranean-island country of Cyprus today, as banks reopened for the first time since March 16, while the European Union imposed unprecedented austerity measures on the nation, including confiscating money in bank accounts. WND reported on March 18 the concerns that the crisis could spread to the U.S. financial system.
Capriglione said his bill is, “not about putting Texas on its own gold standard, [but instead will] give the state a reputation as being more financially secure in the event of a national or international financial crisis.”
“If we own it,” Perry told Glenn Beck last week, “I will suggest to you that that’s not someone else’s determination whether we can take possession of it back or not.”
Capriglione’s bill would establish the Texas Bullion Depository to hold the gold.
“We don’t want just the certificates. We want our gold. And if you’re the state of Texas, you should be able to get your gold,” said Capriglione.
However, he concedes transporting $1 billion worth of gold bars would be impractical, so he suggests selling the gold and repurchasing it in Texas.
The bill might get bipartisan support. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, called the bill “an interesting concept” and wants to consult financial experts on its merits.
That bipartisan support may stem from the severity of the crisis in Europe and fears it could spread here.
Cyprus fell into turmoil while the government and European financial leaders hammered out a $13 billion emergency assistance package to keep the nation’s banks from collapsing.
Cypriots were outraged and took to the streets to protest an unprecedented plan to impose a confiscatory tax on all bank accounts.
Depositors with more than 100,000 euros, or about $130,000, would get 9.9 percent immediately deducted from their accounts. Smaller deposits would suffer a deduction of 6.75 percent.
Following the protests, the plan to confiscate money from the smaller accounts was rejected by Cyprus’ parliament.
The European Union said in a statement today the restrictions on access to money will be lifted as soon as possible.
The heavily indebted government of Cyprus is still planning to raise as much as $8.3 billion with its “one-time” tax on bank accounts of more than 100,000 euros, to satisfy the bailout demands of the EU.
The Cyprus crisis has sparked a surge in an alternative currency that exists only in cyberspace.
The trading value of a digital cash called “bitcoins” has soared, increasing by 20 percent on one U.S. currency exchange in just the last week.
“Incremental demand for bitcoin is coming from the geographic areas most affected by the Cypriot financial crisis – individuals in countries like Greece or Spain, worried that they will be next to feel the threat of deposit taxes,” said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx.
“This is a clear sign that people are looking for alternative ways to get their money out of the country,” said Christopher Vecchio, currency analyst at DailyFX.
Even though some economists say Cyprus is a special case and the “contagion” of taxing bank accounts is unlikely to spread, until now bank accounts worldwide, no matter how dire the government’s financial woes, have been held sacrosanct.
Now the government in at least one nation is poised to simply take money out of depositors’ accounts. That’s a first.
Could it happen in the U.S.?
Some experts say probably not – at least not in the same way as in Cyprus.
Economist, speaker and author Jerry Robinson, who runs Follow the Money Daily and is a featured columnist at WND, assessed the crisis in Cyprus.
“It has a lot to do with politics, Angela Merkel’s reelection bid and also a few others trying to stay in power,” he said.
Robinson said it’s interesting to observe that such powers are playing tough with a tiny nation like Cyprus, while bigger nations with worse economies, such as Italy and Spain, have not been attacked in the same way.
But he said the plans are drastic.
“This is nuclear war on the banking [industry],” Robinson observed.
Some analysts point out that in the U.S., government is already “taxing” Americans’ bank accounts by other, less obvious and more long-term means than the naked cash-grab playing out in Cyprus.
For instance, interest rates in the U.S. are near zero, so depositors are not getting paid for the use of their funds, effectively “loaning” their hard-earned money to banks. Then, thanks to inflation, their deposits become worth progressively less and less.
The real-world inflation rate – as measured by the actual rise in prices of essentials, including food and fuel – is far higher in the U.S. than the official 2 percent. But even using the 2 percent figure, over the next few years the buying power of American depositors’ bank accounts will be just as diminished as that of Cyprus bank-account holders.
But this new and unsettling form of “tax” is not the only concern. The immediate concern for many is that the crisis in Cyprus will spread, causing bank runs in other troubled European Union countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal. A European financial crisis of that magnitude would undoubtedly hurt the U.S. economy.
Most American depositors take comfort in the fact that their savings accounts in banks and credit unions are federally guaranteed up $250,000. However, those government funds are designed to bail out very infrequent bank failures. They in no way could cover all depositors’ accounts in the case of a widespread run on U.S. banks, as is occurring now in Cyprus.
Respected hard-money proponent James Turk says bank runs in Europe are a wake-up call to all bank depositors around the world.
“Bank insurance means nothing these days when bureaucrats and politicians are looking for wealth to grab,” Turk said.
“To me this proposed bailout is outright theft, and theft cannot be justified, but the central planners are trying to do that anyway,” he added.
“The events in Cyprus are obviously a scary message that the Greeks, Spaniards, Italians and others are taking seriously, because they see that their money in the bank is at risk, too. But the less obvious message is that all money in banks is at risk. Not only are bank assets impaired, but all the banks are interlinked because they lend to one another and own a lot of debt of insolvent countries,” concluded Turk.
Cyprus is particularly vulnerable to instability in the banking sector. The country’s banking assets are about eight times the size of the economy. And foreign investors hold almost half of the 70 billion euros deposited in Cyprus. Moody’s estimates $19 billion of those deposits are owned by Russian corporations. Many suspect the Russian mafia uses banks in Cyprus to launder money.
When the Cyrpus crisis erupted, the U.S. Treasury Department issued a statement, reading, “The Treasury Department is monitoring the situation in Cyprus closely, and Secretary Jacob Lew has been speaking with his European counterparts. It is important that Cyprus and its euro-area partners work to resolve the situation in a way that is responsible and fair and ensures financial stability.”"
But the damage may be already done to confidence in the European banking system. This is the first time a national bailout has proposed to impose losses on bank depositors. Some call that a dangerous precedent.