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Clock is ticking on Cyprus’s other big bank

Reuters Breakingviews delivers agenda-setting financial insight. Its global correspondents react to stories as they develop, delivering sharp and provocative commentary on big financial news as it breaks.

Bank of Cyprus hasn't really survived the firestorm. Cyprus's €10-billion ($13.1-billion) bailout, signed off in Brussels in the early hours of March 25, may have spared the country's largest lender from the aggressive dismembering inflicted on smaller rival Laiki. But that just resets the clock on the next Cypriot bank bailout.

The biggest losers in the rescue deal are Laiki customers with deposits exceeding the €100,000 threshold for insurance. They will stump up €4.2-billion to the bailout, according to Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Assuming roughly 60 per cent of Laiki's €10-billion of Cypriot depositors are in this boat, it implies eye-watering losses of 70 per cent on their uninsured funds. Last week, the number was 10 per cent.

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Bank of Cyprus's uninsured depositors, who probably hold closer to €10-billion, will have their money frozen until the bank is recapitalized. If Cyprus has to supply €5.8-billion itself as in last week's negotiations, that would leave this group taking losses of under 20 per cent on their funds exceeding the insurance threshold. But given that Cyprus's own contribution to the bailout has gone up, their burden could rise.

The funds being hit here are thought to be largely offshore flows fleeing taxation in Russia, so this is a much fairer way to restructure Cyprus's banking sector than previous plans to hit small savers too. Bank of Cyprus will also get an unspecified heap of Laiki's better loans and end up with a 9 per cent core Tier 1 ratio. The snag is that the lender still faces severe liquidity and solvency problems.

Funding wise, Bank of Cyprus should be able to rely on the euro zone's so-called emergency liquidity assistance. But this could spiral up quite rapidly from the current €10-billion level. After well over a week without access to their money, many Cypriot depositors will withdraw their holdings whenever its doors reopen regardless of whether or not they got hit in the bailout.

As for the bank's solvency, that depends on the domestic economy. Capital controls could cause Cypriot GDP to fall much more than the European Commission's forecast 3.5-per-cent drop this year. If so, non-performing loans – currently 17 per cent of Bank of Cyprus's book – will go up in step and smash the shiny new capital buffer. The bank would then need further state capital. And if that wasn't available, it might have to take another crack at its depositors.

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