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With iron-ore stockpiles at record highs in China amid the escalating cash-for-steel financing debacles, one can only imagine the squeeze that is about to occur on the banks of a nation that is almost entirely economically dependent on said iron-ore mining production… which made us think when we saw this sign “justifying” holding low cash amounts in an Aussie bank ATM…
So no need for a withdrawal halt per se when you simply make it impossible for customers to get their money out…
By Jeff Thomas
Recently, an HSBC depositor in Swindon, UK attempted to withdraw £10,000 from his account (which was in credit of about £50,000) and was told that he could withdraw no more than £1,000 without providing adequate proof as to how the funds would be used.
The depositor later stated:
“HSBC will not let me take out anything over £1,000 cash over the counter. I gave them warning, but they say they must know what I will use it for—they want to see evidence of hotel bookings, etc. In short, they refuse to give me my cash. HSBC say it is new internal rules to help prevent money laundering.”
An HSBC spokesman stated:
“In these instances we may also ask the customer to show us evidence of what the cash is required for. The reason for this is twofold, as a responsible bank we have an obligation to our customers to protect them, and to minimise the opportunity for financial crime.”
After less than a week of this policy having been implemented, it generated significant outcries from depositors—so much so that HSBC has already backed down. They had this to say:
“However, following feedback, we are immediately updating guidance to our customer facing staff to reiterate that it is not mandatory for customers to provide documentary evidence for large cash withdrawals, and on its own, failure to show evidence is not a reason to refuse a withdrawal. We are writing to apologise to any customer who has been given incorrect information and inconvenienced.”
So… apparently, it was a mere misunderstanding. Some mid-level manager apparently became overzealous in exercising what he considered to be “reasonable caution.”
So, what are we to make of this? Well, the message is clearly that we are to say to ourselves, “Cooler heads have prevailed. Tempest in a teacup. Problem solved.”
But this is not so. Similar instances of refusal to return funds over £1,000 have taken place in HSBC branches in Wilshire and Worcestershire in the past week. This tells us that this was an HSBC policy decision—that it came from senior HSBC management.
This attempt at greater control over depositors’ funds has a broader significance. Over the years, we have predicted that as the Great Unravelling progresses, we shall observe the seizing of wealth and monetary control by governments and banks, acting in concert.
Over time, both wealth in general and the control over it will move inexorably into the hands of the banks and the political leaders. As this unfolds, we shall see numerous trial balloons, such as this one by HSBC and others. (The Cyprus bail-in was a similar but more successful trial balloon.)
Some will succeed, others will fail, but the central programme will move inexorably on. That programme will be driven by a new assumption—that the holding of wealth and the management of wealth are so central to national and international stability that only the central banks and governments can be entrusted with them. The individual cannot be trusted to control his own wealth.
The Bank Takes on the Role of a Regulatory Body
In floating this new policy, the banks have changed their traditional role as a monetary storage facility. They have now been granted the authority to refuse the return of funds that have been entrusted to them, based upon their authority to be satisfied that the money will be well spent by the depositor. If the depositor is, in effect, being expected to prove to the bank that he does not plan to perform a criminal act, the bank goes beyond its function as a business and becomes a regulatory body.
Without delving into conspiracy theories, there can be little doubt that the UK government has provided extraordinary latitude to HSBC (and presumably other banks)—latitude that, not long ago, would have been considered reprehensible.
However, throughout Europe, the US, and much of the rest of the world, we are seeing a growing tendency for governments to allow banks to control depositors’ funds.
As stated above, the 2013 Cyprus bail-in is a similar case—one in which the banks literally stole depositors’ funds with the tacit approval of the Cypriot government, and to much encouragement from the EU.
Since that time, Canada has passed legislation allowing its banks to do the same; and, more recently, the IMF has announced a similar plan for the EU.
As regular readers of this publication will know, we frequently publish reminders that, historically, when a nation is in the final stages of decline, the government invariably performs a last squeeze of the lemon—a final confiscation of the public’s wealth.
They tend to do this through whatever means they feel may succeed. As that is the case, in the future, we can expect to see increasing:
- Confiscation: As we have already seen and will soon see on a larger scale, banks will be given the right to steal depositors’ funds, as stated above.
- Capital Controls: This will take many forms, but of particular interest will be an increase in governmental control over the expatriation of individuals’ money.
- Civil Forfeiture: Law enforcement authorities of all branches now have the authority to seize the assets of any individual who is under suspicion of a crime. (This is particularly the case in the US. It is not necessary that the individual be convicted or even charged.) This will be on the increase and has begun to reach the point of “shakedowns”—stopping people expressly to seize assets.
- Freezing of Assets: In the EU and US, accounts are presently frozen for a variety of reasons—the client may be “suspected of a crime,” or his transactions may be deemed to be “inappropriate.” In the future, reasons for freezing assets will expand to “the threat of a possible run on the bank,” and “concern for the stability of the economy.” Governments will additionally simply use the nondescript blanket term, “temporary emergency measure.” (As Milton Friedman noted, “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.”)
As these events unfold, the average depositor will be pressed to continue to function economically, but, as troubled as he might be, he will go along, as he really doesn’t have a choice. (Should he object too strenuously, he may well be investigated.)
Each of the above justifications for shutting off the money tap sound reasonable… It’s just that they happen to be a lie.
As stated above, when a nation is in the final stages of decline, the government invariably performs a last squeeze of the lemon—a final confiscation of the public’s wealth.
That process has now begun and will inexorably expand and continue until the confiscations have reached the point of greatly diminished returns or collapse of the governments’ power, whichever comes first.
If the reader sees this as even a 50/50 possibility, he would be wise to take steps to safeguard his wealth by removing it from a system that has become a threat to his continued ownership of his wealth.
Editor’s Note: The best way you can safeguard yourself and your savings from the measures of a desperate government is through internationalization. There are some very practical strategies you can implement from your own living room. Going Global from Casey Research is a comprehensive A-to-Z guide on this crucially important topic. Click here to learn more.
Following research last week suggesting that HSBC has a major capital shortfall, the fact that several farmer’s co-ops were unable to pay back depositors in China, and, of course, the liquidity crisis in China itself, news from The BBC that HSBC is imposing restrictions on large cash withdrawals raising a number of red flags. The BBC reports that some HSBC customers have been prevented from withdrawing large amounts of cash because they could not provide evidence of why they wanted it. HSBC admitted it has not informed customers of the change in policy, which was implemented in November for their own good: “We ask our customers about the purpose of large cash withdrawals when they are unusual… the reason being we have an obligation to protect our customers, and to minimise the opportunity for financial crime.” As one customer responded: “you shouldn’t have to explain to your bank why you want that money. It’s not theirs, it’s yours.”
Some HSBC customers have been prevented from withdrawing large amounts of cash because they could not provide evidence of why they wanted it, the BBC has learnt.
Listeners have told Radio 4’s Money Box they were stopped from withdrawing amounts ranging from £5,000 to £10,000.
HSBC admitted it has not informed customers of the change in policy, which was implemented in November.
The bank says it has now changed its guidance to staff.
“When we presented them with the withdrawal slip, they declined to give us the money because we could not provide them with a satisfactory explanation for what the money was for. They wanted a letter from the person involved.”
Mr Cotton says the staff refused to tell him how much he could have: “So I wrote out a few slips. I said, ‘Can I have £5,000?’ They said no. I said, ‘Can I have £4,000?’ They said no. And then I wrote one out for £3,000 and they said, ‘OK, we’ll give you that.’ ”
He asked if he could return later that day to withdraw another £3,000, but he was told he could not do the same thing twice in one day.
Mr Cotton cannot understand HSBC’s attitude: “I’ve been banking in that bank for 28 years. They all know me in there. You shouldn’t have to explain to your bank why you want that money. It’s not theirs, it’s yours.”
HSBC has said that following customer feedback, it was changing its policy: “We ask our customers about the purpose of large cash withdrawals when they are unusual and out of keeping with the normal running of their account. Since last November, in some instances we may have also asked these customers to show us evidence of what the cash is required for.”
“The reason being we have an obligation to protect our customers, and to minimise the opportunity for financial crime. However, following feedback, we are immediately updating guidance to our customer facing staff to reiterate that it is not mandatory for customers to provide documentary evidence for large cash withdrawals, and on its own, failure to show evidence is not a reason to refuse a withdrawal. We are writing to apologise to any customer who has been given incorrect information and inconvenienced.”
But Eric Leenders, head of retail at the British Bankers Association, said banks were sensible to ask questions of their customers: “I can understand it’s frustrating for customers. But if you are making the occasional large cash withdrawal, the bank wants to make sure it’s the right way to make the payment.”
The arrogance is incredible…
“The Biggest Redistribution Of Wealth From The Middle Class And Poor To The Rich Ever” Explained… | Zero Hedge
While the growth of inequality in America has been heavily discussed here, it was Stan Druckenmiller’s outbursts (and warnings that “from beginning to end – once markets adjust from these subsidized prices – that the wealth effect of QE will have been negative not positive”) that brought it more broadly into the average American’s mind. QE, taxes, income disparity, and entitlements are four major means by which wealth is transferred from the poor and the middle class to the rich. The following simple chart explains it all…
Via Shane Obata-Marusic ( @sobata416)
A – “the rich hold assets, the poor have debt” is how Citi’s Matt King described the distribution of wealth in the US.
B – QE has resulted in a loss of purchasing power for the US dollar. Faced with this problem, consumers in the middle class are taking on more non-housing debt in order to maintain the same standard of living. In addition, the US government – which continues to run a deficit year after year – continues to accumulate debt. Due to these facts, total debt outstanding – aka credit market instruments for all sectors – is at all time highs. More debt means more interest payments and lower savings rates. These trends do not bode well for the middle class consumer.
C – On the other hand, QE has been great for the rich. QE has inflated the prices of assets such as property, bonds, stocks, and non-home real estate:
Home prices in Detroit are going up despite the fact that the city is bankrupt. The “housing occupancy” table is meant to show what appears to be a higher than average amount of speculative demand i.e. lower than average owner occupancy rates.
The rich have most of the assets which is why the average family income of the top 0.01% increased by 76.2% from 2002 to 2012. In contrast, the average family income of the bottom 90% decreased by 10.7% over that same period.
D – Taxes as a percentage of real disposable income have more than doubled since 1980. This trend has not been kind to the bottom 90%.
Conversely, favourable tax rates on dividends and capital gains have allowed the rich to become wealthier over time.
E – Median household income has been in a downtrend since the late 90s.
In opposition, corporate profits are at all-time highs.
F – The entitlement problem is only going to get worse as more baby boomers leave the work force. Future generations will have to pay for the debt that the old and rich continue to take on.
Growing benefits and sympathetic tax rates on investments enabled the old to increase consumption by 164% from 1960-1991 .
G – In conclusion, QE, taxes, income disparity, and entitlements are contributing to “the biggest redistribution of wealth from the middle class and the poor to the rich ever” If things continue the way they are going, then millennials and future generations will pay the price:
Despite the fact that inequality in the US is nothing new:
Today, it might be worse than it ever has been:
Unless the distribution of wealth in America begins to change for the better, assets will continue to benefit the rich and debt will continue to burden the middle class and the poor.
For an economy that’s largely based on consumption, excess debt only serves to reduce expenditures and to slow economic growth over time.
Quality of life for the median American household is only going to get better if the issues associated monetary policy, entitlements, taxes, and income are addressed and dealt with.
For now, the best thing that you can do is to discuss these issues with your friends, family and colleagues and try to come up with solutions.
A paper currency system contains the seeds of its own destruction. The temptation for the monopolist money producer to increase the money supply is almost irresistible. In such a system with a constantly increasing money supply and, as a consequence, constantly increasing prices, it does not make much sense to save in cash to purchase assets later. A better strategy, given this senario, is to go into debt to purchase assets and pay back the debts later with a devalued currency. Moreover, it makes sense to purchase assets that can later be pledged as collateral to obtain further bank loans. A paper money system leads to excessive debt.
This is especially true of players that can expect that they will be bailed out with newly produced money such as big businesses, banks, and the government.
We are now in a situation that looks like a dead end for the paper money system. After the last cycle, governments have bailed out malinvestments in the private sector and boosted their public welfare spending. Deficits and debts skyrocketed. Central banks printed money to buy public debts (or accept them as collateral in loans to the banking system) in unprecedented amounts. Interest rates were cut close to zero. Deficits remain large. No substantial real growth is in sight. At the same time banking systems and other financial players sit on large piles of public debt. A public default would immediately trigger the bankruptcy of the banking sector. Raising interest rates to more realistic levels or selling the assets purchased by the central bank would put into jeopardy the solvency of the banking sector, highly indebted companies, and the government. It looks like even the slowing down of money printing (now called “QE tapering”) could trigger a bankruptcy spiral. A drastic reduction of government spending and deficits does not seem very likely either, given the incentives for politicians in democracies.
So will money printing be a constant with interest rates close to zero until people lose their confidence in the paper currencies? Can the paper money system be maintained or will we necessarily get a hyperinflation sooner or later?
There are at least seven possibilities:
1. Inflate. Governments and central banks can simply proceed on the path of inflation and print all the money necessary to bail out the banking system, governments, and other over-indebted agents. This will further increase moral hazard. This option ultimately leads into hyperinflation, thereby eradicating debts. Debtors profit, savers lose. The paper wealth that people have saved over their life time will not be able to assure such a high standard of living as envisioned.
2. Default on Entitlements. Governments can improve their financial positions by simply not fulfilling their promises. Governments may, for instance, drastically cut public pensions, social security and unemployment benefits to eliminate deficits and pay down accumulated debts. Many entitlements, that people have planned upon, will prove to be worthless.
3. Repudiate Debt. Governments can also default outright on their debts. This leads to losses for banks and insurance companies that have invested the savings of their clients in government bonds. The people see the value of their mutual funds, investment funds, and insurance plummet thereby revealing the already-occurred losses. The default of the government could lead to the collapse of the banking system. The bankruptcy spiral of overindebted agents would be an economic Armageddon. Therefore, politicians until now have done everything to prevent this option from happening.
4. Financial Repression. Another way to get out of the debt trap is financial repression. Financial repression is a way of channeling more funds to the government thereby facilitating public debt liquidation. Financial repression may consist of legislation making investment alternatives less attractive or more directly in regulation inducing investors to buy government bonds. Together with real growth and spending cuts, financial repression may work to actually reduce government debt loads.
5. Pay Off Debt. The problem of overindebtedness can also be solved through fiscal measures. The idea is to eliminate debts of governments and recapitalize banks through taxation. By reducing overindebtedness, the need for the central bank to keep interest low and to continue printing money is alleviated. The currency could be put on a sounder base again. To achieve this purpose, the government expropriates wealth on a massive scale to pay back government debts. The government simply increases existing tax rates or may employ one-time confiscatory expropriations of wealth. It uses these receipts to pay down its debts and recapitalize banks. Indeed the IMF has recently proposed a one-time 10-percent wealth tax in Europe in order to reduce the high levels of public debts. Large scale cuts in spending could also be employed to pay off debts. After WWII, the US managed to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio from 130 percent in 1946 to 80 percent in 1952. However, it seems unlikely that such a debt reduction through spending cuts could work again. This time the US does not stand at the end of a successful war. Government spending was cut in half from $118 billion in 1945 to $58 billion in 1947, mostly through cuts in military spending. Similar spending cuts today do not seem likely without leading to massive political resistance and bankruptcies of overindebted agents depending on government spending.
6. Currency Reform. There is the option of a full-fledged currency reform including a (partial) default on government debt. This option is also very attractive if one wants to eliminate overindebtedness without engaging in a strong price inflation. It is like pressing the reset button and continuing with a paper money regime. Such a reform worked in Germany after the WWII (after the last war financial repression was not an option) when the old paper money, the Reichsmark, was substituted by a new paper money, the Deutsche Mark. In this case, savers who hold large amounts of the old currency are heavily expropriated, but debt loads for many people will decline.
7. Bail-in. There could be a bail-in amounting to a half-way currency reform. In a bail-in, such as occurred in Cyprus, bank creditors (savers) are converted into bank shareholders. Bank debts decrease and equity increases. The money supply is reduced. A bail-in recapitalizes the banking system, and eliminates bad debts at the same time. Equity may increase so much, that a partial default on government bonds would not threaten the stability of the banking system. Savers will suffer losses. For instance, people that invested in life insurances that in turn bought bank liabilities or government bonds will assume losses. As a result the overindebtedness of banks and governments is reduced.
Any of the seven options, or combinations of two or more options, may lie ahead. In any case they will reveal the losses incurred in and end the wealth illusion. Basically, taxpayers, savers, or currency users are exploited to reduce debts and put the currency on a more stable basis. A one-time wealth tax, a currency reform or a bail-in are not very popular policy options as they make losses brutally apparent at once. The first option of inflation is much more popular with governments as it hides the costs of the bail out of overindebted agents. However, there is the danger that the inflation at some point gets out of control. And the monopolist money producer does not want to spoil his privilege by a monetary meltdown. Before it gets to the point of a runaway inflation, governments will increasingly ponder the other options as these alternatives could enable a reset of the system.
Note: The views expressed in Daily Articles on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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Philipp Bagus is an associate professor at Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. He is an associate scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and was awarded the 2011 O.P. Alford III Prize in Libertarian Scholarship. He is the author of The Tragedy of the Euro and coauthor of Deep Freeze: Iceland’s Economic Collapse. The Tragedy of the Euro has so far been translated and published in German, French, Slovak, Polish, Italian, Romanian, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, British English, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, and Chinese. See his website. Send him mail. Follow him on Twitter @PhilippBagus See Philipp Bagus’s article archives.