As Greeks empty their bank accounts at a record pace, waiting for the capital-controlling, bank-holiday-based ‘other shoe’ to drop on Grexit, devaluation, and drachmatization; they are not stashing their cash in the proverbial mattress. Instead, as The Telegraph reports, there is a slightly surprising sign that Greece is in the classic throes of a bank run (as we saw in Russia last year): car sales jumped by 47% in April.
As we noted when Russia was in the middle of its currency collapse (something that is ‘hidden’ from view in Greece since there is no way – aside from implications from Sovereign CDS and bond yields – to see the devaluation)…
The dramatic collapse in the rouble in recent days has not triggered outright panic, but it has prompted a rush to change currency and to stock up on durable goods such as furniture, cars and jewellery before they become even more expensive.
And so it is that, as The Telegraph reports, for the last 20 months, car registrations of new and used vehicles has risen…
People living in a country gripped by financial turmoil often worry about the security of their money. If it’s in a bank, it can be caught up in capital controls or lost through insolvency. Better, then, to spend it. And the purchase of choice is often a car.
This makes motor vehicle sales a decent proxy for financial turmoil (under some circumstances).
Ordinary Greeks, many of whom are not wealthy enough to hold bank accounts outside of the country, are taking their money of the financial system and spending it on “hard” assets.
In December, when snap elections were called in Greece, monthly car registrations soared by nearly 70pc. Since then, bank desposits have shrunk by nearly 15pc of their total value. Another €7bn left the country in April alone.
During Cyprus’s banking crisis in 2013, car registrations increased by nearly a third in 10 months. Many Cypriots rightly feared their unsecured deposits would be at risk from the “bail-ins” of the country’s biggest banks.
Cypriot consumers also chose to make their purchases in cash, rather than be tied to financing or hire-purchase deals.
Despite depreciating in value quite quickly, cars are still a handy asset to own because they can be put to productive use – especially if the alternative is just stashing your money under a mattress.
As The Telegraph concludes, there is some cruel irony here also…
German industry is perversely one of the main beneficiaries of the country’s banking collapse.
Greek consumers, like many of their fellow Europeans, buy German cars more than any other brand.