By Kerin Hope in Athens
Published: June 21 2011 13:50 | Last updated: June 21 2011 22:34
Greek citizens are emptying savings accounts and buying gold as they brace themselves for the possibility of a sovereign default and a run on the banks.
Pledges by socialist prime minister George Papandreou that his government would “save the country” have been widely discounted by the public. However, parliament gave him a vote of confidence late on Tuesday night. The socialists have a six-seat majority in the 300-member house.
Sales of gold coins have soared as savers seek a safer and fungible source of value.
“When the global financial crisis started, our sales of coins to investors overtook bullion for the first time,” said Harry Krinakis, at Sepheriades, a Greek precious metals trader. “Now the sales ratio has reached five to one.”
Tomas, a computer technician, has exchanged his euro savings for gold coins: “I keep them at home just like my grandmother did in the second world war.”
Monthly bank withdrawals were running at €1.5bn-€2bn (£1.3bn-£1.8bn) in the first quarter. Last year, depositors withdrew €30bn, equivalent to 12.3 per cent of total savings, according to the central bank. Greek deposits worth an estimated €8bn were transferred to banks in Cyprus in 2010. But the flow has dried up this year amid fears that Cypriot banks could suffer contagion.
Andreas, a supermarket manager, transferred the family savings to Munich earlier this year: “The Swiss banks aren’t interested unless you’ve got several hundred thousand euros.”
“We can’t trust the politicians to get us out of this mess [and] have to protect our families,” Sakis, a garage owner, said at an anti-austerity protest in Athens’ Syntagma square. “A bank collapse has got to be on the cards.” He added he had withdrawn his savings and placed them in a bank safe deposit box “for security. Who cares about interest right now?”
Others put their savings into land when prices fell after Greece’s first European Union-led rescue last year. Angelos, a software specialist, bought a neighbour’s olive grove. “I grabbed the opportunity,” he said. “A year ago I wouldn’t have considered making such an old-fashioned investment.”