Greeks Stash Their Cash, Just in Case

Thursday, Feb 26 2015 01:37 PM

ATHENS—Athens may be in danger of default, but Greece is awash in cash.

Worry over Greece’s membership in the euro has prompted the withdrawal of more than €20 billion ($23 billion) in recent months, government officials say. Most of the money has remained in Greece, squirreled away in kitchen cabinets, flowerpots and under mattresses.

The outflows began in December in anticipation of elections that brought a leftist coalition to power. The withdrawals have cut the deposit base in Greece to about €145 billion from €164 billion in late November, forcing the European Central Bank to raise the amount of emergency liquidity it extends to Greek banks.

Late Friday, Greek officials were huddled in Brussels trying to break an impasse with Germany and other countries over the terms for further assistance. But with Greece heading into a three-day weekend and rumors spreading of pending capital controls, many deposit holders didn’t want to take a chance.

Nikos, the owner of a small manufacturing business, said Friday that he had taken some cash out for personal use “in case something happens over the weekend.”

It isn’t just well-to-do Greeks who are getting nervous. Everyone from mom-and-pop shop owners to bank employees and the unemployed are hoarding cash, fearful that Greece’s reward for its standoff with Europe will be its old currency, the drachma.

Anastasia, a 29-year-old Athens saleswoman, went to her bank after the January election and withdrew her €10,000 in savings. She said she hid the money all over her house.

“Mattress, flower pots, bags with food in the freezer and other places that I won’t tell you,” she said.

Anastasia—who like Nikos and others interviewed on the subject requested that surnames not be used—said her parents have followed her example. “They tried to be as creative as they could,” she said.

Many deposit holders have drained their accounts but kept their money in the bank—in safe-deposit boxes. Yiannis, a 45-year-old physician, said he took all his money out of the bank account and put it into a safe-deposit box in December.

undefined

“I was more afraid of the possibility of Greece’s exit from eurozone and a change in currency,” he said.

Yiannis said he is now more confident that the government will reach a deal to keep Greece in the euro. Still, he isn’t ready to redeposit his savings just yet, saying he’ll wait until summer to be absolutely sure.

Greek businesses, meanwhile, are worried about the possibility of capital controls and are keeping as much money as they can outside of the country.

“I ask my customers either to keep the invoices and not pay me yet or to pay me in a foreign bank,” said Nikos, the small business owner.

All of the cash lying about in Greek households has some people worried about the potential for crime. So far, police haven’t registered an uptick in robberies, but a violent burglary this week in an affluent Athens suburb has put some on edge.

The victim was Giorgos Thomakos, the mayor of Kifissia, an upscale Athens suburb. Burglars broke into his home early Monday, tying up him and his wife. The mayor tried to fight back but was overpowered, people familiar with the matter said. The thieves made off with cash, jewelry and other valuables.

The couple was eventually freed by their children.

The episode was particularly jarring to locals because the neighborhood, home to much of Greece’s elite, is considered particularly safe.

Still, not everyone is worried.

Anastasia, the saleswoman, said she hid her cash well. “I sleep very calmly at night,” she said. “If someone comes to rob my house and is clever enough to find where I have hidden the money, so be it. I prefer that to the possibility of a devaluation or not being able to withdraw it.”

 

By NEKTARIA STAMOULI And MATTHEW KARNITSCHNIG Feb. 20, 2015

http://www.wsj.com/articles/greeks-stash-their-cash-just-in-case-1424465484