Two Greek systemic banks submitted the first requests to the Bank of Greece for cash via the emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) system on Thursday, sources told Kathimerini.
It is thought that requests from the remaining Greek banks will follow in the next few days.
The move came in response to the pressing liquidity conditions resulting from the growing outflow of deposits as well as the acquisition of treasury bills forced onto them by the state.
Banks usually resort to ELA when they face a cash crunch and do not have adequate collateral to draw liquidity from the European Central Bank, their main funding tool. ELA is particularly costly as it carries an interest rate of 1.55 percent, against just 0.05 percent for ECB funding.
The requests by the two lenders will be discussed by the ECB next Wednesday.
Bank officials commented that lenders are resorting to ELA earlier than expected, which reflects the deteriorating liquidity conditions in the credit sector.
Besides the decline in deposits, banks were dealt another blow on Thursday with the scrapping of the euro cap on the Swiss franc. Bank estimates put the impact of the euro’s drop on the local system’s cash flow at between 1.5 and 2 billion euros.
Deposits recorded a decline of 3 billion euros in December – a month when they traditionally expand – while in the first couple of weeks of January the outflow continued, although banks say it is under control.
A major blow to the system’s liquidity has come from the repeated issue of T-bills: In November the state drew 2.75 billion euros in this way, in December it secured 3.25 billion euros, and it has already tapped another 2.7 billion in January. Of the above amounts, a significant share – amounting to 3 billion euros according to bank estimates – was in the hands of foreign investors who are not renewing their stakes, so Greek banks have to step in to buy them.
Local lenders had also resorted to ELA in 2011 to cope with the outflow of deposits and consecutive credit rating downgrades of the state (and the banks) that made Greek paper insufficient for the supply of liquidity by the Eurosystem. In June 2012, due to the uncertainty of the twin elections at the time, the ELA being drawn by local banks to handle the unprecedented outflow of deposits reached a high of 135 billion euros. By May 2014, Greek banks had reduced their ELA financing to zero.