Greek banks seek liquidity as deposit outflows said to grow

Two Greek lenders asked to borrow from the nation’s central bank emergency line as deposit outflows already exceed 4 billion euros ($4.6 billion) this month, according to two people with direct knowledge.

Eurobank Ergasias SA and Alpha Bank AE requested to tap the Emergency Liquidity Assistance, or ELA, said a senior Greek government official with knowledge of the matter. The request was filed following Bank of Greece instructions, according to officials at the two banks.

Both officials said neither lender plans to use the liquidity boost at this stage and the request was submitted based on the central bank’s estimate that they might need it over coming weeks. All three officials asked for anonymity because the matter is private. A Bank of Greece spokesman declined to comment.

Savers, seeking safety for their cash amid concern about the outcome of parliamentary elections on January 25, are accelerating deposit outflows and draining liquidity from the country’s lenders. Net withdrawals were about 3 billion euros in December and have increased since then, thus exceeding 7 billion euros since speculation on snap elections began, according to a Greek official with knowledge of the matter.

Total deposits in Greek banks stood at 164.3 billion euros in November, according to the latest available data from the Bank of Greece.

Snap Elections

Eurobank shares fell as much as 10 percent to 16.3 euro cents while Alpha Bank dropped as much as 7.7 percent as of 2:50 p.m. in Athens. The cost of insuring Greek sovereign and bank debt rose, according to credit-default swap prices from data provider CMA.

Opinion polls show that the Syriza party, which opposes the terms attached to Greece’s bailout and wants a writedown on public debt, will win the elections. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has said that these pledges will bring Greece into collision with its official creditors, potentially leading the country out of the euro area.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras has said that “Grexit has been thrown into the rubbish bin” and that his party will negotiate a debt writedown within the framework of European institutions, risking neither the country’s membership in the currency bloc nor the safety of deposits.

ELA has been used as a remedy for banks facing a drain on liquidity in the past. Greece used ELA in 2011 and 2012 as the country negotiated its 200 billion-euro debt restructuring. While the funds are provided at the national central bank’s own risk, they must be approved by the European Central Bank. The ECB will examine the request filed by Eurobank and Alpha Bank next week, Kathimerini reported.