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Is This What a Run on Greek Banks Looks Like?

In the last few weeks, market analysts have ratcheted up fears about a run on Greek banks. Now, some experts say those fears are beginning to materialize.

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In the last few weeks, market analysts have ratcheted up fears about a run on Greek banks. Now, some experts say those fears are beginning to materialize.

The photographs above of Greek citizens pulling cash from ATMs were captured today and yesterday by Reuters and Russian Market following an announcement by Greek Central bank head George Provopoulos that Greeks pulled 700 million euros ($891 million) from the country's banks on Monday. Does that huge sum equate to a run on the banks? It depends who you ask.

This is the beginning of a run on banks. Zero Hedge blogger Tyler Durden fears the worst as he passes along pictures of ATM lines in Greece. "A Greek banking system which is now virtually shut out of any extrenal funding except for the ELA, where it has a few billions euros in access left, will be unable to deal with hundreds of millions in deposit outflows," he writes. "This may be the beginning of the end for Greece, just as Buiter and later JPM warned over the weekend." Similarly, Z6Mag editor Allan Soldner says the withdrawals this week show the first signs of a run, noting yesterday that the Dow, S&P and Nasdaq all ended down, along with the precious metals market. "ATM lines are often the hysteria that starts the ball rolling even worse in any bank run because people walking by start asking if they should be doing the same."

This isn't a run on banks but it's scary. Crunching some numbers, Financial Times blogger Joseph Cotterill latches onto an FT report that says Athens bankers have voiced conern about a continued "outflow of deposits of more than 5bn since May 6." Conveying the severity of the withdrawals, he says "That would work out at an average of €700m per business day, up to May 15." Still, Cotterill is more surprised that these kinds of withdrawals haven't happened sooner. "The amazing thing about the Greek banking system since 2009 is not just the 25 to 30 per cent of deposits that have left, but the 70-75 per cent which have stayed."

Meanwhile, Greece's president Karolos Papoulias has taken a similar tone in that the withdrawals are frightening but not a sign of mass panic. "Of course there’s no panic but there’s great fear which can evolve into panic,” the president said. Not the most reassuring words but I guess that's how they do business in Greece.

Things don't seem to be that bad. While quoting experts who say the risk of a bank run is "a very serious problem," Bloomberg's Natalie Weeks and Maria Petrakis downplay the idea of a mass panic in Greece. "Banks in downtown in Athens were open as normal today with no signs of unusual activity," they report. "Deposits by businesses and households held in Greek banks stood at 165.4 billion euros in March ... In 2011, deposits declined 35.4 billion euros, or 17 percent." Corroborating that view, a woman in Greece told MSNBC she had withdrawn 85 percent of "what's left" in her bank account but didn't notice lines when she did. "There are no lines to withdraw money, but maybe that's because many Greeks have precious little left in the bank," she said. "Many have been surviving on [$500] 400 euros a month, which has to cover tax, bills, food and medical costs."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.