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The strange case of Y = 0

Some of you may recall a post of mine on the subject of how one tells the origin of euronotes by country, and how the Bank of Greece has gone into the business of printing its own unauthorised version.

At the time, I pondered at length during several posts as to why Mario in Frankfurt didn’t seem to be worried about it. Did he know anyway? some Sloggers asked: to which the answer is ‘Yes’, because each country issuing Toytown notes uses a prefix in the note number to denote the origin. Without that, the note isn’t legal tender.

Greece’s code-letter is ‘Y’. And up until just three weeks ago, there were a lot of new ‘Y’ notes in Greece.

Over the past fews days, a number of Greeks have been looking at the serial numbers of their Euro notes. I was alerted to this by one Athenian Slogger, who was surprised to find he had almost no Euro notes issued by Greece. In an email, he tells me:

‘I am sat here in Greece and decide to check out my notes. They were all withdrawn from Greek banks or ATMs over the last two weeks. At the moment I have rather a lot of cash as I have things to pay and also need to bring back some cash to use when travelling back to Greece later in the year. I have in total 27 bank notes of various values. The breakdown is as follows:-

 
French         – 1
German       – 14
Italian         – 3
Irish            – 2
Dutch          – 5
Greek          None’.
The German figure of 14 shouldn’t be misinterpreted by the way: Germany has an enormous population, and one of the lowest usage levels of plastic cards. It is also Greece’s biggest customer.

An acquaintance of my informant also notes: ‘It’s really odd about the notes beginning with a Y. Late last year I checked my notes and nearly all had them beginning with a Y, but yesterday I asked several people to check and no-one had any notes beginning with a Y. Has someone already begun withdrawing them from circulation?’

Very good question. Since receiving the email, I’ve asked a dozen or so Greek contacts to check the notes in their wallets. And guess what? Apart from one respondent, nobody had any notes beginning with ‘Y’.

There are two main ways one could interpret this:

1. Mario’s ECB has been churning out loads of notes in an effort to allay any fears that Greece has none left. (Not really likely).

2. Mario has issued an edict to the Bank of Greece: no more money from us until you stop printing your own at will. In the meantime, I’m taking all your Y-fronts out of circulation. (This is considerably more likely).

Earlier today, Mario Draghi announced that the European Central Bank would temporarily stop lending to some Greek banks, in order to limit its risk. That clearly wasn’t the whole story.

I am left wondering if whether, in anticipation of a run on Greek banks, SuperMario is starting a policy of starving the Greek banking system of cash. If so, he is going to have one helluva job doing the same thing in Spain, where withdrawals (especially from Bankia) are running wildly ahead of even Greek institutions.

That’s not really a serious suggestion. If he wanted to save Greece, the last thing Signor Draghi would do is add to the illiquid nature of this eurozone State. On the other hand, maybe he wants Greece to go under quickly. Maybe he wants every euro removed from Greece as quickly as possible in order to make room for all those new drachma coming in. Because when a drachma meets a euro (research shows) they tend not to get on. I’m told. Allegedly.

Or maybe he has a bet on (under the assumed name of Gary di Maggio) with bookies across four continents at 250-1 that by Saturday week Greece will be a drachma country once again.

I offer these vaguely silly suggestions because I really have no idea what this might mean. Anyone who does (and I mean really does, not wild theories) the address is the usual jawslog@gmail.com