Siemens withdrew more than half-a-billion euros in cash deposits from a large French bank two weeks ago and transferred it to the European Central Bank, in a sign of how companies are seeking havens amid Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
The German industrial group withdrew the money partly because of concerns about the future financial health of the bank and partly to benefit from higher interest rates paid by the ECB, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told the Financial Times.
In total, Siemens has parked between 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) and 6 billion euros at the ECB’s facilities, mostly through one-week deposits, this person said. Only a handful of large companies have the banking licences that allow them to deposit cash directly with the ECB.
Siemens’ move demonstrates the impact of the eurozone’s deepening sovereign debt crisis on confidence in European banks.
It was not clear from which bank Siemens withdrew its deposits. A person familiar with BNP Paribas said, however, that it was not the bank involved.
Siemens and the ECB declined to comment.
The company’s move came almost a year after Europe’s largest engineering conglomerate prepared itself for a future financial crisis by launching its own bank, an unusual move for an industrial group outside the car sector, where companies run big car financing and leasing businesses.
In an interview last December, Roland Châlons-Browne, chief executive of Siemens’ financial services unit, said its banking business would enable the group to tap the central bank for liquidity and deposit cash at the ECB.
“In the case of another financial crisis, we will be able to broaden our flexibility and take out risk with our own bank,” Mr Châlons-Browne said at the time.
Siemens does not only use the ECB as a haven; it also gets paid a slightly higher interest rate than it would get from a commercial bank.
The ECB paid an average interest rate last week of 1.01 percent for its regular offers of one-week deposits, under which it withdraws from the financial system an amount of liquidity equivalent to the amount it has spent on eurozone government bonds.
That compares with an average overnight interest rate paid by eurozone banks of 0.95 percent.