Anxious Greeks Buy Macs and PlayStations While They Still Can

Spending Amid Fears Banks Will Halt Withdrawals or Levy Charges on Deposits

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Customers wait at an ATM outside a closed bank branch in Athens.
Customers wait at an ATM outside a closed bank branch in Athens. Credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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As the going gets tough in Greece, the Greeks are going shopping.

The government was forced to extend capital controls and keep banks closed until at least Thursday as money runs out with no new bailout imminent. While some people are using their remaining available euros to buy staples to cover daily needs, others are hitting electronics and appliance stores for Apple computers and Sony PlayStations to max out their credit and debit cards where vendors still accept them.

"People are spending the money they have in the bank because otherwise they're afraid they won't get it out," said Natasa, 33, a shop assistant at electronics retailer Plaisio Computer in central Athens. She asked not to be identified by her full name. "A Mac is something that keeps its value," she added, pointing to a gleaming 27-inch screen.

It's the latest chapter in five long years of crisis for Greeks as their government resists calls from creditors for more austerity in return for rescue money.

Greeks have pulled about 40 billion euros ($44 billion) from banks since December, when it became clear elections would be held and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's Coalition of the Radical Left, or Syriza, was set to take power.

Anxiety spending
Daily withdrawals at cash machines have been limited to 60 euros since June 29, while credit and debit cards payments weren't restricted. A shopping spree took place in the run-up to Sunday's referendum, in which Greeks rejected more austerity, Antonis Zairis, VP of the Hellenic Retail Business Association, said in an interview.

"It was a short-term phenomenon caused by panic and threats," he said, adding that he expects shortages on shelves in the next 10 days.

At Delhaize Group, which operates the second-largest food retailer in Greece, demand for groceries is at peak levels, spokesman Frank van Daele said. The Lidl supermarket chain also said it had seen an increase in customers in Greece.

Newspapers have floated the idea of "kourema," or a one-time charge on deposits, which is what happened in Cyprus in 2013 to accounts holding more than 100,000 euros to shore up banks. The government has never discussed deposit haircuts, even as a possibility, the Finance Ministry said.

Worse expected
"I'm afraid of a deposit haircut," said Konstantinos, 33, a real-estate agent who spent 400 euros on a PlayStation games console. "I don't think they'll kick us out of the euro. But don't worry, what's coming is going to be worse."

The economy already shrank by about 25% in six years of near-total recession, while unemployment is stuck at the highest level in Europe, or more than 50% for youth.

With pharmaceuticals shortages reported and the prospect of a longer period of bank holiday and restrictions on imports, people are also stuck in limbo, afraid to leave their homes if they happen to have emergency cash under their mattresses.

"What television? What laptop?," said Yannis, 65, a pensioner in Athens. "There's no money left. I've got enough to cover bills, food and that's about it. If I need to call over a plumber in an emergency, I don't have the cash."

For those who can pay with cards, purchases are often out of anxiety that stores will be empty. In the first weekend of capital controls, beach bars in the Athens suburb of Glyfada weren't as full as usual for a hot summer's day. Yet the stores around the central Syntagma Square were exceptionally busy.

Dixons Carphone, which owns Greece's largest electricals retailer, has seen shopper numbers hold up across its almost 100 stores in the country. The demand in part is driven by fears that Mr. Tsipras will be unable to reach a deal and prices will rocket should Greece leave the euro, said Charles Allen, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence.

Elizabeth, 44, who lives in Athens and works in tourism, said she was going to buy a laptop "because I might not have the chance to buy one later."

~ Bloomberg News ~

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