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Forget Cyprus, Nobody Is Stealing from Depositors More than Bernanke

After the Federal Reserve reaffirmed its easy money policy Wednesday, Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked whether the U.S. would ever think of taxing bank depositors as Cyprus has done. He said that was very unlikely but Jim Rickards, senior managing director of Tangent Capital Partners, says the Fed already has its hands in depositors’ pockets.

“Nobody is stealing more money from bank depositors than Ben Bernanke,” Rickards tells The Daily Ticker. Bernanke's doing that, Rickards says, by maintaining interest rates near zero.

Related: There are No Bubbles, QE is Working

“At this stage of a recovery normalized interest rates should be around 2-3%,” says Rickards. “Apply that 2-3%…to the entire multi-trillion-dollar deposit base of the United States of America and that’s a $400-billion per year wealth transfer from savers to bankers so they can pay themselves bigger bonuses or make crazy bets.” Over time, Rickards says, that wealth transfer could reach $1 trillion.

Rickards says zero interest rates are just one way the Fed is fleecing depositors. Others include increasing inflation, which Bernanke is trying to do, and taxing deposits like Cyprus is pushing for. “Bernanke is stealing more money from depositors than Cyprus is... looting everyday Americans—teachers, firemen and retirees,” says Rickards.

There’s another way, of course, to view Fed policy: that near-zero interest rates and $85 billion worth of asset purchases every month are helping to boost economic growth and employment and maintain low interest rates for both short-term and long-term debt. Bernanke himself, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee late last month, said, “The benefits of asset purchases, and of policy accommodation more generally, are clear…monetary policy is providing important support to the recovery.”

But Rickards says the easy money policy is creating asset bubbles that may feel good for now but will eventually crash. Cyprus could crash much sooner than that.

Related: Cyprus is a Game Changer for Investors: Jacob Kirkegaard

The ECB today set a Monday deadline for the island nation to finalize an agreement with the bank, the European Union and IMF in order to qualify for emergency funding. If no deal is reached by the Monday deadline Cyprus will lose access to emergency funds and its banking system could collapse. That’s especially bad news for the Cypriot economy because not only does it depend on its banks, as most economies do, but its banking system is 7 to 8 times the size of its 70-billion-euro GDP.

About 30% of those deposits are reportedly from Russia.Talks are expected to continue throughout the weekend and now reportedly include Russia.

"‘At least now the Russians and the Europeans are talking…so there’ll be some kind of resolution,” Rickards says.

There's even speculation that Russia’s gas producer Gazprom (OGZPY),which has its own bank, could lend Cyprus some money.