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Election jitters result in run on ATMs

Two customers withdraw money from an Acleda Bank ATM near the company’s headquarters on Monivong Boulevard
Two customers withdraw money from an Acleda Bank ATM near the company’s headquarters on Monivong Boulevard. HENG CHIVOAN

Election jitters result in run on ATMs

Acleda Bank users withdrew an estimated $4 million in cash from ATMs on Sunday evening as tensions mounted over the results of the national election and triggered fears of instability, an analyst with ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said.

The volume, confirmed by Acleda, was two to three times higher than the average daily amount.

“Our understanding was that it was a knee-jerk reaction on Sunday evening, where people were withdrawing cash and stocking up on food in preparation for unrest and disruption of services,” Ivan Tan, a credit analyst with S&P in Singapore, said in an email yesterday. “Those fears were unfounded and it appears that the situation has stabilised for the banking sector for now.”

The ratings agency released a statement on July 30, two days after the election, saying it was holding Acleda’s credit rating at B, or stable, because the withdrawals were limited compared to the bank’s liquid assets.

Acleda, with 170 ATMs across the country, is Cambodia’s biggest bank, and was therefore the most impacted, S&P said in the statement. As of June 30, the bank held $1.5 billion in deposits.

S&P did not have figures for other banks in Cambodia as it only rates Acleda.

Most of the withdrawals took place in Phnom Penh, which was the scene of isolated rioting and an increased police presence on Sunday. Long lines formed at ATMs, and prices for basic food staples were jacked up.

While the atmosphere has calmed, the outlook is uncertain. According to early results, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won by a narrow margin, and though the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party won a stunning 55 seats in parliament, up from 29, its leaders are calling for an investigation into alleged irregularities on voting day.

The eventual findings of the probe, which was welcomed by Prime Minister Hun Sen during his first post-election appearance on Wednesday, won’t be known in the near term.

The ratings agency said that “in a less-likely scenario of sustained withdrawals due to continuing protests, the bank may have to rely on the central bank for liquidity”.

Acleda president In Channy said his officials were concerned, but prepared, pointing out that when withdrawals jumped, ATMs weren’t emptied out.

“Most of the customers, they withdrew only the small denomination,” he said. “It wasn’t empty of cash, we had plenty of riel, because they don’t demand the riel then. And we had plenty of $100 dollar bills.”

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