Archive for the ‘Iceland’ Category

Global Financial Meltdown: Iceland, Mired in Debt, Blames Britain for Woes

November 2, 2008

No one disputes that Iceland’s economic troubles are largely the country’s own fault. But there may be more to the story, at least in the view of Iceland’s government, its citizens and even some outsiders. As grave as their situation already was, they say, Britain — their old friend, NATO ally and trading partner — made it immeasurably worse.

By Sarah Lyall
The New York Times

The troubles between the countries began three weeks ago when Britain took the extraordinary step of using its 2001 antiterrorism laws to freeze the British assets of a failing Icelandic bank. That appeared to brand Iceland a terrorist state.

“I must admit that I was absolutely appalled,” the Icelandic foreign minister, Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir, said in an interview, describing her horror at opening the British treasury department’s home page at the time and finding Iceland on a list of terrorist entities with Al Qaeda, Sudan and North Korea, among others.

In a volatile economic climate, in which appearance matters almost as much as reality, being associated with terrorism is not a good thing.

“The immediate effect was to trigger an almost complete freeze on any banking transactions between Iceland and abroad,” said Jon Danielsson, an economist at the London School of Economics. “When you’re labeled a terrorist, nobody does business with you.”

Iceberg with hole edit.jpg

The Icelandic prime minister, Geir H. Haarde, accused Britain of “bullying a small neighbor” and said the action was “very out of proportion.” In a recent speech in Beijing, Sir Howard Davies, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England and now the director of the London School of Economics, said that Britain had used a “beggar thy neighbor” approach to Iceland.

And an online petition signed so far by more than 20 percent of Iceland’s population said the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, had sacrificed Iceland “for his own short-term political gain,” thereby turning “a grave situation into a national disaster.”

Iceland’s financial problems had been brewing for some time. This past spring, the country’s banks, bloated with foreign deposits and debts, began to falter. This fall, as the financial crisis deepened, the government took over two of the country’s three largest banks.

Britain’s government, alarmed about the tens of thousands of accounts held by its citizens, companies, local governments and charities, froze the British assets of one of the failed banks, Landsbanki. It also seized the assets of Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander, the British subsidiary of another Icelandic bank, Kaupthing.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/world
/europe/02iceland.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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The Next World War? It Could Be Financial.

October 12, 2008

By Peter Boone and Simon Johnson
The Washington Post
Sunday, October 12, 2008; Page B01

The global financial outlook grows more dire by the day: The United States has been forced to shore up Wall Street, and European governments are bailing out numerous commercial banks. Even more alarmingly, the government of Iceland is presiding over a massive default by all the country’s major banks. This troubling development points not only to an even more painful recession than anticipated, but also to the urgent need for international coordination to avoid something worse: all-out financial warfare.

The ramifications of Iceland’s misery are probably more serious than people realize. The country’s bank assets are more than 10 times greater than its gross domestic product, so the government clearly cannot afford a bailout. This is going to be a large default, affecting many parties. In the United Kingdom alone, 300,000 account holders face sudden loss of access to their funds, and the process for claiming deposit insurance is not entirely clear.

But there’s a broader concern. With European governments turning down his appeals for assistance, Iceland’s prime minister, Geir Haarde, warned last week that it was now “every country for itself.” This smacks of the financial autarchy that characterized defaulters in the financial crisis in Asia in the late 1990s. Similarly, when Argentina defaulted on its debt in 2001-’02, politicians there faced enormous pressure to change the rule of law to benefit domestic property holders over foreigners, and they changed the bankruptcy law to give local debtors the upper hand. In Indonesia and Russia after the crises of 1998, local enterprises and banks took the opportunity of the confusion to grab property, then found ways to ensure that courts sided with them.

This is a natural outcome of chaotic times. Iceland’s promise to guarantee domestic depositors while reneging on guarantees to foreigners may be just a first step. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s decision last week to sue Iceland over this issue may escalate the crisis. The use of counterterrorist legislation to take over Icelandic bank assets and operations in the United Kingdom also has a potentially dramatic symbolic effect.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/w
p-dyn/content/article/2008/10/10
/AR2008101002441.html?hpid=opinionsbox1