Monday, October 06, 2008

It is not looking good in Iceland...

Why a government should never act as a hedge fund.

Going down.

Address to the Nation by H.E. Geir H. Haarde, Prime Minister of Iceland


Fellow Icelanders

I have requested the opportunity to address you at this time when the Icelandic nation faces major difficulties.

The entire world is experiencing a major economic crisis, which can be likened in its effects on the world’s banking systems, to an economic natural disaster. Large and well established banks on both sides of the Atlantic have become victims of the recession and governments in many countries are rowing for all they are worth to save whatever can be saved. In such circumstances every nation thinks, of course, first and foremost of its own interests. Even the biggest economies in the world are facing a close struggle with the effects of the crisis.

The Icelandic banks have not escaped this banking crisis any more than other international banks and their position is now very serious. In recent years the growth and profitability of the Icelandic banks has been like something akin to a fairy tale. Major opportunities arose when the access to capital on foreign money markets reached its peak, and the banks together with other Icelandic companies, exploited these opportunities to launch into new markets.

Over this period the Icelandic banks have grown hugely and their liabilities are now equivalent to many times Iceland’s GNP. Under all normal circumstances larger banks would be more likely to survive temporary difficulties, but the disaster which is now engulfing the world is of a different nature, and the size of the banks in comparison with the Icelandic economy is today their main weakness.

When the international economic crisis began just over a year ago with the collapse of the real estate market in the US and chain reactions due to the so-called sub-prime loans, the position of Icelandic banks was considered to be strong, as they had not taken any significant part in such business. But the effects of this chain of events, have turned out to be more serious and wide ranging than anyone had expected.

In recent weeks the world’s financial system has been subject to devastating shocks. Some of the biggest investment banks in the world have become the victims and capital in the markets has in reality dried up. The effects have been that large international banks have stopped financing other banks and complete lack of confidence has developed in business between banks. This has caused the position of Icelandic banks to deteriorate very rapidly in the last few days.

You really should read it all. It's very sobering.