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Iceland: The Financial and Economic Crisis

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  • David Carey


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    The global financial and economic crisis has struck Iceland with extreme force. Iceland’s three main banks, accounting for almost all of the banking system, failed in October 2008. They were unable to resist the deterioration in global financial markets following the failure of Lehman Brothers. The banks had pursued risky expansion strategies – notably borrowing in foreign capital markets to finance the aggressive international expansion of Icelandic investment companies – that made them vulnerable to the deterioration in global financial markets. They had also grown to be too big for the government to rescue. When access to foreign capital eventually closed, the banks failed. Non-financial firms and households were also vulnerable to the deterioration in global financial conditions, having taken on a lot of debt in recent years based on inflated collateral values. In some cases, the debt was foreign-currency denominated, without matching foreign-currency assets or revenues. In the wake of the banking crisis, the government obtained an IMF Stand-By Arrangement to provide favourable access to foreign capital markets and creditability for the recovery programme. Even so, the recession is likely to be deeper in Iceland than in most other OECD countries owing to the seriousness of the banking crisis and the weakness of private sector balance sheets. Reforms are needed to strengthen prudential regulation and supervision. This Working Paper relates to the 2009 Economic Survey of Iceland. Islande : La crise économique et financière La crise économique et financière mondiale a frappé l’Islande avec une violence extrême. Les trois principales banques du pays, qui représentaient pratiquement l’ensemble du système bancaire, ont fait faillite en octobre 2008. Elles n’ont pas réussi à résister à la détérioration des marchés de capitaux mondiaux dans le sillage de la faillite de Lehman Brothers. Les banques avaient suivi des stratégies de développement risquées – empruntant notamment sur des marchés financiers étrangers pour soutenir une expansion internationale dynamique des sociétés d’investissement islandaises – ce qui les a rendues vulnérables à la détérioration des marchés de capitaux mondiaux. Elles avaient également atteint une taille trop importante pour que le gouvernement puisse venir à leur rescousse. Lorsque l’accès aux capitaux étrangers a été finalement fermé, les banques ont fait faillite. Les entreprises non financières et les ménages – qui s’étaient massivement endettés ces dernières années profitant de la forte valorisation de leurs garanties – étaient aussi vulnérables à la détérioration de la situation financière mondiale. Dans certains cas, la dette était libellée en devises sans que les emprunteurs n’aient d’actifs ou de revenus dans ces devises susceptibles de compenser le risque de change. À la suite de la crise du système bancaire, les pouvoirs publics ont conclu un accord de confirmation avec le FMI pour assurer des conditions d’accès favorables aux marchés de capitaux étrangers et soutenir la crédibilité du programme de redressement économique. Malgré cela, il est probable que la récession sera plus profonde en Islande que dans la plupart des autres pays de l’OCDE en raison de la gravité de la crise bancaire et de la faiblesse des bilans des entreprises et des patrimoines des ménages dans le secteur privé. Des réformes sont nécessaires pour renforcer la réglementation et la surveillance prudentielle.

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    Paper provided by OECD Publishing in its series OECD Economics Department Working Papers with number 725.

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    Date of creation: 09 Oct 2009
    Handle: RePEc:oec:ecoaaa:725-en
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    1. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2009. "Is the 2007 U.S. Sub-Prime Financial Crisis So Different? An International Historical Comparison," Panoeconomicus, Savez ekonomista Vojvodine, Novi Sad, Serbia, vol. 56(3), pages 291-299, September.
    2. Frederic S. Mishkin, 2009. "Globalization, Macroeconomic Performance, and Monetary Policy," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, Blackwell Publishing, vol. 41(s1), pages 187-196, February.
    3. Andrea de Michelis, 2009. "Iceland: Challenging Times for Monetary and Fiscal Policies," OECD Economics Department Working Papers 726, OECD Publishing.
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