Iceland: The Forgotten Country

I was thinking the other day, whatever happened to Iceland? At the beginning of the global financial crisis Iceland’s three banks collapsed leveraged beyond the small nations GDP. Total debt reached 9.553 trillion Icelandic krónur (€50 billion) compared to Iceland’s GDP in 2007 of 1.293 trillion krónur (€8.5 billion). Iceland went cap in hand to the IMF, its currency collapsed to about half its previous value compared with the USD. The world for the most part wrote off Iceland and the IMF required a significant austerity package in condition for their support.

So what has been the experience of Iceland since 2008?

GDP Growth: 2008 1.4, 2009 -6.9, 2010 -3.5, 2011 2.2, 2012 2.9.

Unemployment: 2009 7.2%,2010 7.5%, 2011 7.0%, 2012 6.2%, 2013 5.3%

Government Debt (% of GDP): 2008 102%,2009 120%,2010 120.2%

Government Fiscal Condition: 2008, -13.5, 2009 -10.0, 2010 -7.8 (Expected to return to surplus 2013)
(Source OECD, http://www.oecd.org/document/62/0,3746,en_33873108_33873476_45269950_1_1_1_1,00.html)

So what can be learnt from Iceland? First Iceland did not bailout its banks, choosing only to bail out its depositors and not the investors. Second, Iceland has managed to stage a slow recovery despite the ongoing crisis amongst its European neighbors. Thirdly, having a national currency that can respond to crises may help other industries stage a recovering. Large energy intensive investment projects and a residential construction boom has led economic growth. Finally, austerity measures that led to sustainable government debt levels may play a role in supporting the economic recovery.

While I can’t claim to know enough about Iceland’s unique situation or how it impacts on the sovereign debt crisis, I suspect that there has been little effort to learn any lessons from Iceland and instead the Government’s in Europe continue to look for a painless recovery.

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