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Monday, March 30, 2009

How Iceland Went Mad

by Calculated Risk on 3/30/2009 08:06:00 PM

Most of the news today was about GM and Chrysler. See WSJ: Obama Favors Bankruptcy for GM, Chrysler and NY Times: Obama Issues Ultimatum to Struggling Automakers

Bankruptcy is likely.

For some interesting reading, there was an excellent article in the NY Magazine today about a software programmer who wrote some of the software for securitizing mortgages: see: My Manhattan Project

And here is a story from Michael Lewis writing in Vanity Fair on Iceland: Wall Street on the Tundra Short excerpt:

Iceland’s de facto bankruptcy—its currency (the krona) is kaput, its debt is 850 percent of G.D.P., its people are hoarding food and cash and blowing up their new Range Rovers for the insurance—resulted from a stunning collective madness. What led a tiny fishing nation, population 300,000, to decide, around 2003, to re-invent itself as a global financial power? In Reykjav√≠k, where men are men, and the women seem to have completely given up on them, the author follows the peculiarly Icelandic logic behind the meltdown.
An entire nation without immediate experience or even distant memory of high finance had gazed upon the example of Wall Street and said, “We can do that.” For a brief moment it appeared that they could. In 2003, Iceland’s three biggest banks had assets of only a few billion dollars, about 100 percent of its gross domestic product. Over the next three and a half years they grew to over $140 billion and were so much greater than Iceland’s G.D.P. that it made no sense to calculate the percentage of it they accounted for. It was, as one economist put it to me, “the most rapid expansion of a banking system in the history of mankind.”