Europe’s bank bail-outs: Beggar thy neighbour


Expecting an announcement from the Chancellor in the morning, I found this:

While governments on mainland Europe were trying to save their banks, Iceland was trying to save the country after it had overextended itself trying to bail-out its banking system. Its economy had been doing well, but its banks had expanded rapidly abroad, amassing foreign liabilities some ten times larger than the country’s economy, many funded in fickle money markets. Since the country nationalised Glitnir, its third-largest bank, last week the whole Icelandic economy has come under threat. Its currency is tumbling and the cost of insuring its national debt against default is soaring. As of Monday it was desperately calling for help from other central banks and was considering radical actions including using the foreign assets of pension funds to bolster the central bank’s reserves. These stand at a meagre €4 billion or so, according to Fitch, a rating agency, and in effect are now pledged to back more than a €100 billion in foreign liabilities owed by its banks.

Although no other European country is as exposed as Iceland, all should heed its tale. In their desperation to shore up their banking systems, several governments have made reckless promises that they would be hard pressed to make good on.

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