Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
The Icelandish scheme, to put the assets and the domestic deposits in the new bank and leave all foreign deposits with the empty husk of the old, was fraudulent.

No, that's not fraudulent. That's how you resolve an insolvent bank: You take all the assets and all the depositors and put them in a new bank, and let the liabilities stay with the old bank, which then gets a 100 % equity share in the new bank. The non-depositor creditors then get to eat shit and die, because they invested their money in an insolvent institution. That's called "taking a bank into receivership." It's a perfectly ordinary process that happens every month somewhere in the OECD.

And it is actually in no way unusual that it's foreign creditors who get to take the biggest haircut: The less able a bank is to fund in its home market, the greater its incentive to fund abroad, among banks who have less detailed local knowledge (and among a wider set of banks, thus ensuring a larger chance of finding a sucker). So quite often the most junior debt of an insolvent bank will be foreign. And the most junior debtholder gets to eat shit and die an a bankruptcy. That's the whole point of bankruptcy: Letting the bondholders eat the losses so you can salvage a going concern at the end.

Now, the Icelandic case was special because the Icelandic banks' assets plus the Icelandic depositor guarantee fund weren't even sufficient to cover their depositors. This is highly unusual, as deposits are normally only a smallish fraction of an insolvent bank's total liabilities, and a single bank is normally only a smallish fraction of the deposits covered by the guarantee. But because there were only three Icelandic banks, and because they had been abusing the lax bank regulation in the UK and Netherlands to conduct € and £ carry trades via depositors (as opposed to the usual case of conducting carry trades via interbank loans), the depositors ended up having to take a haircut.

In the Icelandic case, there's plenty of blame to go around. The Icelandic central bank should have killed the € and £ carry trades stone cold dead ahead of time, by devaluing the currency in proportion to the volume of carry trade (this creates a negative feedback loop that chokes the carry trade). The British and Dutch, for their part, should never have allowed a bank to take deposits from their citizens without forcing it to participate in their own deposit guarantee schemes. So there really weren't any innocents in that game.

Now, given that there were no obvious innocents, why should the Icelandic government protect Icelandic depositors first? Quite simple, actually: Any government has a duty to its own citizens above and beyond any duty to foreign creditors. Foreign creditors have their own governments, who may be presumed to look after their interests, and who are able to bail them out if they need to be bailed out.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Mon Feb 7th, 2011 at 12:57:42 PM EST
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