Are Iceland’s Banks About To Go Bust Once Again?

It seems so if you read the latest from the Financial Times (hat tip Marshall Auerback):

Iceland’s banking sector is facing a fresh wave of losses after a court ruling raised doubts over the legality of billions of dollars of loans.

But here’s the thing. The Supreme Court outlawed loans tied to foreign exchange rates and that is going to have some serious implications.

Financial authorities in Reykjavik have been scrambling for the past two weeks to work out the implications of a landmark Supreme Court judgment outlawing car loans indexed to foreign exchange rates.

Gunnar Andersen, director of the Financial Supervisory Authority, told the Financial Times that Icelandic banks faced "deep trouble" if the verdict was applied to all forms of consumer and corporate credit linked to foreign currencies.

The court decision has been described as one of the most important events in Iceland since the 2008 bank crash, potentially reducing the repayment burden on thousands of households holding foreign-indexed debt while threatening the financial system with renewed turmoil.

The implications are likely to stretch beyond Reykjavik to foreign creditors, including Royal Bank of Scotland and several German institutions, which took control of a large swathe of Iceland’s banking sector after the crisis.

The court ruled that car loans paid out and collected in Icelandic krónur but indexed to foreign currencies violated laws designed to protect borrowers from exchange rate risks.

Someone’s going to take some serious losses here – and you can bet it’s the Icelandic banks first and foremost.  Many are now controlled by foreign banks. But since Iceland has a miniscule population of only 300,000. It really shouldn’t affect other economies.

Is this a legally-sanctioned form of debt repudiation? And is this the route that others in Eastern Europe will take when their banking crises become more severe? And since the banks there are owned by western European banks it would mean losses an order of magnitude higher than in Iceland. Hungary is the first country that comes to mind. Read this for example.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of all of this doom and gloom right now. Tomorrow, my Argentine friends are coming over. I am pretty happy to watch the World Cup, drink beer and forget all about the economy this weekend.

Source: Icelandic lenders face fresh losses after car loans ruling, FT

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