Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Daily Mail and House Prices in Iceland

In light of the Daily Mail's post regarding the surprise winner of Iceland in the house prices competition, I am going to repost the following graph, based on data from the Central Bank of Iceland.

The fundamental reason for the surge in house prices in Iceland is not the economic recovery but the expansion of new mortgages, i.e. debt. Those new mortgages spur the economic growth since the debt creation becomes somebody's income (first the seller's and then who ever gets the money from him as he spends it). In the meanwhile, investment is lagging and furthermore, 60,000 households (40% of the total, year end 2010) are in negative equity on their balance sheet. None of those 60,000 households are thinking of speculating in the property market in at the moment, I presume, since they are busy paying down their debts.

The speculators are more likely to be high net-financial-wealth holders, looking for income and yield on their financial assets. The nominal yield on the rental market is around 7-9%, depending on which part of Reykjavik we're talking about. Unindexed mortgages carry 5-7% interest rates. If you have the net-cash to cover the need for equity, leveraging it up with a mortgage only "makes sense".The money that is spurring the growth of the Icelandic economy is therefore not coming from investment in capital assets and the subsequent production of goods and services, but speculation with properties.

Newly created mortgages are driving the property market in Iceland, as they do in other countries. The resulting income from debt-creation is what is then spurring economic growth, but not investment in real capital. Data including January 2012. Central Bank of Iceland.

The Daily Mail article is here: "UK property market..."

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Iceland vs. Ireland

Ever since the "what's the difference between Iceland and Ireland?" joke, the comparison between the two economies has been frequent. I'm going to jump on the bandwagon and at the same time offer a rather pessimistic long-term view on Iceland, at least in comparison to Ireland.

First, the facts. GDP growth in Iceland has picked up and Iceland Statistics famously reported growth of 3.7% over the first three quarters of 2011 compared to same period the year before. The Central Bank of Iceland (not that I expect that institution to be right all the time) expects economic growth to be 3.0% in 2011 and 2.5% in 2012. Iceland is back on track!

Or so it seems at least. I'll get to it later why the optimistic view of the future is a misconception (I touch on it as well in this post: Money and Debt in Iceland and the New Prosperity) but first, let me show you the track record of Iceland's economy compared to Ireland (and Spain and Greece).

Volume of GDP indices, seasonally adjusted and rebased to top=100. OECD figures. Economic growth in Iceland has always been volatile. Celebrating victory in "the race against the Irish" is therefore quite ill-timed and not only because of that reason

The romantic view on Iceland
There is one misunderstanding apparent when Iceland and Ireland are compared. People seem to sometimes think that Icelandic people said "Oh, hell no! We're not going to save your arses, you just have to go bankrupt and that's the end of it" to the banks. Some people make a gesture to Icesave referendum to justify that point of view. Furthermore, the "splendid" 110% debt write-off that was passed by the parliament is considered to a fantastic success and shows on top of that the will of the people to simply get the banks to understand that debts that cannot or should not be repaid, won't be repaid.

Sorry, there is a bit of romanticism in this story.

First, the Icelandic government tried absolutely everything it could possibly do in 2008 to save the banks. It was Iceland's "fool's luck" to have allowed the banks to grow up to 1,000% of GDP that made the government rescue impossible. There was no other choice than to let the banks go bankrupt, even though it has been painted in the foreign media as "Iceland chose to let the banks go bankrupt instead of shoring up their broken pieces."

Second, the Icesave agreement was forcibly passed through the parliament by the government. It was the president that stopped the bill to become a law after the world of bloggers had been on fire for months while the public anger against the government ascended day by day. More importantly, the Icesave dispute had nothing to do with Icelandic "banksters" as they were called by that time. It was and is an international quarrel regarding how to interpret the EU/EEA treaty concerning deposit insurance schemes and passport-banking within the EU. Icesave wasn't and isn't a question of bailing out the banks.

Third, the 110% debt write-off that was introduced by the government hasn't been that successful and certainly not very influencing in the overall scheme of things.

The 110% debt write-off was simply a measure that was offered to over-indebted households. It was very simple on the surface: if your mortgage was higher than 110% of the estimated market value of the property, you could have the debt written off down to the 110% mark.

The total debt that was written off based on this jubilee was 43.6 billion krona. On top of that came 6.2 billion due to "special measures". In comparison, the debt that was written off due to illegal foreign-exchange-linked loans was 146.5 billion krona. In September 2008 (the last point in time where it is known how high the face value of household debt was) the debt of households was 1,890 billion krona (128% of GDP). The government induced debt write-off has been roughly 2.5% of the total debt of households. Is that meant to be a huge turning point? Give me a break! The indexed debt of households has in the meanwhile risen by a rough estimation of 200 billion ISK due to rise in consumer prices since 2008. This is not a typo.

Longer term view
The debt dynamics in the Icelandic economy are scary! The mortgage and financial system is built to collapse, it is an unmissable feature of the organisation of the system. Real rates on debt that is founded on money traded in the secondary market (after the money has been created by the banking system) have a legal floor of 3.5% due to the legal structure of the pension system and its sheer size within the economy. The 3.5% floor has only been broken recently due to the capital controls locking in the money in the economy. When they are lifted, whenever that will be, the bubble on the bond market will implode and the yield rocket up to the floor once more when pension funds and other investors get out of the economy in search for higher yield, even if that will cost bearing higher risk in the form of investing in international stock markets.

In the meanwhile, most mortgages are indexed to the Consumer Price Index. The key to the long-term instability in the organisation is that the nominal interest rates are not what is indexed to changes in the CPI but the actual principal of the loan is indexed to the value of the CPI itself. This effectively means that every time there is a rise in the CPI, the borrower "gets" an automatic loan from the lending institution in the form of the fact that he doesn't have to pay the cost of the indexation at that point in time. One of the rationale behind why this mad system is meant to work is that borrowers are supposed to be forward looking and anticipate today that they have to pay their increased debts due to higher nominal value of their indexed mortgage in 20 years time. Give me another break!

No, Ireland and Iceland are not the same. Iceland may have the upper hand now because the GDP growth figures of 2011 and perhaps 2012 are and will be more favourable in the case of Iceland. But Ireland does not have to fight as mad mortgage and financial system as the Icelandic one and that is what will chain Iceland down in the longer run.

Plus, Ireland has Guinness! And leprechauns!

Do those graphs seriously give the impression that the Icelandic economy is healthier than the Irish one? Data from European Mortgage Federation. Author's calculations on the interest rates in case of Iceland's economy.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Money and Debt in Iceland and the New Prosperity

The collapse of the money supply in Iceland has been turned around, at least for the moment. That would support the view that the economy is not in the deadlock deflationary spiral it was in in 2010.

Money supply (M3) in Iceland, its 12 month change and the its acceleration. The turnaround is quite frankly amazing, and now the money supply growth has reached the level of the mid 1990s. 

Borrowers have returned to the banks: the growth of the money supply is propelled by the growth of new debt by banks. That has had the consequences of housing prices to rise again.

New mortgages and housing prices. The growth in new mortgages is mainly from banks. The good part of that story is that most of the new mortgages are non-indexed, i.e. what most other nations would consider normal. Not only does that strengthen the interest rate policy of the Central Bank considerably but the non-indexed debt is, contrary to what one might think from the Fisher hypothesis, with lower real interest rate on average.

House prices follow the growth of mortgages in Iceland as in any other country. The capital controls lock the funds of wealthy individuals in the economy as well, pushing them to invest in houses to rent instead of putting their funds into low-yielding bank accounts or bonds. The result is another speculation bubble in housing.

The momentum in the Icelandic economy is picking up. However, that momentum is quite unevenly spread out and quite worryingly based on housing speculation and the presence of the capital controls. Not only have the capital controls infused a bubble in the bond market but the money is finding its way into housing as well, pushing up both the rental price and the cost of buying. In the meanwhile, investments are still minimal.

The bottom line is that the new economic growth in Iceland and the ascent of housing prices aren't supported by fundamental economic activity but debt, capital controls and speculation. The momentum is good but the way forward is winding. Lifting the capital controls without shocking the economy won't be easy if investment does not return soon. In fact, if investment does not return soon, the economy is a goner.

The return of economic growth in Iceland is not supported by fundamentals such as investment in real capital. The foundations of it are therefore weak and mostly speculation and debt driven. Lifting the capital controls in such an environment will not be easy.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Icelandic Indexation and Real Rates

One of the major arguments for indexing the mortgages in Iceland to the rate of inflation is to terminate the risk that arises due to inflation in the loan agreement. After all, the economy is not governed by nominal variables - as the neoclassicals maintain - and so, indexation to the CPI must be a good idea to mitigate the risk in the loan contract. Doing so, the lender is supposed to be willing to lend at lower interest rates than if the rates are nominal and fluctuate with the inflation. The borrower and the economy as a whole will then benefit from lower interest rates.

Friedman was a supporter of this idea (to heterodox economists, that would probably be argument against indexation!) and it is considered to be an unshakable truth in Iceland. As an example, the minister of business in 2004 said that it would be a bad idea to abolish the indexation of mortgages since unindexed loans had "2-3%" higher real rates than indexed ones. Asgeir Danielsson, an economist at the Central Bank of Iceland, said in March 2009 that if people were risk averse, one should expect real interest rates of indexed loans to be lower than on unindexed loans (to clarify, "unindexed loans" are normal loans where you would pay interest rates every month and the principal would shrink in nominal terms as you paid it down every month)

This is disputable, to say the least. I believe this should be exactly the other way around: unindexed loans should have lower real rate of interests than indexed ones. Also, the economy should be more stable if the loan contracts would be unindexed to the price level. When I got my hands on data that I hadn't seen before, posted in obvious view by the Central Bank itself, I got firmer in that belief.

Graph 1 shows the development of nominal interest rates of indexed and unindexed loans. There are three periods that are especially important and they have been circled. Circles 1 and 2 are periods when the CBI was trying everything it could to cool down the economy but because the indexation of mortgages defends the borrowers from the nominal interest rates hikes by the CBI, nothing happened and the punch bowl stayed on the table.

When the punch bowl had finally been emptied and dropped to the floor in 2008, the CBI tried to get the economy going again by lowering its policy rates. But the same problem persisted, this way the other way around: because of the indexation, households' available cash-on-hand after having paid the monthly repayment and interests was hardly or not at all influenced by the CBI dropping interest rates down from record 18%. So the economy never recovered. In the meanwhile, the indexed debt just kept ballooning out as the price level rose.

Graph 1 The nominal rates of unindexed and indexed loans in Iceland

Graph 2 The real rates of unindexed and indexed loans in Iceland

So this is what happens. Because of the indexation of an overwhelming majority of mortgage debt, the interest rate setting mechanism of the Central Bank of Iceland fails. The consequence is that effective interest rates can, as in 2005 and 2007, be too low when they need to be much higher to cool down the economy. Likewise, as in 2009 and 2010, it can happen that effective interest rates are too high when the economy needs it most to get a slacking monetary policy.

Therefore, contrary to the neoclassical belief, it turns out that the economy in Iceland isn't helped at all by the indexation of mortgages and loans, not even in lowering the interest rates as the neoclassicals believe. In fact, the common belief that the economy of Iceland is so unstable because of the Icelandic krona, and therefore needs indexation of mortgages and other loans, is quite likely wrong entirely: the economy of Iceland and the Icelandic krona are unstable because of the indexation of mortgages and loans, not the other way around.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Steve Keen on Iceland's Financial System

Steve Keen was interviewed by Iceland Television 1 last Sunday. He was first and foremost talking about why the neoclassical economics was all wrong and how it was nonsense that "No one saw the crisis coming." He also mentioned why debt jubilee was basically needed in order to keep social peace and fascist powers at bay.

Regarding Iceland especially, he said: "What horrifies me is that you've got a financial system designed by neoclassical economists." 

Ain't that right!!

You can see the interview here (in English, introduction in Icelandic to 0:30min):

Friday, 10 February 2012

Meanwhile, in the EU

Greeks are, rightfully, going mad! Because of the austerity measures, Greeks have become as anti-German as this: Nazi-Merkel. I thought the EU was supposed to be a political union as well as economic. I cannot see the political unity in calling a fellow EU member a Nazi.

Today, Athenians went nuts yet again due to freshly proposed austerity measures, amongst them cutting back public pension, and the riot police walked the streets once more. There seems not to be a hint of unity between the Greek people and the European Union anymore. When Greece leaves the Euro, the only question is whether any other countries will follow suit or not. And whether the Euro can take the hit and still exist. But in its current form, it's a done deal.

Public Investment in The Age of Austerity

Now that austerity is the buzzword of all economic healing, I'd like to point out what public investment projects, ranging from bridges, roads and steel works to schools, social security programs and space travels can actually reap for the longer term.

The "Biocapsule" is basically a nano-technology based skin-implanted "fixes everything" device that NASA has developed. That would not be the first thing that NASA develops that becomes a common part of everyday modern life. The ball-point pen and Teflon coated frying pans are just two examples.

If half of what NASA claims this thing can do, it's fantastic! I've got a friend who's diabetic and I cannot begin imagining the added comfort for him not having to carry his insulin around all the time.

Check out this NASA video of many. Public investments aren't all bad. Even in the age of austerity, it would be unwise to cut back funding on public investment, simply because they can, and do, bring huge and almost unimaginable benefits for the longer term.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Predictability of Inflation Forecasts

Central Bank of Iceland published the first issue of its Monetary Bulletin (2012) yesterday along with keeping the interest rates unchanged at 4.75%.

Some time ago, I pointed out (in Icelandic) how the inflation forecast of the CBI always ends right next to 2.5% in about 8 quarters. The reason why is that they are using a Quarterly Macroeconomic Model that they borrowed from the Bank of England - they say so themselves - and the "steady state" of the QMM is inflation equal to the inflation target of the CBI. And you guessed it, it's 2.5%

The newest forecast for inflation isn't surprising a bit! One can always be rather certain that no matter the state of the economy, domestic or world wide, the Central Bank of Iceland will always "forecast" inflation to be at or right next to the 2.5% inflation target in about two years time.

Talking about predictability!

The forecasts of inflation according to the Central Bank of Iceland. Inflation will, no matter the state of the economy or future prospects, always end up right next to the inflation target of 2.5%. "1Q10" represents the inflation forecast as it was presented in Monetary Bulletin for 1st quarter 2010 (issued in January 2010). Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

An Icelandic modern debt jubilee, Steve Keen style

In the last post, I mentioned that I had formulated a method where one could use a quantitative easing and the balance sheet of the central bank to carry out a debt jubilee. The original text was posted on my Icelandic blog: Framkvæmd skuldaniðurfellingar. The original idea of this comes from Steve Keen but, I believe, the actual process is slightly different with the addition of the Special Purpose Vehicle.

The main difference is that there is no net increment of money supply while the effects on cash flows are more or less the same. One of the many serious problems in the Icelandic economy is that the principals of majority of mortgages are indexed to the Consumer Price Index. Therefore, a version of Keen’s modern debt jubilee – which he discussed e.g. in HardTalk and in his book, Debunking Economics (in the chapter “Monetary Model of Capitalism”) – had to be formulated where there was no, or very limited, risk of a spike in inflation, which would inevitably end up with the jubilee being useless as principals of mortgages would grow once more.

The act itself

First, a Special Purpose Vehicle is founded. It can have equity of one pound, that doesn’t matter. The SPV will borrow a particular amount from the central bank and in the Icelandic blog post I mentioned 200 billion ISK (1 billion GBP) or about 13% of book value of debts of Icelandic households (the face value is much higher, probably close to 2,000 billion ISK vs. 1,500 billion of book value). The central bank pays out the loan into the deposit account of the SPV at the central bank itself.

The SPV then pays out the whole amount into the deposit accounts of individuals. The amount that each gets is a certain proportion of the each individual’s outstanding debt (this can be done differently of course, all indebted borrowers may e.g. get a fixed amount of money instead of proportion of their debt). But as soon as the money has been paid out to individuals, the same money is used to pay down the principal of their debts and not used for anything else. By then, the money is at the banks. The banks then deposit the whole amount at the central bank.

By now the money has gone the whole circle: the central bank lent money to the SPV, which paid it out to individuals, who used it only to pay down their debts at banks, which then channelled the whole lot back to the central bank.

After the act

The balance sheets of all the players are now the following:

The central bank has expanded its assets by the amount of the loan to the SPV. Its liabilities have expanded as well in the form of higher bank deposits at the central bank. The equity is unchanged but the leverage has increased.

The banks have lost the amount repaid on loans but gained deposits at the central bank. Debts, amongst them households’ deposits, are unchanged. Leverage is unchanged.

Households have decreased their debts by the amount repaid. Their assets are unchanged. Equity has increased by the amount repaid. Leverage has decreased.

The SPV owes the whole amount to the central bank but doesn’t own anything. Its equity is therefore negative by the amount it borrowed from the central bank and paid out to the households.

But the SPV is not bankrupt

Here, one has to remember what “bankruptcy” is. To be bankrupt is to be unable to repay your debt at the time they are to be repaid!

This is not the same as to have negative equity, i.e. debts higher than assets. If an individual is able to find income, such as from work, to repay his debts every month, he is not bankrupt. About 60,000 households in Iceland (40% of households) are in the state of negative equity (I believe the street-wise term would be “technically bankrupt”) but many of them are, still, able to find wage income to repay their high financial debts every month. So in the meanwhile, they are not bankrupt.

An individual or a corporation can also just as well go bankrupt even though their assets are higher than their debts. A classic example is a commercial bank, where the value of assets is higher than that of debts, that experiences a bank run: if the bank does not have enough liquidity to satisfy the depositors as they demand repayment of their deposit, the bank goes bankrupt because it cannot pay its debts back when they are to be repaid. Naturally, a central bank normally steps in to repel the bank run by lending liquidity to the bank which is repaid later when the bank run has receded.

The same applies here regarding the SPV and the loan from the central bank. Its stipulations are the following: the bond – it can have no interest rates but there are (in Iceland) some arguments for it to be indexed to the Consumer Price Index – is only repaid when the banks profit. And it is the banks that repay it, i.e. they pay the SPV a certain part of their annual profits which the SPV uses to pay back the loan. This has two consequences: the SPV will never go bankrupt unless the whole banking system collapses and there are limits to how high the loan can be due to lower net interest income of the banking system.

This repayment of the loan by the banks on behalf of the SPV can take many years or decades. It hinges on many things such as the profits of the banks, the share of profits that are used to repay the loan, the dispersion of profits of the banks, etc. In the case of Iceland, the amount that has been mentioned is 200 billion ISK (1 billion GBP or 13% of Iceland’s GDP). In comparison, the banks have amassed profits amounting to 167 billion ISK since their collapse in 2008.

We are not fighting a banking crisis in Iceland; we are fighting a household debt crisis which will, if not stopped, drag the whole economy down into the abyss.

But what of the connection between the SPV and the banks?

Now, many people will stop and ask: what about the connection between the banks and the SPV? Why does the SPV’s debt not impact the banks equity?

Because it’s an off-balance sheet financing, a very common trick in the world of finance whenever you want to hide debts. The banks are vouching for the repayment of the debt but it isn’t their debt. That repayment is only carried out as a share of their annual profits and only when they profit. And only when they profit!

In fact, this trick is used in Iceland already. The Housing Financing Fund is an official non-bank entity that raises funds on the capital markets, mainly from the Icelandic pension funds, and lends out the money to anyone who wants to buy a house. The State vouches for the HFF’s ability to repay its debts – but that does not make HFF's debt the State’s debt. This guarantee was estimated to be equal to 928 billion ISK (nearly 5 billion GBP) at year end 2010 (total State Guarantees are 1,305 billion ISK, just short of 85% of GDP) but this guarantee does not show up on the State’s balance sheet, even though the guarantee is there and the State had to pump equity of 33 billion ISK into the HFF in 2010 due to (State suggested and sponsored) loan losses.

The format of the SPV would be the same. The SPV would be vouched for by the banks but like the State guarantees, that would not show up on the banks balance sheets. Just to be clear though, in the case of Iceland, accounting rules would have to be changed according to info from an Icelandic accountant. How much, I do not have a clue. 

The cost of the jubilee is shouldered by the banks

So the cost of the debt jubilee is not carried by the Central Bank, in the form of lower equity, nor by the State, but the owners of the households’ debt, i.e. the banks. And to emphasise it again: the equity of the players involved, beside households of course, does not change by the act itself.

The cost is carried in the form of lower interest income of banks. Exactly because of this, the amount repaid (the amount of the loan from the central bank) cannot be too high. When the funds have made their loop from and to the central bank again, the net-interest-income-creating stock of banks’ assets and liabilities has been transformed: their debts in the form of households deposits are the same but part of the banks’ high-yielding households loans has been transformed into low-yielding deposits at the central bank.

So the profit of the banking system has decreased. Therefore, paying back too high amount will bankrupt the banking system. Nobody wants that, with all the short-term financial instability it would introduce into the system.

However, one has to remember that even though the net interest income of banks has decreased, the net interest income (or cost) of households increases (decreases) by the same amount. This, of course, is the purpose of this whole thing. Lower interest costs of households will boost their purchasing power, net of interest costs, which will, if they spend it, increase the cash flows between households and manufacturers of goods and services, hopefully boosting investment and get employment going again. That, of course, applies only if the firms are willing to get into investment projects and don’t use the cash flows from households, in the form of sales, to decrease their own outstanding debts, which of course would be a serious sign of a Koo-like balance sheet recession.

What about inflation and the money supply?

The money supply does not increase by the SPV-channelled debt jubilee itself because the deposits of households are unchanged and banks’ deposits at the central bank do not constitute as part of the money supply.

However, of course, the banks will try to lend out the money immediately! That would expand the money supply. After all, money is only created in the modern bank-credit economy through the lending activity of the banking system (given that the central bank doesn’t print the cash). And since the banks are always eager to lend out money – that’s how they profit, especially in Iceland where majority of mortgages are indexed to the CPI – they will always try to, and simultaneously create spendable deposits in the meanwhile. It is the central bank, as a head of monetary policy, which is responsible for keeping money-and-loan creation of the banking system chained to economic reality. The best ideas I’ve seen so far, regarding how to quantify the net amount the Central bank should allow banks to create of loans and money, is Leigh Harkness’ proposal of connecting bank lending to the current account & foreign reserves. See Buoyant Economies for further papers and opinions.

Finally, note that inflation may gain ground, temporally, even though money supply does not spike along with newly created bank loans and bank customers’ deposits straight after the jubilee. The reason is that households have more purchasing power. Therefore, demand-pull inflation may temporarily set in.

Holy hell, is this an infinite gold mine?

Evidently, this sounds like an infinite gold mine: since this can be done without bankrupting anybody,  but merely redistribute future spendable income between banks and households, why not just use this trick again and again? But this isn’t an infinite gold mine; this is an economic act of emergency like debt jubilees for the last millennia have always been.

Why not do this again and again? Because of the moral hazard. If everybody knows that debt jubilee will be carried out whenever the system is bankrupting itself with too much debt, there will be an uncontrollable willingness to borrow as much as one can, as quickly as one can. The banks would play along because their managers, especially if they get paid according to short term profits in the form of cash bonuses and such, would be able to get the net interest income, and their bonuses, on the way up and then flee the ship as the jubilee would be coming. Short-termism is a serious and continuous problem in the economy – ask any voter.

A systematic and repeated debt jubilee that everybody would anticipate would have serious consequences on the macro economy because the consequential and periodic debt explosions it would introduce into the system would seriously unhinge the stability of the whole capitalist economy. It is not only the repayment of debt that introduces serious instability into the system, if there are no incomes to meet that need of debt repayments, but the expansion of debt, if too rapid, introduces problems and instability as well. That problem, i.e. too much debt expansion, is of course the root of our economic problems of today.

Said all this, the need for a debt jubilee, especially in debt stricken Iceland, is serious. The construction of the Icelandic economy is such that the dynamic long-term development of it is unmistakably towards more financial instability. The debt jubilee here described is part of a much-needed overhaul of the economic system in Iceland and meant to provide breathing space for households to carry out the rest of the reorganisation that is needed. 

On the top of the list of prioritised overhauls are the Icelandic pension system and the system of price indexation of debt, both responsible for outrageously high interest rates and too much ease of access to credit.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Retail Trade Volume and Your Own Currency

Sorry for the long silence, been a hectic two weeks writing up the methodology and results chapter of the thesis. Spent also a considerable number of hours formulating an idea about how to use a QE from the Central Bank of Iceland through the balance sheet of households,  not banks, to give households a short breathing space from debt peonage. Published those ideas on my Icelandic blog this week - the responses that I had were "mixed" to say the least. Will try to translate the post into English and post it here but until then, here is the Icelandic version:  Framkvæmd skuldaniðurfellingar.

I've been writing up answers for the European Web (an Icelandic website where the general public can answer any EU related questions and get answers from "professionals" on the matter) and the last one was about whether the macroeconomic influences of inflation would be different if Iceland used the euro instead of the krona. Essentially, the influences are of course the same (higher real exchange rate, etc.) but the remedy is different: obviously you can't use the back door marked "currency devaluation" if you're using the euro. So nominal devaluation of wages and prices in order to get back the ability to sell your stuff both in the domestic economy and outside of it is the only way out in case of an economy using the euro.

Further on that topic I saw this graph at the Real-World Economics Review blogsite. Pretty damn scary! (click to enlarge)

So I constructed a similar version including the Icelandic economy. I rebased the series: January 2002 = 100 in each economy. January 2002 is the first value for Iceland, other data comes from Eurostat. (graph shows volume of retail trade, seasonally adjusted)

What strikes me most is Germany! Those guys were certainly not pulling up their purses in the beginning of the 2000s. Actually, this graph is a rather telling sign of the two-speed economy that the Euro Zone is. 

But beside the Germans being Germans - this is a compliment! - for the first years of 2000s (and continuing being Germans after 2008, but that part is not a compliment) the other striking difference is between Greece and Iceland. The growth wasn't that different - a rocketing path up until 2008 - but the paths down are different all together! 

Evidently, it helps when you mess things up to be able to devalue your currency. At least retail trade in Iceland is 40% higher now than it was 10 years ago. Greece (and Spain) are, well, not doing so well.