Greece And Others: Follow The Path Of Iceland


Map of Journey to Hades

Against the wishes of global banks and investors, but with the wishes of its citizens, Iceland allowed its too-big-to-fail institutions to default (i.e., no taxpayer-funded bailouts).  Guess what?  A Great Depression in Iceland didn’t occur.  Rather, its economy has stabilized  and is performing well, relatively speaking. 

Elsewhere, in contrast, leaders have been using fear-mongering and outright threats (if citizens don’t enable massive bailouts, then the equivalent of financial Armageddon will happen).  The latter is disturbing because leaders are essentially saying if citizens don’t permit bailouts, then civil-servant leaders will make things worse than otherwise (drastically reduce public pensions, services, etc.).  If these were company managers, their actions would be considered fraud by a rational Board of Directors and promptly removed from service. 

A good example of the aforementioned fraud and potential fraud on citizens can be gleaned from what is happening in Greece.  In short, Greece needs to restructure its debt; in other words, it needs to default.  However, global banks and investors (take your pick) that speculated in credit default swaps, and international institutions (IMF, central banks) intend to do whatever it takes to prevent Greece from formally defaulting. The most recent ploy is to frame a default as a “voluntary exchange;” doing so is deemed to not trigger a payout by the sellers of CDS.  However, a sovereign nation has no reason to play semantics with how it defaults, and is not beholden to sellers of CDS…unless there are implied threats against the country for doing what is best for its citizens.

So, as indicated in the blog by Automatic Earth titled “Honey, I Swapped the Greeks,” the concern is not with Greece defaulting and reducing the principal due to bondholders.  Instead, the concern is with the huge payouts that would be required by CDS sellers (think insurance companies and banks; hedge funds; holding companies like Berkshire Hathaway; et al.)…and the money is not there to payout.

                  Total Greek bond notional CDS: $5.4B 

                  Total Greek bond market: $374B

                  Total Greek CDS market: $455B (ergo the problem with a formal default)

And, if Greece proceeds to formally default and not engage in semantics, then one can estimate the carnage from contagion of CDS payouts as defaults spread to larger sovereign nations that are in similar financial straits…


Source: Bloomberg* Current as of 16 June 2011 1 euro = 1.4165 US dollars
UPDATE: 20 June 2011.  (*) Note: Bloomberg’s values in chart, and figures highlighted in article do not sync.  It appears one of the sources does not use the appropriate currency.  The magnitude, ratios and schedule are apparent regardless. 


  1. Iceland has stabilized its economy not by fear mongering but by the support of its citizen though the conditions looked critical but by letting the institution to default, it supported the citizen and received support in return.

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