Thursday, July 06, 2006

No Iceland, not Ireland.


The Financial Times reports on the troubled economy of an island nation in the North Atlantic.

Geir Haarde, Iceland's new prime minister plans to cool his country's overheating economy with a series of reforms aimed at ensuring that the island-nation avoids a hard landing. The comprehensive action plan includes measures to tame a booming housing market, curb wage inflation, improve financial regulation and rein in public spending. "We have given ourselves some breathing space," he told the FT.

Iceland has been the focus of international attention since February when investors, including many hedge funds, concluded the economy was dangerously overheating and withdrew funds, triggering a 30 per cent depreciation in the currency.

Fears of an economic meltdown have since dissipated. But the central bank acknowledges that growth will "go down rather quickly" next year and external economic developments could still trigger a sharper-than-expected correction. The economic boom was driven by the liberalisation of the housing market, tax reductions and overseas investment in power and aluminum projects. The effects of these factors were exaggerated due to the small size of the economy of Iceland which has a population of just 300,000.

As part of his reform package, Mr Haarde, has reduced the amount the Housing Finance Corporation - a state owned body that controls around 40 per cent of the mortgage market - is able to lend to borrowers. He is considering abolishing it in future, he said.

The prime minister has separately reached an agreement with unions to moderate wage claims and end a policy of broad tax reductions and replace it with a reallocation of tax benefits to the less wealthy. Mr Haarde has also halted government spending on some infrastructure projects and is prepared to suspend future spending if needed, he said.


http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0e635268-0c8b-11db-8235-0000779e2340.html

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