Early Warning Indicators in Icelandic Financial Crisis
Like in every financial crisis, even the Icelandic Financial Crisis provided many early warning indicators and cues, which if acted upon at the right time could have avoided or atleast reduced the extent of the losses.
Let’s look at the key early warning indicators:
1. Size of the balance sheets compared to the size of the economy.
The rate at which the balance sheets of the top banks in Iceland grew was actually worrying. In 2003, the banks assets were about 100% of GDP. However, by March 2008, the assets had grown to 100% of the country’s GDP.
The growth was attributed to organic growth as well as acquisitions. Both these sources can expose the institutions to different risks. In acquisition, the risk is that you over-pay for the assets. In organic growth, the risk is that asset quality suffers because of poor underwriting and lower lending standards.
Compared to its Nordic peers, the Icelandic banks were actually earning more than their overseas competitors. Since the Icelandic banks relied heavily on more expensive wholesale funding, its high earnings were achieved at higher costs.
The two more related warning signals were: very low reported loan problems and a growing reliance on shares to collateralize their loans.
2. Private sector credit boom
There was a rapid expansion of credit to the private sector, which also contributed to the expansion of banks. This is an indication of deteriorating asset quality.
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