Willem Buiter, who had a ringside seat at the Iceland meltdown, warned that the UK could follow back in November:
With the pound sterling dropping like a stone against most other currencies and credit default swap rates on long-term UK sovereign debt beginning to edge up, this is a good time to revisit a suggestion I made earlier on a number of occasions (e.g. here, here and here), that there is a non-trivial risk of the UK becoming the next Iceland.
The risk of a triple crisis – a banking crisis, a currency crisis and a sovereign debt default crisis – is always there for countries that are afflicted with the inconsistent quartet identified by Anne Sibert and myself in our work on Iceland: (1) a small country with (2) a large internationally exposed banking sector, (3) a currency that is not a global reserve currency and (4) limited fiscal capacity.
In the rest of a quite long and detailed post he shows how the UK is indeed at risk.
Fast forward, today we have a post from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on the plight of the pound. Even by his standards (he has a great fondness for apocalyptic views), he is, as he warns, “Seriously Alarmed“:
The slide in sterling has turned “disorderly”….
For the first time since this crisis began eighteen months ago, I am seriously worried that British government is losing control.
The currency has fallen five cents today to $1.39 against the dollar. It is now perched precariously on a two-decade support line — the levels tested in 2001 and 1992. If it breaks that line, traders may send it crashing down towards dollar parity.
The danger is blindingly obvious. The $4.4 trillion of foreign liabilities accumulated by UK banks are twice the size of the British economy. UK foreign reserves are virtually nothing at $60.6bn. (on this, more later in a piece I’m writing today)
If the Government is forced to nationalise RBS and perhaps Barclays with their vast exposure in dollars, euros, and yen, it risks being submerged. It is one thing for a sovereign state to let its national debt jump in a crisis — or a war — perhaps even to 100pc of GDP. It is another to take on foreign debts on such a scale with no reserves. Yes, the banks have foreign assets as well to match the debts. But how much are these assets really worth?
This is the moment when the “rubber hits the road” — to borrow from American argot — the moment when the reckless debt experiment of our economic and political leaders comes back to haunt.
We cannot even do what Iceland did to save its skin. Reykjavik refused to honour the foreign debts of its buccaneering banks. It let them default, parking the losses in Resolution Committees. Small islands can do that. Iceland has fish instead, and lots of metals.
Britain cannot follow suit. The debts are too big. If London takes such disastrous action it will set off global panic and lead to an asset death spiral, drawing the entire world into deep depression.
What have our leaders wrought? The reckless conduct of City, the fiscal incontinence of Gordon Brown (3pc deficit at the top of the cycle), and the pitiful regulation of the UK housing boom have all combined to bring the country to the brink of disaster.
England has not defaulted since the Middle Ages. There is a real risk it may do so now.
And no — just so there is no misuderstanding — it would not have been any better if Britain had joined the euro ten years ago. The bubble would have been just as bad, or worse, as Ireland and Spain can attest. We have our disaster. They have their disaster. When the dust has settled in five years we can make a proper judgement on the sterling-EMU issue. Not now.
The Baby Boomers have had their moment in power. The most spoilt generation in history has handled affairs with its characteristic hedonism. The results are coming in.
The blithering idiots.
The one cheery bit of news is I haven’t seen this line of thinking elsewhere….