March 03, 2009

The Icelandic Meltdown

Michael Lewis, in Vanity Fair, has an astonishing piece, both horrifying and hilarious- on the other major financial meltdown of 2008- the one in Iceland. My favorite part:

The investigators produced a chart detailing a byzantine web of interlinked entities that boiled down to this: A handful of guys in Iceland, who had no experience of finance, were taking out tens of billions of dollars in short-term loans from abroad. They were then re-lending this money to themselves and their friends to buy assets—the banks, soccer teams, etc. Since the entire world’s assets were rising—thanks in part to people like these Icelandic lunatics paying crazy prices for them—they appeared to be making money. Yet another hedge-fund manager explained Icelandic banking to me this way: You have a dog, and I have a cat. We agree that they are each worth a billion dollars. You sell me the dog for a billion, and I sell you the cat for a billion. Now we are no longer pet owners, but Icelandic banks, with a billion dollars in new assets.
It's the best business journalism piece since, well, the last time Lewis did one.

Posted by Stephen Silver at March 3, 2009 11:52 PM
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