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Cablegate: Imf: Iceland Needs Financial Austerity

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PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSL RUEHSR
DE RUEHRK #0218/01 3421656
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 081656Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4234
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 REYKJAVIK 000218

SIPDIS

TREASURY FOR MYERS AND NORTON
NSC FOR HOVENIER

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/07/2019
TAGS: ECON EFIN IC PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: IMF: ICELAND NEEDS FINANCIAL AUSTERITY

REF: A. STATE 190
B. STATE 176

Classified By: CDA SAM WATSON FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

1. (C) Summary. Mark Flanagan, leader of the IMF review team
here in Reykjavik, believes Iceland's recovery could start in
mid-2010, but he cautioned that that the government must take
several critical steps to lay the necessary groundwork,
including significant fiscal austerity. Prior to the next
IMF review, said Flanagan, Iceland must: 1) complete the 2010
budget and medium-term fiscal strategy; 2) develop a public
debt management strategy; 3) recapitalize the banks; and, 4)
reform/ strengthen supervisory authority. Despite the
popular attention focused on Icesave, the budget deficit and
recapitalizing the Central Bank and the private sector banks
are the most important factors in Iceland's growing debt
burden. Flanagan appeared confident that Icelandic
authorities understand what they need to do. Whether they
and the coalition in parliament can muster the political will
to do so remains an open question. End Summary.

2. (C) On December 7, Charge and Econoff discussed Iceland's
progress on its IMF program with Mark Flanagan, leader of the
IMF team here on a two week visit to Reykjavik. Although
Flanagan believes Iceland's recovery could start in mid-2010,
he cautioned that that the government must take several
critical steps to lay the necessary groundwork as well as
undertake significant fiscal austerity measures. Prior to
the next IMF review, said Flanagan, Iceland must: 1) complete
the 2010 budget and medium-term fiscal strategy; 2) develop a
public debt management strategy; 3) recapitalize the banks;
and, 4) reform/ strengthen supervisory authority. These
steps are the keys to a successful recovery. As for the
current economic situation, Flanagan said that there had been
limited decline in output as a result of fiscal stimulus and
that recovery to positive economic growth could come by the
third quarter. By the end of 2010, he forecast that
inflation would be about four percent. For interest rate
policy to be effective, Iceland should enforce capital
controls more strictly.

3. (C) Managing public and private sector debt would be a key
challenge for Iceland, Flanagan noted. A significant portion
of Iceland's public sector debt will roll over in the next
three years, he said, causing the country's net debt to rise
by 14 percent of GDP. Consequently, fiscal consolidation is
critical. The Ministry of Finance should have responsibility
for debt management, but the Ministry eliminated its debt
management office several years ago when Iceland ran a
surplus and has no official dedicated to work on the issue at
present. The IMF is already providing technical assistance
in this area.

4. (C) Flanagan stressed the need to address insolvency in
the private sector lest the private sector stand in the way
of public sector fiscal consolidation. He estimated that
half of all corporations need restructuring and a quarter of
all corporations are or will be insolvent. Corporate
restructuring is difficult and will take time. A key
constraint in Iceland is the small size of the court system,
where 48 judges to handle all cases, criminal and civil.
Flanagan called for Iceland to look at ways to facilitate
debt restructuring outside of the courts to avoid
overburdening the judicial system.

5. (C) Flanagan remarked several times that the country's
overall debt level, not the Icesave debt, is the largest
problem that Iceland faces. Three larger contributors than
Icesave to the overall debt, he said, are the deficit
(projected to be 14 percent in 2009), the Central Bank's huge
liquidity losses suffered immediately after the collapse, and
recapitalizing the banks. To illustrate this point, Flanagan
noted that about 20 percent of GDP would be needed to
recapitalize the Central Bank's liquidity losses, while the
Icesave debt is expected to add 10 to 15 percent of GDP to
the debt load in 2016. He also stated that Iceland's
problems stem, in part, from the fact the country has a
tax-rich structure that is suffering from a sharp decline in
tax revenue, for which a structural adjustment of 10 percent
of GDP is necessary. Despite these larger issues, Icesave
has played a significant role in the delay of Iceland's
economic recovery, and people have been easily distracted by
"silver bullet" ideas such as adopting the Euro. Icesave did
not, however, delay the IMF's last review of the program,
Flanagan noted, because the policy content for the review was
not ready until early August.


REYKJAVIK 00000218 002 OF 002


6. (C) The IMF believes that Iceland's political leadership
understands both the gravity of the situation and the
requisite steps to put the economy back on track. Flanagan
said that a deal to recapitalize Landsbanki bank, an IMF
requirement, should be reached soon. The political
bottlenecks due to Iceland's small size, however, mean
progress will occur at a slower pace. (Note: the Ministry of
Finance, for example, only has 75 employees. End note.)
When asked about the future of the IMF program if parliament
were to reject the Icesave bill, Flanagan stated that, in
theory, the IMF could adjust the program, but that it would
require significant reworking. The IMF would like to
continue with the current program and, as the financing from
the Nordics is essential to the current program, he is
hopeful that parliament will pass the Icesave bill and
receive access to the Nordic loan.

7. (C) The IMF expects to reach agreement with the Government
of Iceland on the policy content for the next review by the
time Flanagan departs next week. The next review could take
place as early as late December or early to mid January.

8. (C) Comment: Flanagan seemed confident that Icelandic
authorities understand what they need to do. Whether they
and the coalition in parliament can muster the political will
to do so remains an open question. End Comment.
WATSON

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