The global financial crisis claimed a clean sweep of Iceland’s largest banks on Monday after Straumur-Burdaras, the last of the four biggest banks in the country to remain independent, succumbed to mounting pressure and was nationalised.
The bank said in a statement: “In spite of its strong capital position and the support of funding banks, Straumur believes its liquidity position is no longer strong enough to sustain activities.”
Straumur’s demise marks the end of a five-month fight to avoid nationalisation after all three of Iceland’s largest banks – Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing – collapsed in the space of a week in October last year.
The collapse marks a new low point for Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson, the most high-profile of Iceland’s “Viking raiders” – a youthful group of entrepreneurs who built business empires.
Mr Bjorgolfsson, renowned in Iceland’s boomtime for his aggressive business tactics, ruminations on Icelandic capitalism and reputedly Iceland’s first dollar billionaire, has maintained a low profile since the economy collapsed.
He and his father, Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, the owner of West Ham United football club, own Samson Global Holdings, which has a 34 per cent stake in Straumur. He is already suffering from the collapse of Landsbanki, in which he held a large stake, and from declines in the value of investments made by Novator, his investment company. He is in the process of offloading other assets to stay afloat.
Straumur sought in recent months to reassure the market it was relatively well capitalised, its operations could once again be profitable and its loan book would eventually shrug off growing provisions to become sustainable. It announced a plan to reduce assets by a third and had managed to obtain additional financing worth €133m ($168m) in spite of reporting a €576m loss in the fourth quarter of the year, but all to no avail.
The combined collapse of global liquidity and the continued absence of confidence in Icelandic banks eventually made it impossible for Straumur to fund its operations, it said.
Its demise will be felt across the Nordic region and beyond. It has operations in Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Fitch, the credit rating agency, immediately downgraded Straumur’s credit rating to D from B. “Support from the Icelandic authorities cannot be relied upon for timely payment of the bank’s obligations as they fall due,” the agency said.
According to a statement from the Icelandic government, all deposits of Icelandic commercial banks are fully secured.
Iceland’s Financial Supervisory Authority has suspended Straumur’s board and appointed a committee to run the bank. William Fall, a former senior executive at Bank of America, who joined the bank in 2007, has resigned.
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