Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fish another day

Reading about Iceland's seemingly mysterious surge in wealth --

The island erupted on to the world's financial stage in the early years of this decade. Icelanders bought up swaths of eastern Europe's telecommunications market, some of the best-known names on the UK's high street, including House of Fraser and Hamleys, and much of the Nordic banking system.

Inevitably, observers questioned where the money had come from. Tales of strange links to Russia abounded. "It is often implied that there is something dubious or shady about the origin of Icelandic financial strength," Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president, said in 2006, commenting on "far-fetched explanations" of Iceland's sudden wealth.

Much of the mystery centred around the charismatic figure of Thor Björgólfsson, even now barely 40, Iceland's richest man and founder of Actavis, the world's fourth largest maker of generic drugs. He began his career by setting up a brewery in St Petersburg, which he sold to Heineken in 2002. The sale earned him $100m.

Now it's clear: that was the idea for Die Another Day! Which now appears to be 6 years ahead of its time. So maybe it's not quite at the level of the classic discussion of the gold-based Bretton-Woods exchange rates by Colonel Smithers in Goldfinger. But impressive prescience nonetheless.

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