List of Íslandsbanki Buyers Released

íslandsbanki

In the wake of opposition criticism about low share prices and a general lack of transparency around the government’s March 22 sale of a 22.5% stake in Íslandsbanki bank, the Ministry of Finance has publicly released the list of investors.

Pension funds biggest investors

As Stundin reports, 209 investors participated in the March sale, with a handful of pension funds scooping up a sizeable number of shares.

The largest single buyer was Gildi Pension Fund, followed by the Pension Fund for Icelandic State Employees, Brú Pension Fund and the Pension Fund of Commerce.

All other investors purchased less than 4% each of the total shares available in this offering.

Notable investors include Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson, the largest shareholder in Glitnir bank before it went bust in Iceland’s 2008 economic collapse; Samherji CEO and former Glitnir chairman Þorseinn Már Baldvinsson; and Benedikt Sveinsson, the father of Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson.

The full list of investors who participated in this round of sales has been published by Stundin.

Rich getting richer

The investment in Íslandsbanki is paying off for those invited to invest. Share prices are up 11% since the sale.

Stundin calculated that the Finance Minister’s father has already made ISK 6 million profit on his newly acquired shares, while the fishing company Jakob Valgeir ehf. has made ISK 102 million.

Invitation-only offering

Íslandsbanki was entirely state-owned until the government sold a 35% stake in 2021. While last year’s sale was a public offering, the recent sale was only open to professional investors, who received an invitation to buy shares, which were then sold for 5% less than market value after markets had closed for the day.

Icelandic State Financial Investments (ISFI) previously said it was not able to publish the data on who purchased shares. ISFI believed it was likely the buyers’ identity falls under bank secrecy regulations.

 

 

Astronaut Bjarni Valdimar Tryggvason Has Died

Bjarni Tryggvason Astronaut NASA

Bjarni Valdimar Tryggvason, the first and only Icelandic astronaut, died on April 5 at the age of 76. Bjarni was born in Reykjavík on September 21, 1945, but moved to Canada as a child and grew up in Nova Scotia and British Columbia.

He studied engineering physics, applied mathematics and fluid dynamics prior to being selected by the National Research Council of Canada in 1983 to be one of Canada’s first six astronauts. He served as a payload specialist with NASA’s STS-85 crew in August 1997, conducting tests on how fluids behave in space and evaluating a tool to protect cargo and experiments from vibrational disturbances.

Bjarni logged 11 days, 20 hours, 28 minutes and 7 seconds in flight and completed 185 orbits of Earth.

Canadian politician Marc Garneau, who was another of Canada’s original six astronauts with Bjarni, posted a tribute to his late friend on Twitter.

Condolences were also posted by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.

Housing Available for 1,815 Ukrainian Refugees

architecture downtown Reykjavík houses

The Multicultural Information Centre (MCC) estimates that accommodation is currently available to house up to 1,815 refugees from Ukraine, Vísir reports.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, housing has been offered by the public, hotels and, notably, Bifröst University. MCC director Nichole Leigh Mosty said the centre has received 363 accommodation offers from 51 municipalities, with the vast majority in the capital area.

In the first week after MCC invited people to register available accommodation, the centre received 100 offers per day, with many individuals offering available rooms in their homes. That figure has since slowed to less than 100 offers per week and trended toward full apartments.

“The municipalities are working hard to map services and work with us,” Nichole told Vísir. “Now an interim solution is being launched where people get housing from three weeks to three months. As a result, more sustainable measures will be considered that better take into account the needs of each and every family.”

More than 500 Ukrainian refugees have arrived

An average of 18 Ukrainian nationals apply for international protection in Iceland daily, with 124 individuals arriving in the past week. A total of 508 Ukrainian citizens have applied for international protection in Iceland since Feb. 24, and a report from the National Commissioner of Police estimates another 496 individuals will apply for protection over the next four weeks.

Iceland’s Real Estate Prices See Highest Increase in Nordic Region: Report

iceland real estate

Real estate prices increased more in Iceland than in the rest of the Nordic countries during the pandemic, according to Nordregio’s annual State of the Nordic Region report. The report notes that real estate prices increased considerably across the entire region, RÚV reports.

One of the report’s authors attributed higher real estate prices throughout the Nordics in part to an increase in people working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, prices increased in rural areas as people moved out of urban areas over the course of the pandemic.

Finland stands out as one Nordic country where the price increase was more modest and where the housing market is most stable.

Financial blow different for certain demographics

Overall, the report found, Nordic economies have fared well with the upheaval presented by the global coronavirus pandemic. For example, fewer bankruptcies were declared in Iceland in 2020 than the annual average from 2014 to 2019.

However, the blow of the pandemic was not felt equally across all demographics of society. The past two years have seen the wealth gap increase between various social groups in all Nordic countries. In particular, the pandemic has most negatively affected the health and finances of the elderly, young people and immigrants.

Government benefits made a difference

“Economic mitigation measures seem to have yielded fairly good results in Iceland, where tourism is a large industry and was greatly affected by the pandemic,” said Gustaf Norlén, one of the editors of the State of the Nordic Region report. “We can see that the government’s support measures for companies and employees have contributed to fewer bankruptcies and a much faster recovery than after the financial crisis of 2008.”

Lower Mortality Rate in Latest COVID-19 Wave

landspítali hospital

COVID-19 continues to spread through the community, but a closer look at the data presents a silver lining to the latest wave. While far more Icelanders diagnosed with the coronavirus have died in recent months, the mortality rate is actually lower than in prior waves.

During earlier waves of the pandemic, roughly 0.5 percent of those diagnosed with COVID-19 succumbed to the virus. However, since the Delta variant arrived in the country in the summer of 2021 the mortality rate dropped to 0.03 or 0.04 percent, a 10 or 15 percent decrease, RÚV reports.

Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason attributes the lower mortality rate to high uptake of vaccinations in the country.

Over the course of the pandemic, 93 deaths have been associated with COVID-19 infection, 56 of which have occurred this year.

The country appears to have reached the peak of the latest wave, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, though an average of 1,500 new cases are being diagnosed daily through PCR and rapid testing.

Hospitals examining their alert levels

Landspítali’s Epidemic Committee is looking at how the hospital can scale back its alert level in a safe manner after weeks of operating at an emergency alert level, RÚV reports.

There are 72 patients currently in hospital with COVID-19, 64 of whom are in isolation and four are on respirators. Six children are currently being hospitalised for COVID-19.

A lot of illness going around

Despite COVID-19 cases trending in the right direction, there is a lot of illness circulating in the community, Óskar Reykdalsson, director of the capital area health care centres, told RÚV.

In addition to the coronavirus, influenza is spreading rapidly. Thanks to health measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, less flu had been spreading in Iceland over the past two years.

Óskar said that it is typical that the flu is more widespread after years of lower instances. Health facilities ordered more influenza vaccine this year in anticipation of higher numbers, but demand hasn’t met supply.

“I was actually quite surprised that it was not just all used up and finished,” Óskar told Channel 2 radio. “95,000 doses were ordered for the country and 67,000 doses have been used.”

Asked whether people would be able to distinguish between having COVID-19 or influenza, Óskar said that there were differences between the pace of the diseases. With influenza, people suddenly get a high fever and headache and then the cold creeps in. With COVID-19, on the other hand, symptoms start rather mildly but then the disease grows.

North Iceland Learning to Live With Rabbits

Those rascally rabbits! Though only relatively recently introduced to Icelandic nature, the rabbit population has laid down roots in many of the country’s forested areas. One arborist in North Iceland is conceding the only option now is to learn to live with the bunnies, RÚV reports.

Ingólfur Jóhannsson, director of the Eyjafjörður Forestry Association, said that while efforts began in 2014 to eradicate the rabbit population in Akureyri’s Kjarnaskógur forest, he no longer considers them a plague.

“These rabbits are here to stay, and we will not get rid of them,” he said. “We just have to learn to live with them.”

Rabbits with expensive taste

Ingólfur told the state broadcaster the rabbits pose the biggest threat to saplings, and flowering trees and shrubs, like rose bushes and fruit trees. He has had to protect many plants — including a new cherry tree he’s growing — with chicken wire to keep the rabbits at bay.

It’s not only in the woods that the bunnies are getting up to no good. An Akureyri greenhouse has had to install a rabbit security system that emits a high-pitched tone to deter the animals, in addition to erecting rabbit fencing around the property

“If it crosses the fence, a rabbit can eat hundreds of plants in an hour,” said Sólskógar greenhouse employee Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson. “So there is a lot of financial damage if they get in.”

A love-hate relationship

While Akureyri’s environmental department is responsible for keeping the rabbit population in check and estimates that it shoots 3,000 rabbits per year, not everyone dislikes the furry little fellas.

Akureyri residents told RÚV they enjoy seeing the rabbits while walking through the forest. Even arborist Ingólfur said his opinion of the animals is different if asked in a professional context or as a private individual. “It’s such love and hate,” he said. “I think it’s best described that way.”

Icelandic Produce is Getting a New Logo

Islenskt, Iceland’s horticulturists’ sales organisation, unveiled a new origin marker for Icelandic produce today, Vísir reports.

Several markings have been used over the years to state the origin of various Icelandic products, but Islenskt will roll out the new label out across all packaging in the coming months. The goal of the initiative is to create consistency and certainty in a time when consumers are more discerning about the origin of their food.

Milk, meat, eggs, seafood and flowers that are produced and packaged 100% in Iceland can bear the new logo. Blended products like yoghurt and cheese can be labelled as Icelandic origin if no more than 25% of their ingredients are imported.

No Travel Weather Today

Orange and yellow weather warnings are in effect across the country today. High winds and rain are in the forecast through to Monday evening in the capital region and much of the North, West and South. A yellow warning will remain in effect in the East until Tuesday morning, according to Vedur.is.

With winds reaching 28 metres per second in some regions and 40 metres per second in the mountains, road conditions are slippery, and many mountain passes are unsafe to traverse or closed entirely.

Elín Björk Jónasdóttir, a meteorologist with the Icelandic Meteorological Office, told RÚV there is increased risk of mudslides in the South and Southeast, where the rain is expected to be heaviest.

The Icelandic Road and Coastal Administration reports that many roads outside of the capital area are closed, or the conditions are slippery. Travellers can keep an eye on current road conditions on Road.is.

Never Fewer Accidents at Sea

iceland fishing

While it can seem that bad news is coming from all directions these days, good news is to be found at sea.

2021 saw the fewest accidents at sea reported to the Social Insurance Administration and Icelandic Health Insurance since an incident registry for the fishing industry was established in 1966, MBL.is reports.

There were 108 incidents at sea reported in 2021, down from 153 in 2020 and 227 in 2019. Records from the Icelandic Transport Authority show there were 286 reported incidents the year the registry began.

2021 was the fifth year in a row that no Icelander died at sea.

The single worst year for the safety of Icelandic seafarers was 1989, when a total of 631 incidents at sea were registered. Overall, the number of cases began to decrease a few years after the Fishermen’s Accident Prevention School was established in 1985.

Thanks to the vigilance of the fishermen

Heiðrún Lind Marteinsdóttir, CEO of the Association of Companies in the Fisheries Sector, told MBL she chalks the decrease in accidents up to the vigilance of fishermen and increased awareness of the importance of safety at sea.

She said fisheries companies have taken security issues seriously, pointing out that investments in new vessels have resulted in better working and living conditions at sea. “There are many factors contributing to this success, but first and foremost, I think it is the crew themselves who deserve the biggest share of the credit here,” Heiðrún Lind said.

Insurance costs should fall for the fishing industry

Chairman of the Icelandic Seamen’s Association Valmundur Valmundsson said he is pleased with the latest numbers but added, “We can always do better, preferably, so there are no accidents at sea.”

“Seafarers should be able to walk home safely from work. That is the goal of all of us who work on these issues,” he said.

Valmundur said he hopes that increased safety at sea will reduce insurance costs for the fishing industry.

Record Number of COVID-19 Hospitalizations

landspítali hospital

Iceland hit a new pandemic milestone, with 75 patients with COVID-19 currently being treated at the National University Hospital in Reykjavík — a pandemic record, surpassing the November 2020 high of 66 people with COVID-19 in hospital.

Five patients are currently in intensive care, and one of them is on a ventilator.

As reported Monday, there are currently patients with COVID-19 in 15 separate wards of the National University Hospital in Reykjavík. The average age of those admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 is 67.

Read More: What’s the Status of COVID-19 in Iceland?

Two men in their 70s died in the intensive care unit Monday, Visir.is reports. Their deaths follow that of a woman in her 50s, who passed away from COVID-19 complications Sunday. The total number of COVID-19 casualties in Iceland now stands at 73.

A total of 3,316 new coronavirus infections were diagnosed in Iceland on Monday, according to COVID.is. The majority of diagnoses (3,188) were made via rapid tests, with 44% of the 7,497 total swabs taken coming back positive.