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Iceland minister says country won't default

January 06, 2010 | “MarketWatch"

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- Iceland's Finance Minister Steingrimur Sigfusson has reportedly said the country will not default on its debts after it was downgraded to junk status following the collapse of a bill to refund foreign bank depositors.

Sigfusson accepted that patience toward the country is running out, but said he doesn't believe there's anything that points to a default, according to a Bloomberg report.

The latest woes for Iceland came after President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson on Tuesday vetoed a bill to refund U.K. and Dutch depositors at failed bank Icesave after nearly 20% of the country's population signed a petition against the plan.

The bill will now be put to a referendum, but is likely to fail as polls reportedly indicate an opposition level of around 70%.

Following Grimsson's decision, Fitch Ratings downgraded the country's long-term foreign-currency-issuer default rating to BB+ from BBB- and Standard & Poor's said it could cut its rating by one or two notches in the next month.

Fitch said the decision "creates a renewed wave of domestic, political, economic and financial uncertainty."

Finance Minister Sigfusson said in an interview with Bloomberg that an International Monetary Fund review that had been planned for later in January now probably won't take place.

The IMF's mission chief for Iceland Mark Flanagan said the decision doesn't necessarily mean an IMF-led rescue will collapse, as long as the countries providing finance remain committed, the report added.

U.K. Financial Services Minister Paul Myners responded to Grimsson's decision Tuesday by saying Iceland could isolate itself if it refuses to refund foreign depositors who lost money.

Speaking to the BBC, Myners said that if Icelanders reject the bill in a referendum, they "would effectively be saying that Iceland doesn't want to be part of the international financial system."

Trading in Icelandic stocks was very thin Wednesday, with some other markets in the Nordic region remained closed for a holiday. The OMX Iceland All-Shares index rose 0.3% to 496.06.

Foreign exchange markets were also fairly stable with the dollar slipping 0.3% against the Icelandic currency at 121.19 krona.

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