The number of construction cranes across Iceland is approaching the number counted in 2007, just prior to the banking collapse. There are currently 349 cranes registered for use in the country, according to numbers Fréttablaðið obtained from the Administration of Occupational Safety and Health in Iceland (AOSH). In 2007 the number was 364, dipping to 113 in 2010, then growing steadily since, with 277 cranes inspected last year.
It is likely, however, that the number of cranes will increase in the future, surpassing the 2007 numbers. Economists agree that there continues to be a shortage of apartments in Iceland. The Housing Financing Fund (HFF) calculates that 9,000 apartments need to be built over the next three years, or an average of 3,000 per year. Last year only 1,600 were completed, meaning the volume of construction needs to double to meet demand.
In Iceland, the number of cranes in use has at times been looked at as an indicator of economic strain since the visit of Robert Aliber, professor emeritus of International Economics and Finance at the University of Chicago. During his stay in 2008 just prior to the banking collapse, he tallied the cranes in use and spoke in no uncertain terms about the danger to the economy.
Magnús Árni Skúlason, economist at the consulting firm Reykjavík Economics, explains, however, that the number of cranes is not as good an indicator of economic instability as it was before the collapse. “In 2007, there was a debt bubble and an oversupply of residential real estate. The situation is different today. There is much demand due to a large volume of first-time buyers as well as an influx of foreign nationals who work for example in the tourism industry.” He adds that much of the construction is to accommodate the growing number of tourists.