Greenland and Antarctica: Free and Clear?

Carl Bass of Autodesk was quoted this weekend in Barron’s as having spanked an analyst during a recent quarterly conference call. When asked whether any Autodesk sectors had been immune to the global slump, he said the following:

"Well, I think Antarctica has been relatively immune, maybe Greenland, as well, although not Iceland, as we all found out."

It’s a good line, but it got me thinking about Greenland and Antarctica’s respective economies. Both are somewhat tricky, with, for example, the latter not really having an economy. Such as there is economic activity in the Antarctica environ, it’s largely fishing and tourism, both of which are conducted in the area, but the profits from which don’t get patriated to any specific Antarctica-domiciled company or government.

Having said that, have fishing and tourism escaped the downturn? Well, according to the latest data I have from the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, tourism was 29,500 in the 2006-07 season, rising markedly to 45,213 in 2008-09. That’s darn impressive for a period of economic collapse. Fishing also seems to be booming there, even if people are demonstrably hell-bent on wiping out those pesky krill.

So, if Antarctica has escaped the downturn, albeit by not having an economy in the first place, how about Greenland?

Not so much, it seems. Admittedly, Greenland’s economy is a kind of a muddle, with Danish intergovernmental support accounting for a big chunk of the finances, but the fisheries are a big other piece, especially shrimp. The state-controlled Royal Greenland manages the shrimp business, and last year it tipped to a loss of 78m Danish kroner, down from a profit of 52m DKK in the prior year. Ugliness, relatively speaking.

The upshot: The only safe place, economically speaking, is seemingly Antarctica, but largely because it doesn’t have an economy of its own. Then again, it does have run-amok icesheets, so it’s not all econo-happiness at the South Pole.