EU warns of house prices

Sweden risks a disorderly housing market correction, warns the European Commission in its annual review of the Swedish economy, reports Reuters. The risk comes from persistent house price growth and that the policy implemented by Swedish authorities has not been sufficient.

The Commission wants to see housing tax reforms, steps to increase the rate of new housing construction and deregulation that leads to a more effective use of existing housing stocks. The Commission recommends gradually lowering the tax deductibility of mortgage interest payments.

Nordea has decided to move

 

The issue of whether Nordea will move its head office to either Helsinki or Copenhagen has been a hot topic since the government presented its proposal to raise the resolution reserve fee. In March Nordea chair Björn Wahlroos said the higher fee could cost Nordea an extra SKr 5 billion, motivating a move.

Svenska Dagbladet reported on Saturday that sources have now confirmed that the decision has been made and all that remains is a formal decision by the bank’s board on 30 May. However Nordea’s head of investment Rodney Alfvén would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

Dagens Industri, DI, reports today that Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson denies that the Swedish state would lose any tax income if Nordea moves its head office. Nordea pays corporate tax in Sweden for its Swedish operations regardless of where its head office is situated.

Bolund defends tax on chemicals

Sweden’s consumer electronics industry is in uproar over the news that the tax on chemicals, which will take effect on 1 July 2017, will only be levied on Swedish firms. Foreign online vendors selling goods to Swedish consumers will not be liable to the tax.

The Swedish trade association Elektronikbranschen is concerned over the amount of administration the tax will require, as well as the extra cost to consumers, saying the tax will distort the market.

Nevertheless, Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund (Green) defends the tax, saying if is “a tool to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals”.

Dispute over Nordea’s head office

Both parties could end up losing in the dispute over Nordea’s head office, according to several commentators. Nordea has threatened to move its headquarters out of Sweden as a result of the political decision to raise the fees for the resolution reserve (to aid banks in the case of a financial crisis – ed.).

However, although the government has so far focused on the positive elements of a Nordea move for taxpayers, an anonymous source to SvD points out, “It would make big international news. It could lead to a discussion about the business climate in Sweden, something the government does not want.” On the other hand Nordea risks disappointing customers, as the move could be perceived as a rejection of the bank’s largest market.

Meanwhile, writing in Dagens Industri today, MEP Gunnar Hökmark accuses the government of undermining Sweden’s competitiveness with the new bank tax and says that it is incomprehensible that Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson want to bring in this tax, which is making Nordea, the Nordic countries’ largest bank consider moving.

Three lost years for welfare

In Dagens Industri today, in response to the government’s presentation of the Reepalu welfare inquiry yesterday, Håkan Tenelius, from the Association of Private Care Providers (Vårdföretagarna), writes, “Many thought that a solid inquiry would be able to present proposals that secured quality as well as freedom of choice and diversity. However instead it brought macabre, theoretical calculation models which no minister with self esteem can present to parliament.”

He writes, in the reference group, “it was clear… that the inquiry has not had any ambition to constructively contribute to the development of quality in welfare” and is doubtful of the quality measurements currently used. “The Reepalu inquiry’s answer is three lost years for welfare.”

He urges the alliance to take the initiative and the majority in the Riksdag must do what it can to bring about a process for authorisation for all welfare providers.

Growth in danger zone

After several years of dramatic price rises, Sweden is now one of the countries at risk of a collapse in house prices, resulting in GDP growth slowing down.

House prices have risen, in real terms, by over 30% in Sweden and New Zealand in the past three years, accompanied by rising household debt. Now, according to credit rating institute, Moody’s, the two countries are most exposed to falling house prices.

Jens Magnusson, from SEB, says the warnings are correct but that the conclusions can be qualified. He points out that price increases in Sweden do not mainly come from speculation and that lending is distributed so that those with the highest incomes borrow the most.

Moody’s report also points out that Sweden’s social safety net provides a cushion for households but means greater economic exposure if things begin to get shaky.

Green light for Gazprom

Russian Gazprom says it now has the go-ahead to build the controversial gas pipeline Nord Stream 2.

Anna Kaisa Itkonen, the European Commission’s spokesperson on energy, says, “We do not like Nord Stream 2 from a political aspect. However, saying that, there are no legal grounds on which the Commission can oppose it.”

A new route to Europe has long been the goal of the Russian state gas company, something that has met widespread opposition. A new pipeline will enable Russia to bypass Ukraine and Eastern Europe, increasing its control over the countries. Martin Kragh, from the Swedish Institute for International Affairs, points out that Russia wants to cut Ukraine out of the European energy equation and tie up Europe as a long-term export market.

Nonetheless, Chloé Le Coq, doctoral student at Stockholm School of Economics, says there are positive factors, for example the opportunity to diversify transport routes for gas to Europe.

Andersson: “Jobs and growth at risk”

There are no winners in the UK’s exit from the EU, according to Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson who wants British guarantees before negotiations can begin on a trade deal.

She also warns for emotional turmoil during the negotiations. “There will need to be adults in the room,” she says pointing out that both jobs and growth are at risk. The UK wants to negotiate a free trade deal alongside the exit negotiations but Magdalena Andersson is sceptical about how realistic this is.

“It is important that the UK meets its financial obligations towards the rest of the EU,” says Andersson, as the UK has obligations of between 50 and 60 billion euro to the EU (between 475 and 570 billion kronor).

The National Board of Trade in Sweden (Kommerskollegium) has calculated that Swedish companies are going to have to pay 2.1 billion kronor in duties when the Brits leave the EU if no new trade deal is in place.

Ukraine attracting Swedes

Trade Minister for Ukraine Nataliya Mykolska is in Stockholm to attract Swedish companies to Ukraine. The selling points are low wages, speedy reforms and an EU agreement.

She says areas of priority are food, light industry, timber, furniture and IT. She also sees potential in tourism. She says the government has also worked hard to counter corruption, saying that more has been done in the past three years than in the preceding 25 years.