Andersson: Taxpayers tired of Nordea’s games

Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson has criticised the Danish government’s attempts to persuade Nordea to place its head office in Copenhagen. “It sounds as though the Danish government is prepared to compete by easing the rules on the finance market. That is a path that the Swedish government will not tread,” she said.

She has also berated CEO Casper von Koskull, saying “many taxpayers, who saved the bank in the 90s, are tired of Nordea’s games”.

Norway difficult trade partner

Last year Swedish companies sold goods to Norway worth SKr 124 billion and services worth SKr 91 billion, making it Sweden’s largest export country. However Anna Stellinger, director general of Sweden’s National Board of Trade says, “Companies expect it to be easy to trade with Norway, but it is difficult.”

The board was tasked by the government to survey businesses to see where the greatest trade difficulties occur. Among the third of companies that experiences problems with exports to a non-EU countries, almost all singled out Norway, followed by Russia, China, Brazil, the US and India. Bureaucratic times and difficult processes for customs are among the problems.

A third of companies believe it is important for Sweden to bring about better trade conditions with Norway. The Board of Trade believes that the survey indicates that the choice of countries in the export strategy ought to be narrower.

Threat of strikes hangs over companies

Next week there is the threat of three strikes within Almega’s contract areas. The heart of the Swedish vehicle industry could be paralysed and it could cause commuters major problems. A twenty-year-old Swedish negotiation model is on the line in the dispute.

In the past few days the agreement negotiations have become heated, and it is the Swedish Trade Union Confederation’s (LO) proposal to increase the wages of low-wage workers by 6.5% over three years that is causing the problem. The painters at Volvo Cars, the assembly in Torslanda, vehicle support at Volvo Powertrain but also Ringhals’s nuclear power station are at risk of being called out on strike. There could also be a strike within the rail agreement, which could hit commuters.

Considering legal proceedings against 3i

 

In February 2015 3i put Eltel, which provides technical services for infrastructure services, on the stock market and then dumped the rest of its shares several months before an accountancy problem was discovered in the autumn. Buyers included well-known Swedish funds and pension companies which now feel that they were kept in the dark. According to DI’s sources several of the major shareholders are considering taking legal action against 3i.

The huge power transmission project in Africa, which was accounted for wrongly, causing Eltel major losses, goes back to 2014 when 3i and BNP Paribas owned the company. On Tuesday evening the board decided to report former CEO Axel Hjärne to the police for accounting violations and/or fraud. The shock decision sent the share price plummeting.

Crackdown on estate agents

The Swedish Consumer Agency (Konsumentverket) and the government want to put more pressure on estate agents. From a consumer perspective, the estate agent market is one of the ten most problematic markets, according to a new report by Konsumentverket. “When we buy a property, it is often the biggest purchase we make and there are high risks associated with these kinds of purchases,” says Minister for Consumer Affairs Per Bolund.

Konsumentverket highlights problems such as excessively low prices being set to attract interest, lack of knowledge about the role of the estate agent and lack of independent advice. The agency wants to see a consumer agency for property purchases with personal, qualified and independent advice. The agency also wants a law or regulation that forces estate agents to state an “assessed market value” for the property.

Vattenfall’s new investment

Swedish state-owned Vattenfall is shifting up a gear in the UK. From the start of May the company is to start selling renewable energy direct to customers instead of to the grid.

Since 2008, Vattenfall has invested over SKr 34 billion in the UK. “We now have a critical mass and can start selling directly to customers. The UK is interesting because there is dense capacity there and still good opportunities for investing in more renewable energy. Furthermore, there are fairly high demands to become more environmentally friendly and reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the UK,” says Anna Borg, from Vattenfall.

Calls for better protection

The number of funds in Sweden’s pension system will be reduced by between 200 and 400, if a Swedish Pensions Agency (Pensionsmyndigheten) proposal is approved by the parliamentary pension group, reports Dagens Nyheter.

Concerns over the recent scandals with Falcon Funds and Allra have led the Pensions Agency to propose that a company must be able to prove that it has had assets of at least 100 million kronor under management for three years before it will be accepted on its platform. During the second half of last year just four of 31 new funds met such a requirement.

Another proposal is that a fund must be able to show it has been trading on other regulated markets during a set number of years, while a third is that a cap will be set on the level of assets each fund has in the pension system.

The parliamentary group is expected to make a decision by the summer.

Criticism of plans to give watchdog extra powers

The Ministry of Finance wants the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen) to be given additional macroprudential tools, but a number of bodies are critical of the plans.

The Trade Union Confederation, LO, believes a review of interest rate deductions needs to be made before the watchdog further restricts household borrowing, while the Swedish Construction Federation warns that a debt-to-income ceiling will make it harder for the young and immigrants to get a first step on the property ladder; a view which is shared by the Association of Swedish Real Estate Agents.

The Swedish Bankers’ Association believes Finansinspektionen’s proposed mandate is too broad and far-reaching but Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, welcomes the proposal, given that current regulation does not correct financial imbalances.

Economists: Cautious budget

Economists are describing Tuesday’s spring budget as cautious and selective. Annika Winsth, Nordea’s chief economist, believes the government is gradually paving a way for an election budget while SEB’s Håkan Frisén would have liked to see reform on the housing and labour markets. However, he acknowledges that it is too late in the business cycle for stimulus.

Anna Öster, chief economist at Länsförsäkringar, agrees with Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson that the Swedish economy remains strong but is disappointed that the government made no mention of the challenges facing the economy. “Put bluntly, there was no holistic approach,” she says.

Vattenfall demands compensation

Dutch energy company Vandebron, the Triodos bank and the City of Amsterdam are behind an initiative to buy Hemweg 8, an old and inefficient coal-fired plant in the city (ed.). They have offered Vattenfall subsidiary Nuon the equivalent of some SKr 50 million for the plant, which they want to close as soon as possible.

Vattenfall has rejected the bid, and has instead demanded 55 million euros of the Netherlands to close the plant ahead of time.