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.

Elevated risk

In a report presented on Thursday, Sweden’s financial supervisory authority Finansinspektion (FI) said that new rules introduced in June last year, forcing new mortgage borrowers to pay down their loans, had helped make households more resilient, but the full effect would take years to realise (ed.). FI’s chief economist, Henrik Braconier, warned of an elevated risk that house prices could fall sharply, as could income, and of the likelihood of rising interest rates.

Amazon to open three centres in Sweden

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced plans to make Stockholm a new infrastructure region for its cloud computing services by 2018. The IT giant will establish three data centres in Västerås, Eskilstuna and Katrineholm, all of which are within easy reach of the capital.

Start up companies such as iZettle, King, Mojang and Supercell as well as Ikea, Nokia, Scania and Telenor use AWS to help them run their businesses, reports DI.

Darren Mowry, Nordic manager for AWS, tells DN that Stockholm and the three towns have an infrastructure that suits the company, and the region is one of few in the world with such a concentration of talent. The company has also taken on board the fact that renewable energy sources account for 53% of the Swedish energy production.

Innovation and Enterprise Minister Mikael Damberg is optimistic, believing the move could create up to 200 jobs, and will place Sweden at the fore in the development of the digital economy.

DN lifts a warning finger, however, remarking that Amazon is infamous for its tax planning. According to DI Digital, in 2015 AWS reported a loss and paid zero kronor in taxes in Sweden. Darren Mowry assures DN that the company will “of course” pay all taxes required by law.

Bolund defends resolution fees

The government has plans to raise bank payments towards the bank reserve, which is intended to shield Sweden from the next financial crisis (ed.). Fresh figures from the Swedish Bankers’ Association (Bankföreningen) indicate that the bank reserve will amount to 200 billion kronor by 2030 as a result. This is ten times over the amount stipulated in the EU directive, but Financial Markets Minister Per Bolund (Green) defends the reserve.

“Sweden has a large and concentrated banking sector and this means that the risks are greater in Sweden than in other parts of Europe,” he tells DI.

The minister believes Denmark and the banking union made a mistake when they set the target level as low as they did, and points out that Sweden had to give Nordbanken a capital injection that amounted to 4% of GDP in the 1990s.

The bank resolution fees the banks will pay will go into the state budget and will not sit in a separate fund. Peter Malmqvist, chief analyst at Remium, is critical, saying that this is a tax levy in disguise, a claim the minister denies.

No winners in event of trade war

Two months into protectionist Donald Trump’s presidency, WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo warns of the risks of a global trade war.

Speaking to Svenska Dagbladet ahead of his visit to Stockholm today, Thursday, the WTO head says he hopes a trade war can be avoided. “There are no winners in a trade war, only losers,” he remarks.

He does not believe there will be a return to the global trade growth of 8 to 9% seen in the years prior to the financial crisis, but there is no reason why it should not pick up to 5%, although this is unlikely to happen any time soon.

Roberto Azevêdo is cautious about drawing any swift conclusions over US-China relations, convinced the two nations will reach agreement despite difficulties.

Diplomats in Washington are unsure about the direction the US may take on trade policy and the WTO head is in a similar situation. “I don’t actually know if Trump is for or against trade. What I am hearing, however, is that the Americans consider the WTO an important organisation and that they are for free trade but against unfair trade,” he says.

Swedish banks and firms drawn into Russian Laundromat

In 2014 a group of journalists working with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) broke the story of the “Global Laundromat” – an operation whereby money was moved out of Russia between January 2011 and October 2014. Much of the money was moved out of the country via Trasta Kommercbanka in Latvia and Moldindconbank in Moldova, and investigations were subsequently launched in Latvia, Moldova, the UK and Russia.

OCCRP journalists have since gained access to information allowing investigators to track how USD 20.8 billion was moved from Russia. Detectives believe the true figure could be as much as USD 80 billion, or SKr 700 billion, according to The Guardian. As a comparison, Swedish government expenditure in 2017 is expected to be in the region of SKr 970 billion.

According to OCCRP, Sweden’s big four banks as well as Danske Bank and Norwegian DNB, are among the hundreds of banks that have processed the money. OCCRP also says that Ericsson and fastening tool company Isaberg Rapid have received money transfers of USD 1.3 billion and USD 153,000 respectively.

Ericsson says it does not normally comment individual transactions, but this was a single payment for one of its customer contracts. “We don’t know today why the payment was made by a company other than the customer, but in light of the information that has now emerged, we will take a closer look at this payment and see if we have adequate procedures and control mechanisms,” states the company.

Lundin to spin off assets

Lundin Petroleum is hiving off all its assets outside of Norway to a separate listed company called International Petroleum Corporation (IPC).

“Growth in Norway has meant shareholders’ interest in our other assets has become quite minimal,” states CEO Alex Scheiter.

IPC’s aim is to grow through acquisitions although financial director Mike Nicholson, who will become CEO of IPC, says the acquisitions will focus on quality rather than quantity.

Lundin Petroleum’s production prognosis for 2017, including IPC, is 79,000-91,000 barrels per day, which can be compared to 73,000 last year. However Alex Scheiter calls the forecast conservative.

Hands’ recipe to cope with Brexit

Even though the UK wishes to keep close ties with the EU, Brexit will force it to seek trade ties elsewhere, Greg Hands, the minister of state for international trade, tells Dagens Industri in an exclusive interview.

The minister acknowledges that the UK must increase its exports to China and India, but also points out that many of its key markets are in the EU. “We export more to Sweden, the Nordic region and the Baltic region that to China and India together,” he says.

Mr Hands met Ann Linde, the Swedish minister for EU affairs and trade, in Stockholm last Friday to discuss free trade, and tells the newspaper: “We had a very positive discussion on cooperation in various trade fora, including the WTO. We spoke of our common interest in free trade being on the world agenda.”