Businesses tire of train delays

Even though a great deal of effort has been devoted to the upkeep of Sweden’s railways in recent years, the number of train delays has remained virtually constant. This also means that the industry has a long way to go before it can achieve its objective, which is that 95% of trains should arrive on time, or no more than five minutes behind schedule.

The rail industry can find no good explanation for the delays, while businesses are warning that the problems on Sweden’s railroads are undermining their competitiveness.

Lena Erixon, director general of the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) is promising that the focus will now be on ensuring freight trains run on time.

The Swedish Forest Industries Federation (Skogsindustrierna) has pointed out that it now takes longer to send goods by train than it did 10 or 20 years ago.

Calls for government to take action

Shippers and shipping lines faced disruption at the Port of Gothenburg on Tuesday as dockworkers went on strike. The dockworkers’ union has been locked in a year-long dispute with APM Terminals, which operates the container hub.

APM Terminals has slammed Swedish legislation, demanding a review, while the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise has called on the government to take the initiative and amend strike laws.

State secretary Irene Wennemo describes the situation as serious but rules out the possibility of the government wading into the conflict, or of reviewing legislation.

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.”

EU turns to other countries to defend free trade

Talking to Svenska Dagbladet, EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmström discusses growing concerns over Donald Trump and protectionism. “But we can’t be paralysed by Trump,” she says, telling the newspaper that there is overwhelming consensus on the importance of safeguarding talks and negotiations ahead of the WTO’s ministerial conference in December.

With the EU-US trade deal, the TTIP, frozen for the time being, the EU is eyeing new trade opportunities, particularly in Asia. “Countries are waiting in line already. They call and wonder if we can speed things up now that the US is no longer interested. We have Mexico, Japan and Mercosur wanting bilateral and multilateral agreements with the EU. Our popularity has actually increased, which is positive,” she says.

Telia eyes TDC

The Telia management is keen to acquire Danish operator TDC, according to Dagens Industri sources. However, if Telia is to realise its plans, it will have to raise money to fund the deal through a rights issue to shareholders. TDC is valued at some SKr 40 billion. It is uncertain how the government, which owns a share in the operator, would react to such a move though.

The business daily also reports that TDC intends to take measures to avoid being bought out, and has plans to make an offer on Swedish broadband and cable operator Com Hem, valued at SKr 17 billion.

MTG close to deal

Sweden’s Modern Times Group (MTG) is poised to sell its media channels in the three Baltic countries. SEB has been looking for a buyer for the Baltic businesses since November and a deal that could give MTG a capital injection of one billion kronor is said to be close.

Concerns have been raised over the sale of the businesses, with warnings in Latvia that a change of ownership in the country’s TV channels is occuring at a risky time, given the culture of misinformation that is often part of Russia’s foreign policy.

“I see a risk since we do not know who the purchaser is. MTG has a major influence on Latvian society, and maintains a high standard,” says Aija Calite-Dulevska to the news website.

Tough blow for Stockholm

In August 2015 the Swedish government announced plans to make Stockholm a leading financial centre in Europe. Seventeen months later, the same government has plans to levy a 15% payroll tax on the financial sector. Such a move could eliminate up to 10,000 jobs in Stockholm, according to the Swedish Bankers’ Association and consultant Copenhagen Economics.

Andreas Hatzigeorgiou, chief economist at the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce, is deeply concerned, saying the proposed tax would “knock out Sweden’s main economic artery”.

Falkengren steps down

Annika Falkengren is stepping down as chief executive of lender SEB to join Swiss private bank Lombard Odier as managing partner.

Falkengren has been chief executive of SEB for 11 years and worked for SEB three decades. She successfully guided the bank through the 2008-2009 financial crisis and now leaves it in a much stronger position than when she took over as chief executive.

Talking to Svenska Dagbladet, Falkengren said she was unsure whether to stay on a few more years, or to switch career. “I know all about banking and finance, this is my life but I have not felt that I could go to one of SEB’s competitors. … For me, it’s about daring to do something difference before time runs out …,” she said.

Falkengren will leave the lender by July 2017 at the latest. She will also resign from the boards of Foundation Asset Management, Scania and Volkswagen.

Government forced to back down

The Swedish government has abandoned plans to present a bill to make listed companies increase the number of women in their boardrooms, after the centre-right opposition and the Sweden Democrats on the committee on civil affairs joined forces and refused to back the plan. Enterprise minister Mikael Damberg describes the decision as unfortunate.

Daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter is critical, suggesting Damberg’s proposal was inadequate in that it was focused on listed companies and did not include large companies such as the Bonnier group. A politician who is passionate about an issue must do all he/she can to get a bill through parliament, and this includes getting other parties to back the proposal, writes the paper’s Pia Gripenberg.

Sandvik mulls listing of SMT

According to business daily Dagens Industri, Sandvik is considering listing its Sandvik Material Technology (SMT) division, which produces advanced stainless steels, on the Stockholm Stock Exchange later this year.

Despite the challenges facing the steel industry, this might be the perfect time to take the division public, argues the newspaper, noting that the best performing large cap on the Stockholm market last year was SSAB, with a gain of over 100 per cent.