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Economic downturn hasn't stopped Swedes from borrowing

David Landes · 5 Aug 2008, 11:13

Published: 05 Aug 2008 11:13 GMT+02:00

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In June of this year, Sweden’s four major banks (Swedbank, Handelsbanken, SEB and Nordea) loaned 6.25 billion kronor ($1.03 billion) for such things as housing purchases, private borrowing, and corporate loans, according to statistics from the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen – FI) compiled by the Dagens Nyheter (DN) newspaper.

The figure represents a 15.8 percent increase in lending from the previous year, a rate above the annual 4-15 percent growth rate which Sweden has had in recent years.

Experts are concerned that if the trend continues, Swedish consumers will find themselves squeezed by the rising cost of debt, which could then also further exacerbate problems in the overall economy.

“Despite that we are heading toward worse economic conditions and higher interest rates, there is no sign of a reduction in lending,” said Staffan Boström, an analyst at Finansinspektionen, to DN.

“Prices have increased for a long time, lending has increased for a long time, and now there is a risk that things will turn and credit losses may also start to increase.”

As in other parts of the world, increased lending in Sweden has been caused in large part by a steady rise in housing prices over the last few years.

While the rise in Swedish home values has leveled off, Boström points out that Sweden has so far escaped the kind of significant drop in real estate prices which has affected the United States and other parts of Europe.

But he adds that Swedish borrowers still have reason for concern.

“It’s quite likely that this effect is going to hit Sweden. Then lending will slow down,” he told DN.

According to Elisabeth Hedmark, an economist at the Länsförsäkringar banking and insurance group, part of the reason lending has yet to decrease may simply be that Swedes have yet to change their consumption habits.

“We’ve had extremely high consumption for awhile and it might be hard to adjust to new times,” she told DN.

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Hedmark added, however that in general Swedes have sufficient financial buffers in place.

“But for those on the margins it’s important to review their expenses and see where they can make reductions.”

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se)

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