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State hopes to sell Carnegie 'in one piece'

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13:21 CET+01:00
The new chair of recently nationalized Carnegie said on Tuesday he hopes the beleaguered Swedish investment bank can be sold in one piece, but that other alternatives are also under consideration.

Sweden's National Debt Office (Riksgälden) took over the bank on Monday in the Nordic country's first nationalization of a major bank since the early 1990s.

"Even if the main track is (selling) the whole company, other solutions

might very well be considered," said Peter Norman, whom the Debt Office plans to appoint as new chairman of the company.

Carnegie, already hit by a liquidity crunch, had its licence revoked after a series of management failures.

At the heart of Carnegie's undoing was the bank's large exposure to a single client, reported to be finance mogul Maths O. Sundqvist, which according to Dagens Industri amounted to 88 percent of Carnegie's capital base or 3.5 times the allowable amount.

Moreover, Carnegie hid the value of the massive loans to Sundqvist by booking part of the deal as futures options with in the name of Sundqvist's child.

Finansinspektionen's investigation revealed that the deal came at Carnegie's suggestion as a favour to a long-standing and valued customer and didn't actually change the amount of money the bank had loaned to Sundqvist.

“Against that background, it's fair to question if the bank did the right thing when it reduced its exposure to the customer through the futures contract,” said the agency, adding that Carnegie's current management is primarily responsible for the deal even if the bank's relationship with Sundqvist had begun under previous leadership.

According to Finansinspektionen, the deal showed that Carnegie had “a lack of understanding for risk and regulations, as well as insufficient internal management and control”.

In addition, the agency said Carnegie broke Sweden's mutual fund laws by simultaneously acting as depositary and manager for certain mutual funds.

CEO Mikael Ericson, who took the helm earlier this year and was tasked with helping Carnegie recover from scandals that plagued the bank in 2007, denied that the bank had knowingly broken the rules.

“We have never had the intention of deceiving. We have never consciously chosen to go around the rules,” he told the Dagens Industri newspaper.

He was also frank about how recent affects had affected morale at the bank.

“There's a weariness and disappointment in the organization. I'd be lying if I said otherwise,” he said.

The National Debt Office has stepped in as owner of Carnegie after it put in place loans to the bank, replacing assistance of up to 5 billion kronor ($645 million) previously provided by the Riksbank to keep the company liquid.

Carnegie was seized to protect financial stability and preserve the value of the collateral for the debt office loan. The office said on Monday that Carnegie had so far borrowed a little more than 2 billion kronor from the state.

With the state behind the bank, financial regulators reinstated Carnegie's licence.

"It is important to note that there is no split-second panic here. I believe that the bank is considerably more stable now than it was last week, and that is true in regard to customers and employees as well," Norman told a news conference.

Norman said that while the debt office aimed to secure a price that minimized the loss to Swedish taxpayers, it was also important to find a stable owner and ensure "that the state doesn't end up with the company back in its lap" later on.

"That work is being carried out in full force today at the debt office, and I am convinced they will find a good solution," said Norman, who is also chief executive of the Seventh AP fund.

Norman told Reuters a sale could happen within weeks or months and that there were potential buyers of the company.

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