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FINANCE

EU signs off on Sweden’s banking rescue package

Sweden’s plan to stimulate lending by offering the country's banks up to 50 billion kronor ($6.0 billion) gained approval from the European Commission on Wednesday.

“The scheme is in line with the commission’s guidance on support measures for banks during the financial crisis,” the EU’s executive arm said in a statement.

In particular, “the measures are limited in time and require a significant proportion of private investment alongside the state intervention,” the commission noted, calling the scheme “an adequate means to remedy a serious disturbance of the Swedish economy.”

Earlier this month the Swedish government made a six-month offer to buy up to 70 percent of new bank share issues at market price, although it would prefer that the private sector be the major source of fresh funds.

“The Swedish recapitalization scheme should contribute to strengthening the confidence in the Swedish banking sector and, above all, to provide finance to the real economy in these difficult times,” said EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes.

“The scheme is building on private contributions to the recapitalization, which gives sound incentives to the markets.”

Any Swedish banks participating in the programme would also have to freeze executive and board salaries for two years and halt all bonuses while limiting lay-offs.

The capital injection programme will be financed through a “stability fund” set up in October when the government also announced a massive 1.5 trillion kronor initiative comprising mainly bank loan guarantees.

When the government put up the stability package, however, all the major banks with the exception of struggling Swedbank said they would not participate due to the strict conditions involved.

Since then, the global financial crisis has got considerably worse, with banks reeling under the pressure of massive losses on their toxic assets.

As they have tried to ring fence the damage, they have hoarded cash rather than lend it out for fear of incurring further losses as the global economy sinks into the worst recession in decades.

At the end of last year, central bank chief Stefan Ingves warned that the international financial crisis would likely deepen in 2009 and wreak further havoc on the Swedish economy.

Sweden slipped into recession in the third quarter of 2008.

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Sweden this year?

Energy costs in Sweden are set to reach sky-high levels this winter, which will leave many people wondering when they should start heating their homes. Here's what you need to bear in mind.

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Sweden this year?

What’s happening?

As a result of supply stoppages for cheap Russian gas affecting energy prices on the European market – particularly in Germany – energy prices in Sweden have been at record levels for months, especially in the two energy price zones in the south of the country.

With winter looming and no sign of things getting cheaper anytime soon, private individuals are starting to cut down on energy usage as much as they can to slash their bills this season.

Does it make a difference what type of accommodation I live in?

The right time to start heating your home depends on several factors including your own personal preference, the weather, whether you live in rented accommodation or own your own property, and on the age and features of the property you live in.

How does the heating system work in Swedish homes?

More than half of all houses and commercial properties in Sweden use district heating or fjärrvärme, with this number rising to around 90 percent for apartment buildings.

This system distributes hot water from heating plants to houses and apartments through underground water pipes, meaning that heating sources are centralised, rather than individual houses or apartments having their own heating source.

In smaller towns and in houses, district heating is less common, and it’s these households who can benefit the most from waiting longer to turn on their heating.

Do I control my heating?

It depends. If you live in a rented apartment or a bostadsrättsforening (co-operative housing association) with district heating, your landlord or the board of your housing foundation will usually decide for you when to turn your heating on.

Unlike other countries, Sweden has no official legal heating season, with heating in bostadsrättsföreningar usually switched on automatically following periods of cold weather, no matter which date they occur on.

This will usually be designed to provide an indoor temperature of around 21 degrees – you can turn your radiators down if you feel this is too warm, but you won’t usually be able to turn them up if you want the temperature to be warmer.

The Public Health Agency recommends temperatures of between 20 and 24 degrees indoors, with temperatures lower than 18 degrees in apartments posing a health risk.

Temperatures lower than 14 are not recommended as they can cause condensation and mould growth on walls and furnishings, which, again, are a health risk, and can cause permanent damage to properties.

Can I save money by waiting to turn my heating on?

Again, it depends. If you’re renting and you pay varmhyra – rent with heating included – then you won’t save money directly, but heating your home wisely could make it less likely for your landlord to raise your rent to cover increased heating costs.

If you pay kallhyra – rent without heating included, then waiting to turn on the heating will save money on your electricity bill.

Similarly, in some housing associations, electricity and heating costs are included in your monthly fee, meaning you pay your share of the heating costs for the entire building ever month. In this case, your energy costs are more affected by how much energy everyone else in your housing association uses than your individual usage.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about how warm your heating is – if you have your heating on full-blast for the whole winter, your costs will increase as well as the costs of all of your neighbours, and if the entire association’s energy costs increase substantially, the board may decide to raise the monthly fee or avgift for everyone in the building to cover this.

If you pay an individual energy bill based on your own household’s usage, and not on an average of the whole building, it could pay to wait before you switch on your heating.

How else can I save money on heating costs?

Turning your heating down a couple of degrees can make a big difference to your heating costs, but you can also save money on heating and make your property feel warmer by making it more energy effective.

There are a few easy ways to do this, according to the Swedish Energy Agency.

Firstly, make sure your house is well insulated, not just your doors and windows, but also in the loft: a large amount of a building’s heat escapes through the roof. This also applies to the boundaries between well-insulated and poorly-insulated areas.

If you have a cellar or conservatory, for example, which is not heated and not insulated, make sure the door between this room and the rest of the house is well-insulated with no gaps around the doorframe where heat can escape into the colder room. 

In a similar vein, locate any drafts and do what you can to block them, either with draft excluders or by replacing worn-out draft excluder strips on old doors and windows.

You can also benefit from thinking about how you furnish your home – furniture placed in front of radiators mean it is harder for warm air to circulate, and you can keep your house warmer at night by closing your curtains or blinds to keep eat from escaping through your windows.

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