Borg bashes Swedish banks’ booming profits

Borg bashes Swedish banks' booming profits
Sweden’s Finance Minister Anders Borg wants to put the squeeze on Swedish banks, where profits have swelled, shareholder dividends ballooned, and interest margins on mortgages doubled.

The four major Swedish banks, Nordea, Handelsbanken, SEB and Swedbank, earned a combined 68 billion kronor ($10.8 billion) last year, an increase of 32 billion kronor ($5 billion) from the year before, the Expressen newspaper reported on Wednesday.

At the same time, the Riksbank reported the difference between the repo and mortgage rates have doubled, prompting Borg to take issue with how banks pad their profits.

“Banks always drive up their margins and are very keen to make big profits. It is a bit of a sheltered operation in terms of profitability. It requires no great expertise when it comes to earning profits when you pass along the bill to mortgage holders,” Borg told the newspaper.

Borg argued for stronger laws to prevent banks from continually raising dividends, stating that profits should not be distributed to the owners but rather used to “enhance the stability of the Swedish economy”.

The finance minister, who disagrees with opposition political parties that want to retain the state’s ownership of SBAB, promised to teach the state-owned mortgage lender a lesson, calling it a “problematic” company for the state to own.

SBAB management abolished top-up mortgages with mandatory amortisation payments, continues to ignore the government’s mortgage ceiling, and gives extra discounts on larger loans, Borg charged.

He also believes that the nation’s capital reserves need more padding, stating that Sweden’s economy looks healthy in the short term but may not be able to survive another economic crisis or housing bubble.

“We live in a brutal world, and Sweden will not be in a position to expose itself to such high vulnerability as a year ago,” he told Expressen.

The 43-year-old finance minister has previously noted that the risks for the Swedish economy were considerably higher during the crisis in the Baltics than known.

Swedish housing prices are another concern where there is reason to worry, according to Borg.

“There is a risk here. There is no doubt. However, it is not just about housing prices, but also about total household debt,” he said.

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