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ECONOMY

What’s in store for the Swedish economy in the final months of 2020?

Sweden's economy is set to make a stronger recovery than expected. But the slump is set to continue for several years ahead – and unemployment has yet to peak, according to new figures.

What's in store for the Swedish economy in the final months of 2020?
Crowds on a busy shopping street in Stockholm in August. Photo: Magnus Hjalmarson Neideman/SvD/TT

Sweden's GDP at market price is expected to shrink by 3.4 percent in 2020, according to the National Institute of Economic Research's latest forecast about the current and future state of the Swedish economy. That's an improvement on its August forecast, when it estimated GDP would shrink 4.8 percent.

“We are now seeing clear signs that there will be a strong rebound during the third quarter of this year,” the institute's forecast chief Ylva Hedén Westerdahl told a press conference on Wednesday.

But the pandemic has hit Sweden's labour market hard, and the country's unemployment rate is expect to keep rising, before peaking at almost 10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020.

“When the labour market then recovers it will primarily be those who do not belong to vulnerable groups who get jobs. It will take time before those who are older, born outside of Europe, and with a low level of education get a job. It is going to be a challenge,” said Hedén Westerdahl.

Unemployment is expected to start the long road to recovery next year. According to the National Institute of Economic Research, the government's welfare measures to help cushion the economy during the pandemic have held both businesses and households “under the arms”. Increased international demand and fewer restrictions on international transport of goods are also helping export revenue increase again in export-dependent Sweden.

But the slump is nevertheless expected to impact the Swedish economy for years.

GDP is expected to grow 3.6 percent next year and 3.3 in 2022, but will then slow down to a growth rate of 1.9 and 1.7 percent in the following two years, according to the institute's forecast.

“It will take time before we are back to normal levels. The slump won't be over until 2023,” said Hedén Westerdahl, warning that there are several other threats looming on the horizon.

Some of those are the increased spread of coronavirus infection in many countries, signs that it may take longer than many had hoped for to develop a vaccine, as well as Brexit and the US election fuelling risks of geopolitical disturbance and trade wars, according to the institute.

“The recovery that we're seeing is fragile,” said Hedén Westerdahl.

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ECONOMY

What will Sweden’s interest rate hikes mean for foreigners in Sweden?

Sweden's Riksbank now expects its base interest rate to be close to two percent in three years' time. What will this mean for foreigners living in Sweden?

What will Sweden's interest rate hikes mean for foreigners in Sweden?

How high could interest rates go? 

The Riksbank on Thursday increased its key interest rate above zero for the first time since the autumn of 2014.

But it isn’t going to stop there, it expects to hike the rate in small increments over the next three years, to 1.18 in the middle of next year, to 1.57 in the middle of 2024, and to 1.81 in the middle of 2024. 

At a press conference on Thursday, the bank’s governor Stefan Ingves said that people should prepare for higher rates, but stressed that there would be “no extreme rate levels”. 

“We’re not slamming on the brakes, more taking our foot off the pedal,” he said. 

It’s worth remembering, though, that in the run-up to the Swedish banking crisis in the early 1990s, the key interest rate moved from 1 percent to 2 percent to as high as 10 percent, before the Riksbank finally upped it to 500 percent in a desperate attempt to defend the krona. 

As recently as February the Riksbank was not expecting to raise rates from zero until 2024, so if inflation proves more stubborn than expected, the key rate could possibly go higher. 

But Robert Boije, chief economist at Swedish state-owned mortgage lender SBAB, said that as inflation today is most likely the result of higher energy prices, and supply-side constraints, rather than because there’s too much money in the system, the risk of seeing higher rates than the Riksbank has outlined is relatively small.  

“There’s a higher probability of a lower repo interest rate [than expected] in 2024 than of a higher interest rate,” he said. 

How will higher interest rates affect mortgage rates? 

According to Claudia Wörmann, SBAB’s housing economist, interest rates on floating mortgages could nearly double over the next year from around 1.8 percent today to about 3 percent in January 2026.

She expects two-year fixed mortgages, which are now at around 2 percent to rise to 3.4 percent in January 2025, while five-year fixed-rate mortgages will rise from 2.5 percent today to 3 percent in 2023 and 4.1 percent in 2026. 

Many mortgage lenders had already anticipated Thursday’s rent rise, with Handelsbanken/Stadshypotek, Skandiabank, and SBAB all upping their mortgage rates by as much as 0.25 percentage points last week. 

Bigger monthly payments for those with loans

According to Wörmann, someone with a million kronor mortgage who currently has a two percent interest rate, would see their monthly payment double from about 1,160 to 2,330 if their mortgage rate rises to four percent. 

As most borrowers pay more than they need to simply to meet their interest payments, however, many have some flexibility, meaning they can slow down their repayments to make it easier to bear the increased cost, she said.  

“One aspect is the interest rate, but you need to bear in mind that a normal household amortises much more than they pay in interest rates,” she said. 

Lower buying power for those without a mortgage

For foreigners in Sweden looking to borrow to buy a house, higher mortgage rates will reduce the amount of money they can borrow to buy a house or apartment.  

Houses and flats in Sweden might get more affordable

Two years of rising house prices showed signs of coming to halt last month. 

The Swedish financial supervisory authority warned earlier this month that in its worst-case scenario, where rising interest rates are compounded by higher power costs for consumers, house prices could fall by as much as 30 percent. 

In its less dramatic scenario, the prices of apartments owned as part of a cooperative – so-called bostadsrätter – would fall only slightly, while the price of detached houses would fall 10 percent. 

“Our prognosis is that housing prices at the end of 2024 will be about ten percent lower than what they were on January 1st this year,” said Boije. 

The decline will start with a 1.3 percent drop this year, followed by a bigger 6.1 percent drop next year, and then a 3.8 percent drop in 2024. 

For most buyers the affordability of housing will not change very much, Boije points out, as higher interest rates will reduce the amount they can borrow. 

“If there’s a one-to-one correlation between the interest rate and housing prices, then the use cost of housing in economic terms will not change very much,” he said. 

Foreigners who are able to buy in Sweden without taking out a loan, will see a benefit, however.

It will also become easier for those taking out a mortgage to gather together the 15 percent of the value of the property they are required, under Swedish law, to pay in cash. 

READ ALSO: Will Swedish housing prices plummet as interest rates rise?

Wörmann said there was little doubt that the increase would start to pull down house prices, particularly when you looked at rising costs and post-pandemic effects. 

“It’s more expensive to buy food, you have to take into account that people are spending much more money on electricity and on fuel,” she said.

“We are leaving a pandemic where we were stuck in our homes, which might have meant that people didn’t mind paying a lot of money for their house as they spent so much time there. Now we are released from our home, and that might change how we look at our homes and our willingness to buy something expensive.” 

For foreigners who have yet to buy a house or flat in Sweden, a 30 percent fall in prices would of course be quite welcome, increasing the affordability of property in the country. 

Foreigners paid in local currency may benefit from a stronger krona

The hike in interest rates saw the value of the Swedish krona rise against both the dollar and the euro on Thursday.

If the Riksbank has now left behind the loose monetary policy which saw it keep the key interest rates negative between February 2015 and December 2019, the krona could strengthen against other currencies. 

“If markets now expect the Riksbank to be more hawkish relative to the Fed in the US and the ECB, this should increase the value of krona,” Boije said. 

This will mean foreigners paid in kronor will earn more once their salary is converted into another currency. Conversely, those paid in euros or dollars, but living in Sweden, could see an effective salary cut. 

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