What does Sweden’s re-opening mean for jobs and the economy?

As Sweden prepares for the hospitality and events industries to open up at the end of the month, some employers are struggling to hire the staff to ensure they can meet demand.

What does Sweden's re-opening mean for jobs and the economy?
When restaurants and events have their remaining restrictions removed, it should be an employee's market as companies race to hire staff to meet demand. Photo: Tomas Oneborg/SvD/TT

Taxi driving is one of the affected industries, after demand dropped sharply during the pandemic.

“We would need about a hundred drivers fairly quickly,” Satish Sen, acting CEO of Taxi Stockholm, told TT.

In Stockholm, some drivers were hired to deliver Covid-19 testing kits to individuals, while others have left the industry and found other jobs, but Sen says many remain unemployed and that his company is trying to recruit them as demand increases.

“We have had a steady development throughout the year, even if it has been from low numbers. After authorities started relaxing the restrictions, there has been a bit of a ketchup effect,” he said, using a Swedish idiom for a sudden increase.

Peter Thomelius, head of competence supply at Sweden’s trade body for hotels and restaurants, Visita, said that the shortage of staff was already being felt by employers during the summer.

“Now we see that the restrictions are easing and people are returning to their [office] jobs, which means that other industries are also getting started, such as lunch restaurants and conference facilities. As this happens, it will become even more difficult to find staff as about 50,000 disappeared from their jobs for various reasons during the pandemic,” he noted.

Thomelius believes that it will take a while for the hospitality industry to recover, noting: “Some professions are also important for creating other jobs, without a chef there will be no serving staff or dishwashers for example.”

Organisations that rely on staff could struggle if recruitment is slow when the remaining restrictions on events and restaurants are lifted at the end of September, and this is likely to primarily affect roles where specific skills or qualifications are required. This means it is an employee’s market for people with sought-after skills.

“We hear that there are very many applicants for the jobs as store salesmen. There are no major problems with shortages there. However, it is difficult with other areas which require staff with IT or technology skills,” said Johan Davidsson, chief economist at the Swedish Trade Federation.

But Susanne Spector, chief analyst at Nordea, does not believe that the re-opening will cause any long-term problems with a shortage of labour in the worst affected industries.

“In the short term, it may be difficult to find many new people at the same time. But I have a hard time imagining that there will be a shortage in the long run. There is hope,” said Spector.

The industries worst affected by the pandemic such as hotels and restaurants, culture, sports and passenger transport account for only 3.5 percent of the Swedish economy and 5 percent of employment, according to Spector, while the rest of the economy weathered the crisis quite well. 

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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.