Submitted by Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns
The following is my translation of a much-discussed article that appeared in Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet at the weekend. This information was being withheld from the public and leaked at an inopportune moment.
Note that the Swedish government has secretly been preparing the banks for financial Armageddon, encouraging Swedbank into a rights issue which arguably was conducted under fraudulent pretenses – very reminiscent of Bank of America’s shareholder vote for the merger with Merrill Lynch. In August, I asked “Why is Swedbank doing a second rights issue?.” Now we know.
This is the kind of thing that topples governments.
Secret meeting on the crisis in Latvian
Finance Minister Anders Borg has had secret talks with the major Swedish banks and warned of a near economic collapse in Latvia, Svenska Dagbladet has learned. A nightmare scenario for Swedbank and SEB.
Yesterday Anders Borg issued a stark warning to the Latvian Government that it must take its financial problems seriously.
The promised cuts must be implemented when the new Latvian budget is presented in late October, according to Finance Minister.
The international community’s patience is very limited, stressed Anders Borg at the summit of European finance ministers in Gothenburg where he hosts as the finance minister in Presidency.
His statement came after recent reports from Latvia on political divisions in the ongoing budget negotiations.
But for Swedish bank heads, Borg’s move came as no surprise. According to several independent sources, Anders Borg, over the last few weeks, has contacted the senior management of major banks and warned them of an acute political crisis in Latvia. This in turn can lead to both a devaluation and eventually a default. It is a kind of national bankruptcy, similar to what hit Iceland last fall.
In secret talks with Swedish banks, Anders Borg explained the growing pressure that exists within the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to force Latvia into a devaluation.
A collapse in Latvia would have serious implications for several major Swedish banks. With a devaluation the already high loan losses would explode overnight, especially because many Latvians have loans in euro, which would become significantly more expensive.
Swedbank has up to today lent 61 billion kroner to Latvian individuals and businesses. The figure for SEB is 40 billion, while Nordea has 30 billion in loans.
For Swedbank a possible devaluation would come at an especially poor time. The bank is currently in the middle of a second rights issue in which shareholders have been asked to put up 15 billion.
CEO Michael Wolf’s message to shareholders and customers has repeatedly been that the money would be used for offensive investments. To then have to deal with a severe national bankruptcy in one of its major markets and see new issue money disappear into a black hole would be a severe blow to the bank’s credibility.
That a serious crisis approaches in Latvia has already been flagged by Anders Borg in the budget he presented a few weeks ago. On page 99 he writes:
"Since it is difficult to safely assess Latvia’s ability to pay and with conditions for recovery, one cannot completely exclude the risk of a major default."
The background to the current situation is a crash in the Baltic economies. Latvia is just the worst hit. This year, the country’s GDP is to shrink by as much as 18 percent.
This led to a rescue package cobbled together at Christmas last year. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the EU and the Nordic countries decided on payments totaling SEK 80 billion, of which Sweden accounts for 7 billion.
An essential condition for aid money, however, is that Latvia implement substantial cuts in order to get the economy in balance.
This means wage cuts for state employees in over 15 percent, including hospital closures and major tax increases.
In July of last year Latvia went to reduce their spending for next year’s budget by more than 7.5 billion crowns. It opened the door to a further one billion disbursements from the IMF and the EU.
But then, the domestic political situation deteriorated. The previous Latvian government fell in February and since then the country has been governed by a coalition of five parties. The Prime Minister is Valdis Dombrovskis. Next year come elections again.
Two of the parties in this five-party coalition have now objected to the previously announced savings of 7.5 billion. Some want to go back on parts of the promise and believe that a reasonable savings is instead about 4 billion kroner.
The goal to save 500 million lats (7.5 billion kroner) is practically impossible to achieve without eliminating several parts of the economy, Vents Armands Krauklis from the influential Liberal Party, which sits in the government coalition, said the day before yesterday.
24 hours later came the response from the EU.
"Latvia does not have much room for maneuver; It must fulfill its letter-of intent," said Anders Borg yesterday in Gothenburg to the news agency Direkt.
Hemligt möte om lettisk kris – Svenska Dagblaget
Also see my August post, “Zombie banks Scandinavian edition and the threat of too big to fail.” This problem looms even larger now.
Update 7 Oct 2009: minor translation corrections were made resulting from reader suggestion.