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ECONOMY

Berlin mulls partial Hypo Real Estate nationalisation

The German government is considering partially nationalising distressed mortgage lender Hypo Real Estate (HRE), a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party told AFP on Wednesday.

“I can confirm there is some thought in this direction,” Otto Berhnardt, CDU (Christian Democratic Union) spokesman for financial affairs, said, adding that a decision could be make quickly.

A total of €50 billion ($66 billion) in cash and another €30 billion in loan guarantees provided to the bank so far appears not to have been enough to get its back on its feet.

On Thursday, Berlin said it would take a stake of 25 percent plus one share in Germany’s second biggest bank, Commerzbank, after pumping in another €10 billion.

It was the first time the government had acquired a stake in a private bank since the international financial crisis erupted in mid-2007 and made Berlin the biggest single shareholder in Commerzbank.

HRE, meanwhile, was a front-line casualty when the US market for high-risk, or subprime, mortgages collapsed, putting the global financial system under unprecedented stress.

Berlin has set up a banking sector rescue package that provides up to €80 billion in cash injections and €400 billion in loan guarantees to prevent a collapse of the country’s financial sector.

In December, HRE said it would slash its workforce by almost half in three years, part of a series of draconian moves to save it from bankruptcy. HRE and its Irish subsidiary Depfa were caught up in a liquidity crunch that worsened after the US investment bank Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy in September.

HRE posted a net loss of €3.1 billion in the third quarter of 2008 and said that it expects additional losses in its fourth quarter and annual results.

ECONOMY

Swedish economy to grind to a halt as interest rates kick in

Sweden faces an economic slump next year that will see economic growth grind to a complete stop, Sweden's official government economics forecaster, has warned.

Swedish economy to grind to a halt as interest rates kick in

Sweden’s National Institute of Economic Research, which is tasked with tracking the business cycle for the Swedish government, warned in its quarterly forecast on Wednesday that greater than expected energy prices, interest rate rises, and stubborn inflation rates, Sweden was facing a significant downturn. 

The institute has shaved 1.6 percentage points off its forecast for growth in 2023, leaving the economy at a standstill, contracting -0.1 percent over the year. 

The institute now expects unemployment of 7.7 percent in 2023, up from a forecast of 7.5 percent given when in its last forecast in June.

“We can see that households are already starting to reign in their consumption,” said Ylva Hedén Westerdahl, the institute’s head of forecasting, saying this was happening “a little earlier than we had thought”. 

“We thought this would have happened when electricity bills went up, and interest rates went up a little more,” she continued. 

The bank expects household consumption to contract in 2023, something that she said was “quite unusual” and had not happened since Sweden’s 1990s economic crisis, apart from in the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

This was partly down to a five percent reduction in real salaries in Sweden in 2022, taking into account inflation, which the institute expects to be followed by a further two percent fall in real salaries in 2023. 

If the incoming Moderate-led government goes ahead with plans to reimburse consumers for high power prices, however, this would counterbalance the impact of inflation, leaving Swedish households’ purchasing power unchanged. 

The institute said it expected inflation to average 7.7 percent this year and 4.6 percent in 2023, both higher than it had forecast earlier.

Sweden’s Riksbank central bank this month hike its key interest rate by a full percentage point, after inflation hit 9 percent in August, the biggest single hike since the 1990s. 

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