Blogroll Me! How This Old Brit Sees It ...: How the Swedes saved their economy, and what Americans can learn from them

24 September 2008

How the Swedes saved their economy, and what Americans can learn from them

bo-lundgren.jpg
Bo Lundgren, whose plan to bail out Sweden's banks is often credited with saving the nation's economy

The New York Times has an interesting article on the approach taken by Sweden when faced with a banking crisis like the one that now faces the United States. The amount of money involved was similar to Bush's proposal -- Sweden committed 4% of its GDP while Bush's $700 billion package would be 5% of the US GDP -- but Sweden forced the banks themselves to share some of the cost:

Sweden did not just bail out its financial institutions by having the government take over the bad debts. It extracted pounds of flesh from bank shareholders before writing checks. Banks had to write down losses and issue warrants to the government.

That strategy held banks responsible and turned the government into an owner. When distressed assets were sold, the profits flowed to taxpayers, and the government was able to recoup more money later by selling its shares in the companies as well.

“If I go into a bank,” said Bo Lundgren, who was Sweden’s finance minister at the time, “I’d rather get equity so that there is some upside for the taxpayer.”

Sweden spent 4 percent of its gross domestic product, but the final cost to Sweden ended up being less than 2 percent of its G.D.P. Some officials say they believe it was closer to zero, depending on how certain rates of return are calculated.
Exacting a penalty from bank shareholders had an additional benefit: many financial institutions that had been pleading for government money decided that they'd rather do without a taxpayer-financed bailout:

Sweden told its banks to write down their losses promptly before coming to the state for recapitalization. Facing its own problem later in the decade, Japan made the mistake of dragging this process out, delaying a solution for years.

Then came the imperative to bleed shareholders first. Mr. Lundgren recalls a conversation with Peter Wallenberg, at the time chairman of SEB, Sweden’s largest bank. Mr. Wallenberg, the scion of the country’s most famous family and steward of large chunks of its economy, heard that there would be no sacred cows.

The Wallenbergs turned around and arranged a recapitalization on their own, obviating the need for a bailout. SEB turned a profit the following year, 1993.

“For every krona we put into the bank, we wanted the same influence,” Mr. Lundgren said. “That ensured that we did not have to go into certain banks at all.”

By the end of the crisis, the Swedish government had seized a vast portion of the banking sector, and the agency had mostly fulfilled its hard-nosed mandate to drain share capital before injecting cash. When markets stabilized, the Swedish state then reaped the benefits by taking the banks public again.

Soon after the plan was announced, the Swedish government found that international confidence returned more quickly than expected, easing pressure on its currency and bringing money back into the country.
Naturally, a Swedish-style bailout is not being seriously considered by either congress or the Bush administration.

(cross posted at appletree)

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