Deutsche Bank has downgraded Swedbank to 'hold' from 'buy' with a maintained target of 239 skr, citing the increased risk of a hard landing in the Baltic economies and especially in Latvia.
In a note to clients, Deutsche Bank said Swedbank's management have reacted too late and have few tools to manage the economic slowdown in Latvia, especially as it believes inflation there will be above 10 pct into 2008.
Swedbank owns Hansabank, the largest banking group in the Baltics, and is at risk from a possible devaluation of Latvia's currency, the lat.
Hansabanka is Latvia's largest bank and has issued 3.65 bln lats (5.2 bln euros) in credits (27.7% of all bank credits in Latvia). With lat/euro exchange rate fixed and money flowing freely between Latvia and abroad, the Bank of Latvia has essentially lost control over the fiscal policy in Latvia. Hansabanka and other major Scandinavian-owned banks (SEB, Nordea, DnB Nord) are the ones who determine it.Until the beginning of this year, Hansabanka was lending loosely, with more than half of its loans being financed by money from abroad (e.g., its owner, Swedbank). This contributed to the housing bubble and Latvia's huge current account deficits. Then, the financial analysts started getting worried and now Hansabanka is under pressure to cut back.
Hansabanka has already cut the amount they issue in Latvian home loans 5-10 times. This downgrade means they are unlikely to increase it back soon (even if the Latvian government relaxes its restrictions on lending). So, housing prices are not going to rebound in the next few months. And cutbacks of this scale imply that we might see a very substantial slowdown in Latvian economy in general.