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Swedish report Swedish report
by Euro Reporter
2014-11-14 12:16:29
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Sweden to tackle soaring household debt with new mortgage rules

Sweden plans to tighten rules on mortgages to try to chip away at mountains of household debt that threatens the stability of one of Europe’s best-performing economies. Falling interest rates, a housing shortage and tax cuts have fuelled a credit boom and sent property prices soaring, exposing Sweden to the risk of the kind of real estate crash that Ireland and Spain suffered in 2008. Under the rules, new mortgage-holders who borrow more than 50 per cent of the value of their property will have to pay back a proportion of the capital in addition to interest every year. Four in 10 Swedes have interest-only loans, the central bank says, and on average will take a century to wipe out their debt. At more than 170 per cent of disposable income, household debt levels in Sweden are among Europe’s highest and have prompted the IMF among others to warn of a risk to economic stability.

“There’s reason to further strengthen the resilience of Swedish households,” said Martin Andersson, Director General of the Financial Supervisory Authority (FSA). However, Swedish authorities face a tricky policy challenge with the twin risks of deflation and rising household debt. “These measures risk driving up household saving levels even further which could hit consumption and, in that way, growth,” Nordea analyst Andreas Wallstrom said. And Riksbank governor Stefan Ingves, who has long warned about the risk of soaring household debt, said the new rule would not “be enough to prevent households taking on more debt.” He said measures such as limiting mortgage tax relief and tougher capital requirements for banks must also be introduced. “We would like to see a leverage ratio [for banks of 5 per cent from 2016,” Ingves told reporters. Sweden’s four major banks – Nordea, Swedbank, SEB and Handelsbanken – already face some of the toughest capital requirements in Europe.

Late in October the central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to zero – below that in 2009 when the economy shrank more than 5 per cent – to show markets it is serious about getting inflation back up to its 2-per-cent target. Headline mortgage rates have fallen as low 2.15 per cent – with discounts cutting that further, and the Riksbank has warned that more measures would be necessary to cool credit demand. The FSA said it would take a couple of months to implement the new lending rule, but that it would be flexible and that households would be able to suspend payments if they had temporary financial problems.

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Silver surfing and tablet use boom in Sweden

More people in Sweden are using the internet than ever before, with around 91 percent of the population having access to the web, according to a new report by Sweden's Internet Infrastructure Foundation, which is responsible for registering .se domain names in Sweden as well as analyzing internet usage. Researchers believe that a rise is largely down to people staying online when they retire.

"More and more people, who have used the internet at work, then continue to use it when they take their pension. Up to the age of 75, around half of pensioners use it daily," says Pamela Davidsson, one of the top statisticians at the foundation. "But even if it feels like everyone is online today, there is a way to go. Around one million people do not use the internet at home," she adds.

The foundation reports that more than 65 percent of pensioners over the age of 75 do not use the internet. It also reveals that tablet use has exploded in Sweden with 53 percent of people now having access to a tablet, compared with just five percent in 2011. Social media use remains on the rise in Sweden. Last month Sweden's Internet Infrastructure Foundation reported that Instagram had doubled its users in the country over the past year. Almost a third of Swedes (28 percent) now have an Instagram account.

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Copyright holders want Pirate Bay blocked in Sweden

Several major movie studios and record labels have filed a lawsuit against the Swedish ISP B2, demanding that the company blocks access to The Pirate Bay. The lawsuit, which also calls for a blockade of the streaming site Swefilmer, is the first of its kind in The Pirate Bay's home country. The Pirate Bay is without doubt one of the most censored websites on the Internet. Courts all around the world have ordered Internet providers to block subscriber access to the torrent site, and this list continues to expand. Now the music and movie industries plan to bring the blockades to Sweden, Pirate Bay’s home country. To that end, record labels Universal Music, Sony Music and Warner Music teamed up with Nordisk Film and the Swedish Film Industry to file a lawsuit against one of the country’s largest ISPs, B2 Broadband.

The copyright holders demand that the Internet provider blocks access to The Pirate Bay as well as streaming site Swefilmer, Dagens Media reports. According to the lawsuit, the companies previously asked the ISP to take action against the piracy that occurs on its networks, but without result. B2 doesn’t believe that it’s responsible for the actions of its users and turned down the request. The copyright holders disagree. In their complaint they write that the ISP is responsible for the pirating activities of its users on both The Pirate Bay and Swefilmer. “In each case, the objective conditions are met for B2 Broadband to be deemed guilty of being complicit in the copyright infringement that’s committed,” the complaint reads. Attorney Henrik Bengtsson is convinced that the music and movie companies have a good chance of winning the case, as similar blockades are already in place in Denmark, the UK and elsewhere.

If they indeed win the case, Bengtsson believes that they may demand similar blockades from other large ISPs in the country.  Rick Falkvinge, founder of the first Pirate Party in Sweden, is not happy with the attempt to make B2 responsible for the traffic it transmits.  “It’s neither the first time nor the last that this parasitic industry has found it easier to attack the messengers. This is why we have messenger immunity, why the mailman is never responsible for the contents of a message and the phone company not liable for what’s said in a phonecall” Falkvinge tells TF. “The Internet must catch up to modern civil liberties standards,” he adds. Thus far the copyright holders have not commented publicly on the lawsuit to avoid a media spectacle. “We have deliberately chosen not to push this. Neither party wants to make this media process,” Bengtsson says. If the court sides with the copyright holders it will be the first time that a Swedish ISP has been required to block a website on copyright grounds.  Whether such a blockade will be very successful remains to be seen though, as there are plenty of alternatives and circumvention tools available. This includes VPN services, the many proxies that make up 9% of The Pirate Bay’s total traffic, and TPB’s own PirateBrowser. Earlier this year the Dutch Pirate Bay blockade was lifted because the court deemed it disproportionate and ineffective.

 


        
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