Banks in Sweden may have seen the worst of the job cuts

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More than a quarter of a million Swedes are now officially unemployed and the country's jobless total is likely to carry on rising rapidly until 2011. Yet, for banks and financial services, while the situation on the ground remains grim, there are signs the worst may be behind us.

Figures from Sweden's National Employment Agency last month suggested more than 100,000 people had lost their jobs since last year.

The National Institute of Economic Research, too, has argued that, although GDP should return to positive territory in 2010 and 2011, unemployment will continue to increase sharply, rising by 300,000 over the next three years.

The good news for the banking sector is that Sweden's reliance on exports and manufacturing means the brunt of the losses will be felt there, with that sector expected to have shed a fifth of its workforce by 2011.

By comparison, financial intermediation, accounting, book-keeping and auditing firms may now be over the worst, statistics from the NIER have suggested.

Its second quarter "confidence indicator" found pessimism still widespread about hiring prospects, with more expecting employee numbers to decrease than increase, and financial intermediation firms particularly negative.

Yet at the same time there was a sharp slowing in the numbers expecting demand in the next six months to have decreased, with financial intermediation firms even predicting an overall pick-up in demand.

Similarly, there was an increase between Q1 and Q2 in the number of financial intermediation firms saying they were experiencing labour shortages, although within accounting, book-keeping and auditing the consensus was still negative.

"About half the decline in employment has come from the manufacturing sector and then a further 20% from declines in the construction and automotive sector so, while employment has declined within the banking sector, it has not had that much of an impact overall," agrees Hassan Mirza, head of Labour Force Survey at Statistics Sweden.

"If the crisis continues for a long time, then naturally it will create more problems. But the indicators from industry and the population in general are that things are more optimistic than two to three months ago," he adds.

The near-term outlook for Swedish investment banks is improving and will probably continue to do so for the rest of this year, adds Phuong Pham, equity analyst at Standard & Poor's Equity Research.

But this improvement is unlikely to be sustained into the medium term, she argues, with of profits unlikely to return to pre-crisis levels.

"If you look at the economic outlook it is still very uncertain as to when things will recover. It is important for investment and retail banks to keep cost control in sight," she says.

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