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UPDATE 2-Euro woes tarnish model Swedish economy
* Manufacturing PMI falls to 45.1, lowest since summer 2009
* Exporters losing near-immunity to fallout from euro crisis
* Data adds to pressure for rate cut; cbank meets on Weds
* Only one analyst sees cut this week, October more likely
* August unemployment seen rising to 8.4 pct from 8.1 pct
By Simon Johnson
STOCKHOLM, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Activity in Sweden's factories plumbed a three-year low in August and unemployment rose, suggesting the economy is losing its near immunity to fallout from the euro zone crisis and making an interest rate cut more likely.
Sweden has so far fended off the worst effects of the debt turmoil in the single currency bloc, which buys around 50 percent of the Nordic country's exports.
But Monday's purchasing managers' index (PMI) for manufacturing, which missed expectations by a wide margin, pointed to a sharp slowdown in the second half of the year as demand from abroad slumps.
In another sign of economic strains, unemployment based on actual claims rose to 8.4 percent in August from 8.1 percent in July, according to Reuters calculations from figures published by the Labour Board.
Monday's data gave the central bank pause for thought as it gears up for a policy meeting on Wednesday - as did a front page splash in Sweden's leading financial daily urging ratesetters to cut borrowing costs at once.
"Do your job, Stefan Ingves," Dagens Industri trumpeted, calling on the governor of the Riksbank - even before the PMI data was published - to ease policy.
The future path of the country's debt management programme was also called into question with news of the resignation of the widely admired head of the country's debt office, Bo Lundgren.
SAFE HAVEN UNDER THREAT
Until now, Sweden's economy has felt little impact from the crisis to the south, but the signs of weakness economists have long awaited are now starting to emerge.
The seasonally adjusted PMI sank to 45.1 points in August from 50.6 points the previous month, with exports contributing a 10-point fall to the sub-index for orders, compilers Silf and Swedbank said.
Analysts polled by Reuters had expected an overall reading of 50.0 points, the dividing line between expansion and contraction.
"We had expected it (PMI) would go down for a number of months and finally a little bit of a larger fall has happened," said Olle Holmgren at SEB.
"You can't draw too big a conclusion from just one figure, but this nevertheless points to the fact that Swedish industry is feeling the effects of the slowdown abroad."
Another factor in the hit taken by the country's exporters is the persistent strength of the crown currency. It has weakened in the last few weeks from mid-August's 8.18 level to the euro to about 8.40 crowns, but continues to trade within touching distance of 12-year highs.
Outgoing debt office head Lundgren told Reuters a reasonable long-term value for the currency was between 8.80 and 8.90 to the euro.
Lundgren earlier announced he was stepping down next February, seven months ahead of schedule, leaving questions as to who will continue his legacy of sound management of the debt market.
"(Lundgren)... is a little out of the ordinary - he is creative and sharp and he dares to go outside the box to help and support the market... Lundgren has helped strengthen the debt office," said Swedbank economist Knut Hallberg.
RATE CUT STILL A LONG SHOT
Danske Markets economist Roger Josefsson said the market's 50.0-point median forecast for the PMI was probably a "safe bet" by analysts weighing the negative impact of the strong crown against recently strong data.
The PMI followed last week's gloomy manufacturing confidence data.
All the data will play a role in the central bank's decision this week, which it announces on Thursday, though chances it could be pushed into cutting rates still look remote.
"This (PMI) puts pressure on the Riksbank and they will be affected by it," said Torbjorn Isaksson, economist at Nordea.
"We don't think they will cut the repo rate this week... but it raises the chances of a cut later this year."
Dagens Industri's shadow rate-setting panel, however, was unanimous in backing a rate cut this week, with the only argument being whether rates should fall 25 basis points to 1.25 percent or 50 basis points.
"This decision is a no-brainer," the paper quoted Harry Flam, Professor of International Economics at Stockholm University saying. "You don't need to be an expert in monetary policy to understand that we have to cut rates."
According to calculations of market pricing by SEB, investors see an around 30 percent chance of a rate cut this week, rising to a 100 percent chance in October.
At its last meeting in July, the central bank forecast rates to stay at 1.50 percent through most of next year, with only a slight chance of a cut if the euro zone crisis deepened.
A poll of analysts by Reuters last week showed fourteen of 15 analysts predicting no change in the repo rate this week.
The lone dissenter forecast a cut of 25 basis points to 1.25 percent. However, seven out of 15 analysts expected a cut in October by 25 basis points.
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