| STOCKHOLM, March 26
STOCKHOLM, March 26 A move by Handelsbanken
to change the level of its shareholdings in several
Swedish companies to allow board members to also remain
directors at other companies was criticised by shareholders and
local media on Wednesday.
A new EU banking industry directive called CRD IV which is
due to be implemented in Sweden in July limits the number of
other board positions a director at systemically important
financial institutions can hold to three.
In Sweden where a number of cross shareholdings still
feature it has long been common practice for people to sit on
several boards but under the EU directive only if a bank owns 10
percent of the votes in another company is a board member of
both companies deemed only to be a representative of the bank.
As a result Handelsbanken said late on Tuesday it had made
mutual reallocations with its pension funds of holdings in
investment group Industrivarden, Svenska Cellulosa
and other companies which gives it control of just
over 10 percent of votes in both Industrivarden and in SCA.
Three of Handelsbanken's board members also have seats on
SCA and Industrivarden, including Handelsbanken's chairman,
Anders Nyren, who also has seats on the boards of Sandvik
Conversely Industrivarden holds significant stakes in
Handelsbanken, SCA and Volvo as well as several other Swedish
groups such as Ericsson and Skanska.
The Swedish Shareholders' Association said the move made a
mockery of its members interests and was trying to skirt round
rules which were meant to protect the banking sector.
"Failing to take it seriously and act responsibly is
extremely short-sighted," Albin Rannar, head of market
monitoring at the association told Reuters.
"It will hurt the bank's reputation, value, its shareholders
- putting the entire business group's future at stake," he said.
"The bank should be a bank, not an instrument of power. It
should not be a shareholder of SCA. If you buy shares in
Handelsbanken, you should know you are investing in growth in
the UK ... not in diapers."
Swedish business daily Dagens Industri quoted Mats
Andersson, CEO of AP4 pension fund, as saying that the bank's
success was built on its banking focus, not diversification into
Handelsbanken shares were down 0.4 percent at 336.80 crowns
by 1548 GMT.
But Sweden's financial markets minister said he had no issue
with Handelsbanken's decision, so long as it followed the new EU
"As long as the bank does that, I think this is a matter for
the shareholders and the management of the bank, how they choose
to organise. And I really have no opinion when it comes to
that," Peter Norman told Reuters.
Sweden, which has said it will adopt the EU rules with
reluctance, had lobbied hard for a transition period.
The rules are also expected to affect Sweden's three other
big banks - Nordea, SEB and Swedbank
, and members of Sweden's Wallenberg family who sit on
(Additional reporting by Olof Swanberg and Daniel Dickson;
Editing by Greg Mahlich)