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Opinion

How Handelsbanken reclaimed its status as the post-crisis ideal

International diversification counts for little in a pandemic, so shares in Sweden’s Handelsbanken have done better than most other lenders in Europe – but its loan book faces a stern test.

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If any European lender has had a good 2020 so far, it’s Handelsbanken.

Sweden’s second biggest bank was the ideal of a more cautious, consistent and focused business model after the 2008 and eurozone crises. Now, it’s back in vogue, as investors are again favouring simpler European lenders over more complex, global firms.


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Handelsbanken is the continent’s highest valued bank stock by price-to-book, according to Berenberg. By mid-June, its shares had performed better in 2020 than any other bank stock in Europe except Deutsche Bank and UBI Banca, neither of which have much cause to boast.

Perhaps this should come as no surprise.

“We’re seen as a safe haven during turbulent times,” says Lars Höglund, Handelsbanken’s head of investor relations.

Until recently, however, Handelsbanken had its share of doubters. It struggled to keep up with rivals’ rapid digitalization and suffered a string of short-lived chief executive tenures. The Nordic money-laundering scare of the late 2010s brought much higher compliance costs.


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