As zero rate looms, Norway says banks strong enough to cope



With talk swirling about the Norwegian interest rate heading to zero, the nation’s finance minister is confident its banks can withstand the added pressure to their balance sheets.
“The Norwegian banking system is very robust and has been able to adjust quickly to the new demands in regulatory framework,” Siv Jensen said in Oslo. “They are robust enough to face changing economic times in Norway.”
That change may even mean negative interest rates, which have spread across the continent and are pressuring bank earnings. For banks in western Europe’s biggest oil producer that would add to difficulties already faced from the worst crude plunge in a generation.
Norway’s banks already face tougher capital requirements as the regulator forces the industry to gird itself against stressed economic conditions. DNB ASA, the nation’s biggest, saw its profit rise in the fourth quarter, while loan impairments increased. The regulator this year said there’s reason to fear that the proportion of bad loans might be higher than levels reported by the financial industry.
The central bank’s main rate is now at a record low of 0.75 percent after three cuts since 2014 and policy makers in December signaled as many as two more reductions this year. But with Brent stuck in the $30s and the cracks in the economy becoming more pronounced, Nordea Bank AB expects policy makers will need to go all the way down to zero by year end.
“That’s probably needed to prevent the krone from strengthening too much,” said Erik Bruce, senior economist at Nordea. Negative rates in Sweden, Denmark and in the euro zone are dragging Norway along, he said.
Norway is already reaching into its $830 billion sovereign wealth fund for the first time to plug widening budget gaps as it copes with rising recessionary risks.
The government in January withdrew 6.7 billion kroner ($781 million) from the fund, according to the Norwegian Government Agency for Financial Management.

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