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Are HQ Bank woes a sign of things to come?

The twists and turns at Swedish financial services operation HQ Bank have kept markets and analysts on the edge of their seats – but whether, against a backdrop of both generally improving conditions locally but growing unease at the wider European situation, its woes are a one-off or the first signs of a deeper malaise remains a moot point.

Firstly, on May 26 HQ announced it was closing its Fonder trading business, which employs 28 people, and launching a SEK559m rights issue to strengthen its capital base.

This was followed five days later by the stepping down of president and CEO Mikael König and his replacement by Stefan Dahlbo, president of investment company Investment AB Öresund, the bank’s largest shareholder.

If that wasn’t enough, on Tuesday the bank about-turned and said it was scrapping the SEK559m rights issue and instead selling the trading arm to Investment AB Öresund for SEK850m “to immediately strengthen its capital base, in order to increase flexibility until a rights issue is conducted”.

That rights issue, it added, will now be a larger SEK1bn fund-raising which, should it be agreed, will give HQ the option between now and the end of March next year to buy back the trading business, it said.

The company’s shares fell as by more than a quarter during the week on the back of the uncertainty, eventually being moved on the Stockholm Stock Exchange’s “observation list”.

Analysts have described the situation at the bank as “serious”, with Per Hkansson, general counsel of the Financial Supervisory Authority calling it “serious and sensational”, and urging those involved to “reflect on how the situation has reached this point”.

But Nordea analyst Maths Liljedahl has also argued that, while the initial decision to close the business was a surprise, it does now mean at least that there is less uncertainty about the situation.

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