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 Business and Economy News from Finland
Turku aims to be carbon neutral by 2029 in new urban strategy
Helsinki, April 17 (Yle)
On Monday Turku city councillors approved a comprehensive urban strategy programme with rather ambitious goals.

Turku City Council Chair Lauri Kattelus said that the council's decision to approve an ambitious strategic programme was one of the most important choices they have made.

The strategy is far-reaching in ambition. If the goals are met on schedule the south west city will be, among other things, the country's greenest city - and carbon neutral - by the year 2029. That's more than a decade ahead of schedule, as the city's previous ambition was to reach the green goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2040.

Kattelus said that the strategy's two most important features are its climate goals as well as an aim to prevent social inequities, and said the unanimous council approval of it was a good sign for the future.

"This is a common strategy and gives a good insight to where we are headed," Kattelus said.

Finland grants final permit for new Russia-Germany gas pipeline, but project remains uncertain
Helsinki, April 16 (Yle)
Despite Finland's approval, the Nord Stream 2 project hangs in the balance after German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced concerns over Ukraine's eventual role in delivering Russian natural gas to Europe last week.

Last Thursday Finnish authorities issued the second of two permits required for the construction of an LNG pipeline in Finnish waters of the Baltic Sea.

According to Nord Stream, the multinational project has received permit approvals required from Germany. But roughly a week ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country's support of the Nord Stream project hinges on clarity about the role of Ukraine in a Russian gas pipeline to Europe.

Eastern European and Baltic states have reportedly expressed fears that the pipeline would make Europe too reliant on Russian gas, as well as undermine Ukraine's role in gas distribution to Europe, according to news agency Reuters.

Finland's chief concerns environmental
At the beginning of April, the Finnish government announced that it had approved the first of two permits required for the construction of Nord Stream 2 in Finnish Baltic Sea territorial waters.

The second permit for Nord Stream 2, required under the Finnish Water Act, was issued by the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland last Thursday.

The portion of the new pipeline in Finnish waters would measure some 374 km, with the entire pipeline measuring some 1,200 km and it would run close to an existing gas pipeline on the floor of the Baltic Sea.

S-Group retail giant eyes role as Finland’s largest solar energy producer
Helsinki, April 16 (Yle)
The Finnish government is expected to support 20 percent of an eight million-euro project that will see the food retail duopolist install rooftop 40,000 solar units at stores and service stations.

The retail giant S-Group is planning a massive rooftop solar energy project that will make it the largest solar energy producer in Finland and one of the largest in the Nordics.

The food retail duopolist plans to install solar panels on the rooftops of its all of its retail outlets and petrol stations across the country.

Finnish energy giant Fortum will be responsible for implementing the project, while the state has pledged to foot 20 percent of the eight-million-euro price tag – some 1.6 million euros.

“We are looking at delivering the largest roof-installed solar energy system in the Nordics,” declared Fortum development manager Tatu Kulla.

According to Kulla electricity generated by solar panels could already be cheaper than power purchased from the grid. He said that S-Group will not be the only player in the project, but noted that different sized projects will be led by other companies.

Finland approves first of two permits for Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline
Helsinki, April 5 (Yle)
Finland approved a permit application for the construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline in the Gulf of Finland on Thursday.

The planned Nord Stream 2 AG natural gas pipeline, stretching through the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany reached a significant milestone after Finland granted the first of two required permits for the project on Thursday.

The government's approval is conditional however, with the provision that the project take into consideration environmental concerns in the region.

The stretch of two parallel pipelines in Finnish waters would measure some 374 km in length, with the entire pipeline measuring some 1,200 km.

When and if completed, the pipeline will begin at Vyborg, Russia and terminate at Greifswald, Germany. The Nord Stream 2 project is run by the multi-national energy consortium Nord Stream.

A decision on the second required permit, made by the Regional State Administrative Agency for Southern Finland, is expected to arrive in the coming weeks, according to a Nord Stream brief on the matter issued Thursday.

The state agency is also expected to carry out an assessment on the environmental impact of the project.

Nearly 20K Finnish users part of unauthorised Facebook data drop to Cambridge Analytica
Helsinki, April 5 (Yle)
New reports indicate that significantly more Facebook users than previously believed had their information shared with a third party without their permission.

According to beleaguered social media giant Facebook, just under 20,000 Finnish users have had their information shared with the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica without their permission.

Facebook spokesman Peter Münster told the Finnish news agency STT via email that profile information of 19,693 users in Finland may have wound up in the unauthorised data trove handed over to the UK-based company.

Facebook has come under heavy scrutiny following reports that an app developer had handed over user data to Cambridge Analytica without authorisation. Although users, as they participated in Facebook activities like online quizzes, volunteered their details to the app developer by agreeing to the application's terms of service, they did not give permission for information harvested from their profiles to be passed on to third parties such as Cambridge Analytica. Reports also suggest that the app scraped data from the friends of quiz participants.

Nordea bans investment funds from buying Facebook shares
Helsinki, March 23 (Yle)
Nordea has temporarily banned the purchase of Facebook shares after revelations that it had indirectly shared millions of Facebook users' data with a Donald Trump-linked analytics firm.

"We are now putting the brakes on", said Katarina Hammar from Nordea's responsible investments unit.

Nordea funds have been barred from buying Facebook shares for three months, but retain the right to sell them.

At the moment, only one of Nordea's funds owns Facebook shares. That fund invests in companies that meet standards on human rights, environmental protection and employee rights, according to the fund manager's assessment. In that fund, Facebook shares make up under 2 percent of the portfolio.

Facebook recently landed in hot water after revelations that data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica, which has ties to President Trump's election campaign, acquired and used data from 50 million Facebook users without their consent.

Nordea Bank moves HQ to Helsinki
Helsinki, March 15 (Yle)
A general meeting of the largest pan-Nordic bank has green-lighted the plan to shift the HQ to Finland, which unlike the Scandinavian countries is a member of the European banking union and the eurozone.

Shareholders in the Nordic region's biggest bank, Nordea, have approved the transfer of the company's headquarters from Stockholm to Helsinki. At the annual general meeting in the Swedish capital on Thursday, the proposed move garnered 96.9 percent of votes. It would have only needed two thirds of votes to go through.

Nordea's board presented the plan last September. The main reason is that Finland is a member of the European banking union and the eurozone. Sweden and Nordea's other main countries of operation, Denmark and Norway, are not.

Nordea said last autumn that the move should be completed by October 2018.

The headquarters staff is expected to move to the Nordea Campus in Helsinki's Vallila district.

Nordea began to plan a move in February 2017 after the Swedish government said it would raise so-called resolution fees on banks in an effort to protect taxpayers from the costs of financial crises. Concerned that this could cost the bank as much as a billion euros, Nordea management began looking into moving the HQ to either Denmark or Finland – with Helsinki eventually getting the nod over Copenhagen.

As a large bank in Finland, Nordea will be directly overseen by the European Central Bank, as are OP and Danske Bank Finland. Smaller banks are supervised by the Finnish Financial Supervisory Authority.

Katainen raps Trump over steel tariffs: "Crystal clear that the US will lose this case"
Helsinki, March 12 (Yle)
European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen says that the EU hopes to convince United States officials this week not to impose what it sees as completely unwarranted tariffs on European steel and aluminium imports. The former Finnish premier describes the situation as "a mess" and one that is utterly exceptional in today's world.

The tariffs are expected to take effect on March 23 at the earliest. President Donald Trump said last week that the US will raise steel import taxes by 25 percent and aluminum by 10 percent.

"It seems that Trump's rationale that this is due to national security concerns is not in fact the real reason, but rather it is purely a question of trade policy," Katainen said in an Yle TV interview on Monday.

Katainen says there is no reason for higher tariffs, as European steel does not pose any threat to US security.

Washington plans to grant exemptions to Canada, Mexico and perhaps Australia. Katainen says that US officials lack any specific concept of what grounds upon which a specific country or company could be granted an exception.

"This will be a busy week," says Katainen. "We're trying to bring some sense into this mess and to discuss why the EU should also be exempted. European steel companies haven't dumped European steel in an unfair way."

Licence to export Finnish eggs and egg products to Japan
Helsinki, March 8 (Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry)
Finnish eggs and egg products will soon be found on the Japanese market. Agreement on licensing these exports was reached in Tokyo during the visit by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland and Finnish Food Safety Authority to negotiate the matter. The negotiations took place in connection with FOODEX, the most significant fair in Japan this year, where twelve Finnish food and beverage companies also had a common Food from Finland stand.

The export of Finnish eggs and egg products to Japan has been promoted as part of the Government key project concerning food exports. In the context of the key project the Finnish Food Safety Authority has been able to increase the personnel resources to carry out export analyses and studies.

"The key project enables Finnish food to be exported to market areas outside the EU. Opening the access to these markets is always preceded by negotiations between the relevant public authorities of the countries concerned. Thanks to the good relations between Finland and Japan and contacts between the authorities, the negotiations ran very smoothly", says Permanent Secretary Jaana Husu-Kallio, who led the talks in Tokyo.

Japan is the second destination for Finnish egg and egg product exports on the Asian market as egg product exports to Hong Kong got started in May 2017. The new export licence is also a follow-up to the licence to export poultry meat to Japan obtained a year ago.

Safety the key asset for Finnish poultry products
Because of the good situation in terms of salmonella and avian influenza in Finland, there is high demand for Finnish poultry products on the world markets. Finnish eggs are something quite unique because hardly any antibiotic residues have been found in them for almost ten years. Finnish egg production was also in no way connected to the scandal around the egg contamination by the fipronil insecticide.

"It is great to find new markets for high-quality Finnish food in the world. The objective set in the Government programme was to improve our trade balance in foodstuffs by EUR 500 million by 2020. Eggs gaining access to the Japanese market is yet another major achievement in terms of good news in the export sector. Pure Finnish foods are now really finding their way into the high value added product market", says Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jari Leppä.

In Tokyo work was also done to promote a project concerning beef exports, where the next step is an inspection visit by Japanese authorities to Finland.

"Besides food exports, the Japanese market is opening to our animal breeding material, pig sperm in particular. This is also founded on the exceptionally good animal disease situation in Finland", Husu-Kallio says.

Finnish leaders rip into US President's trade tariffs proposal
Helsinki, March 4 (Yle)
Senior Finnish politicians have cautioned that a US plan to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium could start a trade war and slow down global economic growth.

European Commission VP Jyrki Katainen said that a proposal by US President Donald Trump to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium could start a trade war, according to website Politico.

Katainen, who is also a former Finnish prime minister, cautioned that Europe could wind up fighting a global trade war on two fronts, in Asia and the United States. Katainen offered the comments at a BusinessEurope lobby event in Brussels, Politico reported.

"I easily can see very unfortunate and worrisome developments ahead of us," Katainen said.

Politico reports Katainen said that if Trump "is taking unilateral actions we have to respond, but it's not only a problem between Europe and the United States. Because it has an impact [on] steel production, steel markets elsewhere, too."

Economy Minister: Tariffs a threat to global economic development
Meanwhile Economic Affairs Minister Mika Lintila described Trump's proposed measure as a threat to the development of the global economy. Lintilä pointed out that the Finnish economy is highly dependent on exports global demand.

"The [Finnish] economy is now on a very good growth path. As threats to global economic growth take shape, the first thing to suffer will be people's confidence that growth will continue," Lintilä noted.

"If the global economy declines, as an export-dependent country, Finland will be very sensitive to such currents. So growth will have an impact on people," Lintilä told STT.

According to Lintila, a new trade war is not yet on the cards although all of the prerequisites for it exist.

Finnish state to sell off iconic booze brand
Helsinki, February 24 (Yle)
The Finnish state-owned alcoholic drinks maker Altia, whose biggest brand is Koskenkorva vodka, announced on Friday that it plans to list its shares on the Helsinki Stock Exchange.

Altia, which is fully owned by the Finnish state, is largely known for its Koskenkorva vodka, which is distilled in the village of Koskenkorva in Ostrobothnia.

"The Finnish general public has an opportunity to own a piece of a growth story based on domestic raw materials," said Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä, referring to Altia's use of Finnish barley at its Koskenkorva plant. The flotation is part of the government's plan to sell shares in state-owned businesses.

Meanwhile, Altia's CEO Pekka Tennilä said that listing the shares would enable strategic flexibility and bring "opportunities to develop the drinking culture in a responsible manner."

Even after the public offering Finland would continue as a significant shareholder in Altia. At least a third of the company's shares would remain in state ownership.

The company, whose other products include Renault and Larsen cognacs and Chill Out wines, has 700 employees.

Finnish economy spurts by nearly 4%
Helsinki, February 14 (Yle)
The economy is poised to outpace that of the overall eurozone this year, likely raising employment and wages.

The Finnish economy grew briskly in late 2017, according to figures issued Wednesday. The central statistics office says that gross domestic product (GDP) in the fourth quarter was up by 3.9 percent compared to a year earlier.

Statistics Finland estimated December's year-on-year growth at 3.6 percent while upgrading its previous estimate for November from 3.5 to 4.3 percent.

These are the strongest indicators yet of the economy's recovery from nearly 10 years of stagnation.

The agency also says that the number of employed people rose by around three percent in December, while retail sales edged up by 2.6 percent.

Finland's GDP rose in the last three months of the year by 1.1 percent compared to the previous quarter. Statistics Finland believes that GDP grew by around 3 percent in 2017 as a whole, about the same as in the eurozone as a whole.

Employment and wages set to improve However the chief economist of Danske Bank's Finnish branch, Pasi Kuoppamäki, estimated that overall growth for last year may have been as high as 3.2 or 3.3 percent. Kuoppamäki points out that the growth rate accelerated steadily throughout last year.

This year, the European Commission expects Finland's growth to outpace that of the overall eurozone, rising to 3.3 percent while the 19-country zone as a whole is projected to grow by 2.2 percent.

Valmet to hire 1,000 in Finland to produce Mercedes-Benz A-Class cars
Helsinki, February 13 (Yle)
Finnish auto manufacturer Valmet Automotive said it plans to hire some 1,000 workers in Finland this year to help assemble Mercedes-Benz's line of A-Class cars.

Valmet Automotive said on Tuesday that it plans to hire dozens of "white collars" for positions in prodcution, support and engineering services for production of Mercedes-Benz compact A-Class vehicles.

The company said that extra staff would be needed during the beginning of the year and that several hundred car builders also need to be hired.

In all, the company said it plans to hire about 1,000 new employees at its plant in Uusikaupunki, in south-western Finland this year.

"The number of personnel at Valmet Automotive's Uusikaupunki car plant, the biggest factory in Finland, is now around 4000," the firm wrote in a release.

Valmet Automotive, which employs a total of about 5,500 workers in Finland and other parts of Europe, provides services and products like automotive engineering, vehicle manufacturing, battery systems and convertible roof systems.

New alcohol law hits sales at state-owned Alko
Helsinki, February 12 (Yle)
With other stores allowed to sell stronger beer, cider and mixed drinks, overall sales at the former state monopoly have declined by eight percent year-on-year. border=0>
Sales of beers, ciders and pre-mixed long drinks by Finland's state-owned alcohol retailer Alko dropped significantly in the first month after grocery stores were allowed to sell stronger beverages, compared to a year earlier. border=0>
In January Alko's sales of "lonkero" pre-mixed long drinks fell by 39 percent, beer by 27 percent, and cider by 12 percent in terms of volume. Overall, Alko's sales by litre dipped by nearly eight percent year-on-year. border=0>
At the start of the year a revised Alcohol Act took effect, which removed Alko's monopoly on sales of strong beers, ciders and pre-mixed cocktails. The maximum alcohol content of beverages sold at places such as grocery shops, kiosks and petrol stations was raised from 4.7 percent to 5.5 percent. border=0>
So far the decline in sales at the state shops has not been as steep as some predicted. Last autumn there were estimates that Alko would lose some 70 percent of the value of its beer, cider and long drink sales. That would represent an overall slump of seven percent in turnover and a 13 percent slide in sales by litre – and in monetary terms about 100 million euros annually.

Finland's exports up by 15 percent last year
Helsinki, February 2 (Yle)
The value of exported Finnish goods increased 15 percent in 2017 from the year before, which helped to narrow the trade deficit to 2.5 billion euros.

The value of goods that Finland exported last year increased 15 percent compared with 2016, a jump largely driven by transport equipment and metal industry products. The exports of petroleum products also rose, together with most other sectors, but exports of pharmaceutical products dropped.

In total, the value of goods exports amounted to 59.5 billion euros last year. The last time Finland's exports grew on an annual basis was in 2011.

Goods exports to the European Union increased 17 percent, to the eurozone 20 percent and to non-EU countries 12 percent.

Meanwhile, imports to Finland grew by 13 percent last year, with transport equipment parts, fuels and lubricants increasing the most. Imports of consumer goods fell on the other hand.

As the value of exports grew, the trade deficit narrowed to 2.5 billion euros last year from 3.1 billion in 2016.

Finland's presidential couple welcomes baby boy
Helsinki, February 2 (Yle)
It's been quite a week for Finland's President, Sauli Niinistö. Shortly before 8 pm on Friday evening, his wife Jenni Haukio gave birth to a son. A statement from his office says Niinistö, who was present at the birth, says that both the mother and child are doing well.

"We are now the parents of a little boy," the President wrote.

Just the day before, Niinistö was sworn in for his second six-year term as president of Finland, after winning over 62 percent of the vote in a landslide election on January 28.

Thousands of congratulation messages rained down for the couple on Facebook and other social media channels once the news of the family addition broke. The official website of the Finnish President crashed momentarily under the deluge of viewers.

The statement said that the couple's son was born shortly before 8 pm at the Naistenklinikka hospital in Helsinki. Several comments on Twitter pointed out that this is the same facility that serves all women in the capital city area: proof of Finland's highly egalitarian society.

Patent payment boosts Nokia's quarterly results
Helsinki, February 1 (Yle)
Nokia reported a 7 percent increase in its quarterly profit as it benefited from new licensing deals and a one-off patent payment from Chinese firm Huawei.

The Finnish telecoms equipment maker said on Thursday its fourth-quarter profit grew by 7 percent to 1 billion euros from the previous year, helped along by a patent payment from China's Huawei.

The company's sales totalled 6.7 billion euros in the fourth quarter and 23.2 billion euros in full year 2017 as the firm's technology unit received a boost from new licensing agreements, in particular. Patents have become an important part of Nokia's business since it transitioned away from handset manufacturing.

On the other hand, the networks business fared less well in a competitive environment where the company's market share is expected to decline further this year, according to the Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri's comments in the company's press release.

However in 2019 and 2020, Suri said conditions should improve driven by the rollouts of 5G networks.

Nokia's board proposed a dividend of 19 cents per share in October and Suri said the company is committed to paying a growing dividend this year too.

OP: Bullish prognosis for Finnish economy in 2018
Helsinki, January 22 (Yle)
One of Finland's biggest financial groups, OP, has raised its outlook for the Finnish economy this year. OP predicts that GDP will grow by 3.3 percent this year. In November the bank had forecast growth of three percent for 2018.

OP paints an optimistic picture of rising employment spurring further private consumption. It predicts that 30,000 people will join the workforce, pushing the unemployment rate down. The financial group says that government may come close to achieving its target of 72 percent employment next year. It also predicts that current accounts and public finances will nearly balance out in 2019.

"The favourable economic climate will keep consumer confidence high," economist Henna Mikkonen said in a statement. "Inflation will rise, but purchasing power will improve nevertheless. The saving ratio will remain low with brisker demand for loans and owner-occupied homes."

However, OP expects growth to slow to 2.3 percent next year.

"Even though growth is decelerating next year, this does not mean that we will have reached the peak of the cycle. Growth is faster than its anticipated long-term average and the unemployment rate will continue to fall," says chief economist Reijo Heiskanen.

Nokia signs its first official 5G equipment deal with NTT DoCoMo
Helsinki, January 19 (Reuters)
inland's Nokia said on Friday it signed its first major deal to supply new 5G wireless radio base stations to Japanese telecom operator NTT DoCoMo, which boasts nearly half of the country's mobile subscribers.

The contract marks Nokia's first sizeable deal for its flagship mobile base station equipment based on official global New Radio (NR) standards for the fifth generation of wireless networks, which were only finalised in December 2017.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

The deal contemplates DoCoMo starting commercial 5G network service by 2020, in time for the Tokyo Olympics, Nokia said. Initial installations are expected in greater metropolitan Tokyo with a national roll-out to follow in subsequent years.

Nokia, a major supplier to DoCoMo in both the 3G and 4G network eras, has been working with the Japanese operator since at least 2014 on trials of 5G equipment, which promises far faster data rates, greater capacity and quicker response times.

The 5G antennas and related base stations act as the local connections between users of mobile phones and computing devices with the backbone of any operator's network.

The new equipment also promises to enable DoCoMo to provide new services for autonomous driving, industrial automation and smarter homes by providing wireless links to millions even billions of wireless sensors. Nokia said it will work with DoCoMo to ensure a smooth transition from existing 4G networks.

11.8 million: Helsinki harbour Europe's busiest passenger port in 2017
Helsinki, January 17 (Yle)
Last year Finland's Helsinki Harbour was listed as the busiest passenger port in Europe - and maybe the world, according to new figures from the port authority.

A total of 11.8 million seafaring passengers travelled through the ports of Helsinki in 2017, an increase of two percent compared the year before.

Europe's second-busiest passenger port last year, Dover in the United Kingdom, saw about 100,000 fewer sea travellers than Helsinki, with some 11.7 million sea travellers.

"In recent years, shipping companies have introduced larger and faster ships for the Helsinki-Tallinn route, while also increasing their passenger capacities during peak seasons," Noroviita said in a release issued Wednesday.

The overwhelming majority of passengers, in Helsinki made their way to Tallinn, Estonia.

The overwhelming majority of passengers, some nine million, travelled to Tallinn while 2.3 million people sailed to Stockholm, Sweden.

International cruise ships arriving to Helsinki broke an all-time record last year as well.

Some 266 vessels carrying around 487,000 passengers docked in Helsinki ports last year, an increase of 16 percent compared to 2016.

Marimekko and UNIQLO Announce Collaboration for Special Edition Collection
Helsinki, January 10 (Marimekko)
Marimekko and UNIQLO, the Japanese global apparel retailer, announced on 10 January their partnership on a special edition collaboration collection which will be available for a limited time only. The new collection for women will comprise a complete line of items that brighten lifestyles by combining the timelessly bold and vibrant print designs of Marimekko with the quality and comfort of UNIQLO's casual street style.

The collection will embody a shared commitment by the two companies to enhancing daily living. For Marimekko, this is through its mission of empowering people to be happy as they are and bringing joy to their everyday lives through bold prints and colours, while UNIQLO is committed to creating LifeWear – high quality clothing that is functional and reasonably priced – to suit everyone's daily lifestyles.

"UNIQLO is known worldwide for its well-designed essentials that are made for all. The special edition Marimekko and UNIQLO brand collaboration collection allows us to share the joy of bold self-expression in print and colour with consumers around the world. We are very excited about this collaboration and can't wait to see how people will wear the pieces in the collection to reflect their own style and personality," says Tiina Alahuhta-Kasko, President and CEO of Marimekko.

The Marimekko and UNIQLO collection will arrive at UNIQLO stores and at UNIQLO.com in Europe, Australia, Canada and the United States on Thursday 29 March, in Asia on Friday 30 March, and in Russia in early April 2018. The nine-style collection will feature tops, dresses, pants, sneakers, and bags. The prints in the collection were inspired by nature and urban lifestyle, including also a new print design specifically chosen to celebrate the Marimekko and UNIQLO collection. All of the prints were designed by Maija Louekari, one of Marimekko's world-renowned print designers.

The brand collaboration relates to the royalty income from a licensing agreement with a Japanese company referred to Marimekko's January-September interim report in November 2017.

Consumers in Finland increasingly having trouble paying bills
Helsinki, January 8 (Yle)
Finland does not have a comprehensive consumer credit rating system which could prevent at-risk people from applying for too much credit.

Finnish financial data services firm Suomen Asiakastieto reports that people with problems paying bills in the company's register each received an average of about 15 payment arrears notices last year. People with difficulties paying their bills have often defaulted on payments in the past.

The firm said that this year's tally of bill non-payment warnings was roughly the same as last year.

In 2017 there were 1.65 million cases of bill payment defaults reported to Asiakastieto, an increase of about one-tenth from the previous year.

The firm says that one of the reasons for the increase may be that creditors do not have adequate information about people's incomes and credit histories.

No centralised credit rating system in Finland
Finland does not have a comprehensive credit checking system which takes into account all loans and income data — only Asiakastieto's payment default register.

This situation means that people who are swamped in paying back loans — but still have not yet received a non-payment warning via a creditor — are still able to take out new loans and increase the amount of debt they'll eventually face.

Asiakastieto's director of consumer information Jouni Muhonen said the problem is an acute one.

"But making new legislation to create a new credit registry from the ground up could take years. That's why we should improve the scope of the current system in order to improve the sharing of credit data between different parties," Muhonen said.

"Creditors need access to all information about a person's income and debt in order to make a responsible decision about approving a loan," he said.

Continued economic upswing expected
Helsinki, December 19 (Yle)
The latest survey from the Ministry of Finance forecasts that the Finnish economy will grow by 2.4 percent in 2018 which it says means an increase in employment, a decline in the general government deficit and slower growth in the state's debt burden.

The Ministry of Finance's forecast shows that Finland will post a GDP growth figure of 3.1 percent for the full year 2017, and that the growth rate will then slow to around 2 percent.

Foreign trade and domestic demand are expected to be the main drivers in the economy over the next few years.

Pay is forecast to rise more rapidly in 2018 and 2019.

Boost in employment
Employment growth will accelerate to 1 percent and the earnings level in the coming year is forecast to rise by 2 percent, assuming that the forthcoming pay settlements are in line with agreements already made.

The Ministry of Finance survey says that private consumption growth next year will be driven by higher earnings and a rising employment rate. Investment of all types will increase, and the boom in housing construction shows no signs of slowing down.

Prices will rise in 2018 in a broad range of different product categories, but the increase in the prices of services will continue to have the greatest impact on overall inflation.

In 2019, the Ministry expects Finland's GDP to grow by 1.9 percent. GDP growth will slow the rise in the state's debt burden but will not eliminate the general government deficit.

The public-debt-to-GDP ratio began to decline in 2016, and the debt ratio is shrinking due to rapid growth in Finland's GDP. In 2019 the ratio is expected to fall to slightly below 60 percent.

Stronger beer comes to Finland's grocery stores in March
Helsinki, December 15 (Yle)
Parliament voted to approve the sale of stronger alcoholic drinks in supermarkets on Friday, lifting the limit to 5.5 percent from the current 4.7 percent.

Finland's parliament on Friday voted to approve the sale of stronger alcohol in grocery stores. From March, supermarkets will be able to sell alcoholic products up to 5.5 percent in alcohol strength, up from the current limit of 4.7 percent.

Stronger drinks will continue to be sold exclusively by Alko, but the new law allows the state-owned alcohol retailer to extend its opening hours to 9 pm on weekdays.

The reform also eases the bureaucratic burden of restaurants, allowing them to remain open till 4 am without a separate application and to serve alcohol on the terrace in the night.

Finally, small breweries will be permitted to sell their products on-site, as long as the alcohol content does not exceed 12 percent.

102 MPs voted for the proposal and 89 against. Seven MPs were not present, including prime minister Juha Sipilä.

Finance Minister Orpo predicts debt level drop
Helsinki, December 9 (Yle)
Finnish Finance Minister Petteri Orpo appeared on Yle's morning talk show on Saturday with a positive message: he says Finland's economic situation is looking up – even more, in fact, than his ministry had earlier predicted – and this means the state hasn't had to take on as much debt as it had anticipated.

Orpo says unemployment figures were worse one year ago, when this year's budget was being negotiated, than they are today.

"Now the indicators look different. In the autumn it was still estimated that the [2017] debt forecast would be 4.5 billion euros. But we currently find ourselves in a situation in which the State Treasury has issued a three-billion-euro estimate for the sum required," the minister told the public broadcaster.

"It looks as if the drop in the necessary debt load will be quite significant. Next year's budget has been built on the idea of taking on three billion euros more in debt, but I believe that by supporting economic growth and more jobs, we could stand a chance to lower this," Orpo said.

Despite the signs of an economic upswing, the Finance Minister nevertheless says it is wisest to stick with his centre-right government's strict cost-saving economic policies for the time being. He says this way Finland could get back on its feet well enough to potentially stop the need to take on more debt all together.

Slush startups bet on Bitcoin
Helsinki, December 1 (Yle)
Out of the roughly 2,600 firms at Finland's biggest startup event Slush this year, more than 150 were in the crypto space.

Observers could be forgiven for thinking that Finland, with its history of high tech know-how and sizeable population of computer nerds, might be at the bleeding edge of cryptocurrency. There are a handful of Finnish players in the crypto scene, and Yle News went to this year's annual startup-investor meet up Slush in Helsinki to find out how they are doing.

Bitcoin is the original and most popular form of the computer-produced money, and it has been rocketing in value since the beginning of the year, but the currency itself is less than a decade old.

Rising values have seen cryptocurrencies gain attention — positive and negative — from governments, banks and regulators as well as the media.

What's all the hype?

In what could be described as a stereotypical outburst of Finnish modesty, Slush chief operating officer Teemu Laurikainen requested to be referred to as a "crypto hobbyist," in lieu of "expert" when asked to discuss the topic.

In any case, the Slush COO is cautiously optimistic about the future of crypto and blockchain technologies, and acknowledged that people who want to know how it all works face a major learning curve.

Aktia ups estimate for Finnish growth this year, warns of slower times ahead
Helsinki, November 27 (Yle)
A leading Finnish bank has slightly raised its forecasts for economic growth this year and next, but says job creation and consumption will remain sluggish.

One of Finland's biggest banks, Aktia, has raised its estimate of the nation's GDP for this year to 3.1 percent. However it predicts that pace to slow to 2.6 percent next year and 2.2 percent in 2019.

"Everything points toward 2017 becoming an economically good year in historic terms," Aktia's chief economist Heidi Schauman said on Monday.

She notes that the bank upgraded its forecast for next year, as it expects positive developments to consumption, investments and foreign trade to continue.

Aktia expects the employment rate to improve further, but not sufficiently in the bank's view, which it says dampens the consumption outlook. The number of people with jobs is not rising hand-in-hand with the employment rate, it notes, as the working-age population is shrinking.

Last week, Statistics Finland said that the jobless rate dropped in October to 7.3 percent, compared with 8.1 percent a year earlier and eight percent in September. The employment rate meanwhile stood at 70 percent.

On the global level, Aktia Bank foresees growth continuing at an annual rate of around 3.6 percent over the next two years, adding the caveat that such prognoses include much uncertainty.

Paradise Papers: Yachts and gambling linked to typical Finnish-owned Malta businesses
Helsinki, November 19 (Yle)
Yle asked some of the 350 Finns with registered businesses in the tax haven country of Malta to explain their business dealings there. Many respondents had difficulties remembering or explaining what their company is up to, but yachts and gambling are often involved.

Paradise Papers is the latest international leak of data on tax haven improprieties, this time in the small European island country of Malta. Among other things, the documents reveal that some 350 Finns are shareholders in or directors of Maltese companies.

Among the Finns with money in Malta, there are several familiar names. The wealthy families of von Rettig and Berner have companies there, as do the actor Jasper Pääkkönen and major investors in Finland's lucrative gaming company Supercell.

The Finnish Broadcasting Company Yle asked several Malta business owners to explain their investments in the island country, but many had troubles remembering why or with whom they had entered into the ventures.

Owning a business in a tax haven like Malta is not illegal, as long as any profits from businesses there are duly reported to the tax authorities. Corporate tax on businesses in Malta is 35 percent, compared to 20 percent in Finland, but there are several deductions available to business owners there. Figures show that most shareholders in Malta take advantage of the numerous loopholes, making the average corporate tax on firms just five percent in reality.

Metro extension finally launched – commuters rejoice, experts cautious
Helsinki, November 18 (Yle)
After years of development and a number of false alarms, the first leg of the so-called Länsimetro or Helsinki metro extension into Espoo was launched for commuter traffic early Saturday morning. One researcher says a new metropolis may begin to broaden outward, but only if the work is put in.

The metro's woes have included several launch date postponements, vandalism, electrical errors and water damage. But social media filled up with photos and updates on Saturday, with some people dressing up specially or sipping sparkling wine early on the launch day.

The researcher says that on this historic day it is worth remembering that the metro line itself shouldn't necessarily be the focus on attention. Rather it is the developments in the metro station areas and environments that will change the face of the cities for the next century, she says.

"Building this extension was a political decision intended to steer local urban life in a certain direction. Espoo will certainly see positive changes thanks to the new stations, but the metro has also failed to spruce up nearby areas before."

Futurologist and co-founder of think tank Demos Helsinki, Aleksi Neuvonen, says he sees a new capital region centre forming around the Espoo areas of Otaniemi, Keilaniemi and Tapiola.

He also estimates that all of Southern Finland including the cities of Tampere and Turku may one day be seen as a single sprawling Finnish metropolis.

"The metro extension has drawn in a great deal of construction and investment contracts, on a national scale," says Espoo City Council chair Markku Markkula. "This was at one time the largest construction site in the country. The investments in the metro region's development are sure to be ten times bigger than the cost of the Länsimetro itself."

The final stage of the full metro project is set to continue in the 2020s, when further new expansions will be constructed.

20 minutes from Helsinki to Tallinn in five years?
Helsinki, November 14 (Yle)
Construction could, just possibly, begin next year on a rail link between Helsinki and the Estonian capital Tallinn that would be ready for traffic in the early 2020s. Peter Vesterbacka, formerly of Angry Birds gaming company Rovio, has big plans for a tunnel running under the Gulf of Finland that he laid out in an interview published on Monday in the Helsinki newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet.

After leaving Rovio in the summer of 2016, Peter Vesterbacka has been involved in countless new projects, among them the creation of a rail link between the Finnish and Estonian capitals.

Drawing on financing and technology from China, he says that construction could start next year.

"Technically, it's no problem. It can be built in five years. We are talking about a tunnel that would be completed in the 2020s and not the 2030s," Vesterbacka told Hufvudstadsblad.

"We have not yet encountered any insurmountable problems," he added.

Twelve tunnel drilling machines for the project are estimated to cost 30 million euros. Vesterbacka has a vision of creating what he calls a sort of "tunnel factory" that the rest of Europe and the world could turn to for other projects. His plan is for the equipment is to be contracted from China.

"China is implementing major infrastructure initiatives throughout the world, so it's no wonder that they're interested in constriction here, too," he points out.

In order to hit a five-year deadline for completion, work on two parallel tunnels would be carried out at six sites simultaneously. Under this plan, each of the tunnels would be 17 meters in diameter.

"It's bigger than needed, but it will be made for any future needs," he explained to the paper.

The project being promoted by Vesterbacka includes four stations: one in Tallinn, one on an artificial island to be built just off the coast of Helsinki, one at Keilalahti-Otaniemi in eastern Espoo, and one at Helsinki-Vantaa Airport.

This tunnel project is estimated to cost 15 billion euros. Vesterbacka says he is not looking for tax money.

"It's a completely private project, we are not looking for money from the state or the EU. We are trying to optimize everything in order to be as fast as possible, which is also a way to save money."

According to Vesterbacka, with ticket prices averaging 50 euros, the tunnel would pay for itself within 37 years. The travel time between the two capitals would be around 20 minutes.

"The line would be operated by high-speed trains running at 350 kilometers per hour. The technology already exists in China and Japan, so it is no technological risk," he says.

Finland joins the Silk Road
Helsinki, November 9 (Yle)
Top circulation daily Helsingin Sanomat features an article on a new cargo train connection linking the south-eastern city of Kouvola to the famed "Silk Road" route into China.

HS writes that if all goes according to plan, on Friday a cargo train with 41 large containers (a small batched compared with the 10,000 that fit on massive cargo ships) will be pulled by engines into St. Petersburg and onward through Kazakhstan to Xi'an in northern China. It is the first of a total of five trains that are set to make the long trip, hauling Finnish machinery, timber and workwear textiles.

Transporting goods by train is more expensive than shipping by sea, but much faster. Director Jari Grönlund from cargo operator Unytrade says that the direct land connection will be used largely for products that are needed quickly along the trade route.

"Goods take 45 days to reach China by ship, whereas the train gets there in just 10 days," Grönlund says in HS.

The Kouvola station is optimal for the long-distance cargo network, Grönlund says, due to its effective loading bays (constructed for busy Russian-bound traffic), its proximity to the Russian border and Kouvola's own initiative in contacting Kazakhstan over the cargo deal.

"There's still room for exporters in our containers," Grönlund says.

Net payments plummet: Finland drops to bottom of EU contributor list in 2016
Helsinki, November 4 (Yle)
Last year Finland paid 1.8 billion euros to the European Union and received 1.5 billion euros in EU money in return. This means that Finland's net payments to the European Union fell to below 300 million euros in 2016, placing the Nordic country at the bottom of the EU member states contributor list for the year, alongside Italy.

Finland's net payments to the European Union fell by more than half last year, from what European Commission statistics estimate was 570 million euros in 2015 to 294 million euros in 2016.

This means that, once the books were balanced, the per capita contribution from Finland to the EU fell from 104 euros per person in 2015 to 54 euros per person in 2016.

This puts Finland in last place, alongside Italy, in a ranking of the 28 member states in terms of their net balance contributions for the year. Finland's net payments were much smaller in 2016 than Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Austria and the UK, for example.

The net payments figure is derived from difference between the money Finland pays into the EU and the revenue the country receives from the institution.

Finland's top 3 earners in 2016 from game firm Supercell
Helsinki, November 1 (Yle)
Finland's top three income earners in 2016 all come from the successful game firm Supercell, according to tax and income data released Wednesday by the Finnish Tax Administration. Altogether seven of the top ten highest-paid individuals came from the Helsinki-based game firm.

Founder and CEO of the game firm Supercell, Ilkka Paananen, emerged as Finland's top earner in 2016. According to data released by the Finnish Tax Administration Vero, Paananen's taxable income last year came in at 46,634,395 euros.

The country's second-biggest earner was another Supercell luminary, creative director Mikko Kodisoja, who pocketed 40,851,040 euros for the year. Another Supercell millionaire, John Nicholas Derome came in third with earnings of 13,450,909 euros. Like other Supercell employees, all three are also part owners of the thriving game studio.

Lead programmer Visa Forsten took home 13,429,174 euros, product lead Lassi Leppinen pocketed 12,646,518 euros, game designer Lasse Louhento earned 11,111,696 and CFO Janne Snellman followed up with 5,678,652 euros.

Representatives of traditional sectors rounded out the bottom of the top ten earners. Metsä Group director general Kari Jordan came in eighth on the list with a taxable annual salary of 5,678,652 euros.

Meanwhile Kari Stadigh, CEO of the Sampo financial group's annual pay packet was 5,440,778 and Henrik Ehrnrooth, chief executive of the lift and escalator firm Kone was paid 5,062,724 euros for the year.

Finnish pension funds at all-time high of 200 billion euros
Helsinki, October 29 (Nokia)
Finnish pension funds have reached a record high of 200 billion euros, largely due to profitable investments in the stock market. However, spending on earnings-related pensions for the municipal and state sector is set to outpace contributions for the first time this year.

Finnish pension funds now stand at its highest level to date – around 200 billion euros, according to the organisation representing earnings-based pension fund companies.

"Some information is still missing, but it looks like we will reach around 200 billion euros," said Tela analyst Peter Halonen.

The return on pension fund investments is becoming increasingly important for financing pension payments, he added. He noted that the pension contributions paid in by employers and employees is not enough to pay future old age benefits.

Back in 2015, just under one billion euros representing pension funds and profits from fund investments was used to pay out old age pensions. Last year the sum was 1.2 billion euros and this year the amount is expected to rise even further.

"It's impossible to estimate precisely how much we will use from the funds and their returns but the amount is expected to increase," Halonen commented.

The growing outlay in annual pension payments is due to an increase in Finnish citizens claiming pensions as the population continues to age. On the other hand, the number of working age people paying into the system is decreasing.

In addition to private pensions companies, Keva, the organisation responsible for managing pensions for municipal and state employees, will for the first time be forced to dig into its profits to pay out pensions.

"The situation is historic for Keva. For the first time, pensions to be paid out will be slightly larger than pensions contributions paid in. But we are well prepared for this," said Keva CEO Timo Kietäväinen.

Nokia and Sendai join to improve safety and security of residents, bolster local businesses
Helsinki, October 18 (Nokia)
Nokia and the City of Sendai have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to deliver technology solutions for local businesses as they recover from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, while contributing to improvements in the quality of life for citizens. The agreement covers public safety management, including disaster recovery, activities to improve the safety and security of local citizens, and the testing and development of Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC) and 5G applications within the city.

The memorandum will establish Nokia as a long-term strategic partner to the city, which continues to recover from the major natural disasters of 2011. The two parties plan to stage a joint disaster exercise in 2018, and will collaborate further on public safety innovation and development. Nokia will also offer its Nokia Innovation Platform and other innovation programs to universities and startups in Sendai to help the city to establish a local ecosystem and support business opportunities outside of Japan. Finally, Nokia and Sendai will co-establish a test bed for MEC and 5G applications to accelerate related use cases.

The first joint activity will be to show public safety solutions such as the Nokia Ultra Compact Network, Nokia Group Communications push-to-talk and push-to-video application with ruggedized devices, as well as a drone at the International Disaster and Risk Conference (IDRC) 2017 to be hosted in Sendai on 25-27 November.

The partnership between Nokia and the City of Sendai builds on the strong ties the city has with Finland through working on many healthcare projects since 2003; Sendai also has cooperated with the Finnish city of Oulu since 2005 on projects including gaming.

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