WEB SPECIAL: NIB a force to be reckoned with

  • 2008-04-03
  • By Mike Collier

NORDIC NOUS: NIB Vice-president Gunnar Okk said the door is open to Ignalina.

HELSINKI -- Thereare few better examples of strength in numbers than the Nordic Investment Bank(NIB).

Whilethe Baltic economies are regularly overlooked in the financial pages of theworld's press or derided as too small to be significant, they do play a crucialpart in directing the significant financial muscle of the Helsinki-basedorganization.

NIBwas established as an International Financial Institution (IFA) in 1976 and isowned by Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway and Sweden, the Baltic states having joined in 2005.Though there are similarities with other IFAs such as the World Bank andEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), it differs slightly inimportant respects. For a start, it applies the sort of criteria to itsprojects that are more often found in the private sector, even paying adividend to its shareholders (which amounted 25 million euros this year). Itshard-nosed commercial approach has resulted in best-possible ratings fromStandard & Poor's and Moody's of AAA/Aaa.

Membercountries subscribe authorized capital according to a distribution system based on their grossnational income. NIB aims to promote sustainable growth of its member countriesby providing long-term complementary financing, based on sound bankingprinciples, to projects that strengthen competitiveness and enhance theenvironment.

NIBis not restricted to projects within member countries and currently is backingprojects in Asia (including several in China), South America and Africa as well as itsNordic/Baltic heartland. It has provided co-financing on over 1,000 projects sofar, but its constitution prevents it providing more than 50 percent of thecapital for any individual project. and Nevertheless, its unusualsupra-national status and understated Nordic character means it remains off theradar of many investors who might do well to follow its activities moreclosely.

The bank's 2007 figures reveal the amountof new loan agreements signed for the year totalled 2.2bn euros. Loandisbursements in 2007 surged to an all-time high of 2.4bn euros while theportfolio of loans outstanding and guarantees increased by 7% to 12.3 billioneuros.

NIBwas a major backer of the Via Baltica highway project, and could play asignificant role in construction of the proposed new nuclear power plant at Ignalina, Lithuania 's if anyone actuallybothers to ask.

"Wecan finance the project then there isa project. We are following the situation as closely as we can," Gunnar Okk,Vice-President of NIB told The BalticTimes recently.

Ata presentation of its current strategy and investment priorities, NIB dropped aseries of hints that it was ready and willing to play a key role in funding thenew nuclear plant which will supply the Baltic's future energy needs. That willcome as a fillip to the politicians, regulators and businessmen who continue towrangle over ownership and energy shares.

Notonly is NIB ready to back 'Ignalina II' in principle but it may already havelaid some of the groundwork for doing so. Lars Selenius, NIB's head of 'AreaII' covering the Baltic states, told TBT that NIB'sinvestment in Lithuania is at a lower levelthan most NIB member countries, within seconds of talking about projects involvingcross-border transmission cables, power grid investment and electricitygeneration as priority areas. Ignalina and its satellite projects would tickall of those boxes while raising NIB's investment in Lithuania markedly.

"Thereis nothing in the project as such that would prevent us being involved,"Selenius said. "If it would materialise in a form that would make sense then ofcourse we would be interested."

Seleniusalso provided a reminder that one of the first loans NIB ever issued was tohelp finance the huge Olkiluoto nuclear power facility in Finland. The bank'slending terms include a strong element of environmental monitoring, but itthinks of nuclear power has a positive role to play.

"Thisis the only possibility to markedly cut CO2 emissions in cases where we can'treplace those investments with other, renewable, technologies. It is hard tobelieve the world can face its future needs without nuclear power. We willfinance such projects," said Gunnar Okk.