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As the largest Nordic banks reported their 2009 results, a clear pattern emerged: lenders’ fortunes depended on how far they strayed from home.

Swedish rivals Swedbank and SEB maintain significant operations in the Baltics, a region that bore the full brunt of the global financial crisis. A surge in problem loans in these countries weighed on banks’ results, with Swedbank the hardest hit. Other Nordic lenders, namely Norway’s DnB NOR and Sweden’s Handelsbanken, derive larger shares of business from their home markets and, as a result, suffered less from the downturn than their more adventurous counterparts.

Unique among large banks in the region, Danske Bank reported an increase in net profit in 2009. However, the bank insisted that its result “cannot be considered satisfactory” given the drag that an ill-advised takeover of banks in recession-wracked Ireland has had on its earnings.

Read more at Financial Services Briefing: “Northern exposure” (February 26th)