SNB Shield Reaps Reward of Growth Defying Euro Area

SNB Shield Reaps Reward of Growth Defying Euro Area

Switzerland’s economy defied the recession that afflicted its neighbors to notch up a year of uninterrupted growth, underlining the importance of the country’s currency ceiling as it marks its second anniversary. Swiss gross domestic product rose 0.5 percent in the second quarter from three months through March, when it expanded by 0.6 percent, the Secretariat for Economic Affairs in Bern said in a statement today. That is more than a median estimate of 0.3 percent in a Bloomberg survey of 18 economists.Since the Swiss National Bank set a cap on the franc of 1.20 per on Sept. 6, 2011, the economy has seen only a single quarter of contraction, while the debt-plagued euro area only emerged from 18 months of recession last quarter. Given the need to keep prices stable and the chance of the euro-area crisis flaring up again, the ceiling remains the right policy tool, SNB President Thomas Jordan said in a Berner Zeitung interview published yesterday.

“It’s a clear success — they achieved what they wanted,” minimizing deflation risks, said Daniel Hartmann, an economist at Bantleon Bank in Zug. “At the beginning the step was met with much skepticism. There were worries the cap wouldn’t be manageable, that it would fail or the SNB would have to buy lots of euros and was exposing itself to huge losses.”

Euro ‘Mess’

In a sign of how well the measure has worked, 21 months of falling consumer prices ended in June, and the Swiss economy is expected to outperform that of the euro area again this year. The European Central Bank forecasts the 17-nation currency region will contract 0.6 percent, while the SNB sees growth of 1 percent to 1.5 percent in Switzerland. It will issue a new forecast at its policy review on Sept. 19.

To be sure, a calming of financial markets, fiscal reforms from Spain to Italy and a pick up of momentum in the U.S. have played into the SNB’s hands by lessening investors’ interest in the franc, which they tend to buy in times of turmoil.

Even so, uncertainty over the euro area’s economic situation persists.

“The euro zone is not yet out of the mess for good — one swallow doesn’t make a summer,” said Christian Lips, an economist at NordLB in Hanover. “Even with the end of the recession things are still on shaky ground there and could flare up again. The SNB could again find itself up against the wall on the exchange rate again.”

Lower Interventions

The easing of the debt crisis has led the franc to depreciate 2.1 percent against the euro this year, allowing the SNB to hold off on major interventions. In 2012, it spent 188 billion francs ($201 billion) defending the cap, and as a result now holds foreign currency equal to three-quarters of the economy’s annual output.

The SNB’s cap defense, undertaken over the past 18 months under Jordan, stands in contrast to the strategy pursued in 2010, when his predecessor Philipp Hildebrand was at the helm. For that year, the SNB suffered a record loss of 26 billion francs on its foreign currency positions, after having injected more than 100 billion francs into spot markets.

“The franc is still overvalued, albeit less strongly than in 2011,” said Maxime Botteron, an economist with Credit Suisse Group AG in Zurich. “We don’t think the SNB will change its stance before the end of 2014.”

Export Growth

Less volatility in the exchange rate due to the cap has also helped the export sector, which grew 0.9 percent in the second quarter. Domestic demand, which constitutes a large share of the economy, grew 0.5 percent in the three months through June.

The SNB’s loose monetary policy has kept mortgages cheap, boosting demand for homes and apartments. The central bank has sounded the alarm about borrowers overextending themselves.

To prevent the mortgage writedowns from hobbling economic growth, the SNB, whose hands are tied on the interest rate front by the cap, pushed for a bank capital buffer. The measure, set at 1 percent of mortgage-related assets, comes into force at the end of this month and can be increased to as much as 2.5 percent.

“With the very expansionary monetary policy, the risk for new excesses and new risks to financial stability can arise,” NordLB’s Lips said. “Limiting the financing may help, but it may not be enough.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Catherine Bosley in Zurich at

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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