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Property sole inflationary concern for Swiss central bank

The Swiss property market continues to heat up during the pandemic. Keystone / Christof Schuerpf

The risk of a housing bubble has increased in the last three months, but the Swiss National Bank (SNB) is unconcerned about a general inflationary threat.

In an interview with the SonntagsZeitung newspaper on Sunday, SNB vice-chairman Fritz Zurbrügg said that housing market had heated further since June. “We cannot sit back and relax,” he said.

“But we have also always pointed out that most banks should have sufficient capital buffers to absorb impending losses. And even if the risks increase, that does not mean that a serious crisis will occur.”

Last month, the SNB said that property prices have risen around 80% in the last 15 years, mortgage debt has grown to 150% of gross domestic output (GDP) while real estate are currently 20% over-valued.

Rock bottom interest rates have contributed to a housing boom in recent years. The SNB believes that up to 30% of newly granted mortgage loans would be at risk of default should rates rise to 3%.

The Swiss central bank is “taking a very close look” at capital buffers for banks – a measure that was suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. But Zurbrügg said the SNB has so far stopped short of recommending that the government reintroduce this compulsory safety valve.

Inflation “temporary”

And he gave no indication that interest rates would rise in the short-term, saying that the ongoing pressure on the value of the Swiss franc was of greater concern than inflation.

“The current rise in inflation in Switzerland is temporary; in the medium term, we assume that it will remain low. The main driver currently is higher energy prices. This effect will subside again.”

“Last year prices for tourism services also collapsed. Now they are rising again. This temporary effect should also normalise again.”

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