Swiss Franc History, 2012: CHF becomes a “safe” Risk-On Currency

At the end of May, SNB president Jordan admitted that the EUR/CHF floor will not raised (here also cited by Bloomberg):

We cannot arbitrarily manipulate our currency. In an even worse crisis situation this would be disastrous and counterproductive. The floor must be legitimized. The current minimum exchange rate is realistic and has helped the Swiss economy.

This stance was surprisingly different to the strong commitment about the floor he uttered previously: for months the SNB continued to vow that it might take further measures to weaken the franc, even if the wording changed from the “massively overvalued franc” in August 2011 over to “significantly overvalued franc” in January 2012 to “very very strong franc” in April.

Based on the IMF Code of Good Practices on Transparency in Monetary and Financial Policies, Jordan gave such a clear and transparent message, which we translated into: The SNB will not raise the floor. Long-term investors can be sure not to lose money.

 

During that period strong interventions started again. Foreigners mostly bought Swiss equities – and not Swiss safety aka bonds or cash. (source Swiss Balance of Payments). The SNB reacted increasing strongly the equity share in its foreign currency portfolio.

In November, Swiss inflation had picked up only a little. Jordan has in the meantime weakened his language again: Tthe franc is now only “very strong”.

“The franc continues to be a very strong currency and in that sense an overvalued currency. It’s right for the central bank to continue this monetary policy for the foreseeable future.” (source)

SNB Inflation Forecasts

SNB Inflation Forecasts of June 2012 and of September 2012

- Click to enlarge

Our Comment

In September 2011, the EUR/CHF floor was born based on the wrong assumption that Switzerland could go for longer lasting deflation and the global economy into a recession. The SNB continued to sustain and to incite bank research that published two misleading ideas:

1) “The Swiss franc is overvalued at real effective exchange rate REER values of 110%.”
We argue that the REER is misleading, in particular because of rising current account surpluses and strong immigration of highly qualified people in the last 15 years.

2) “The Swiss franc is a safe-haven. Once the crisis is finished, it will devalue.”
SNB’s own research has proven that this is wrong, too. As opposed to “real safe havens” like USD and JPY – CHF is rather a “safe proxy for global growth.”

In May 2012 Swiss Q1 GDP was released and, thanks to US, Chinese and global growth, Swiss GDP clearly outpaced expectations. At that moment the two wrong assumptions above turned into a blunt lie. The SNB bluff was quickly called by former UBS chairman Oswald Gruebel. Investors piled massively into the Swiss franc. Balance of Payments data published by the SNB itself showed that a big part of foreign inflows were risk-on investments (see graph). In 2011 and 2012, foreigners sold Swiss bonds.

Portfolio Investments in Switzerland

Source: SNB - Click to enlarge

 

Equity investors are very sensitive to exchange rates that make stocks of overvalued currencies relatively expensive and they sell them.

Hence, If the minimum rate had been defined at (for CHF) overvalued levels of 1.10, then the SNB balance sheet would be 30-50% smaller. If the EUR/CHF floor had been established at parity, then the SNB would have sold off nearly all reserves and the EUR/CHF might be back at 1.05 or 1.10. The choice of 1.20 as the floor was wrong. Together with excessively cheap money, this will turn into a boom with wrong investments.

<– Back to history overview

George Dorgan
George Dorgan (penname) predicted the end of the EUR/CHF peg at the CFA Society and at many occasions on SeekingAlpha.com and on this blog. Several Swiss and international financial advisors support the site. These firms aim to deliver independent advice from the often misleading mainstream of banks and asset managers. George is FinTech entrepreneur, financial author and alternative economist. He speak seven languages fluently.
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