2012 - Swiss monetary policy in uncertain times

February 7, 2012
Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, Geneva

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Summary

Since last summer, Switzerland has been suffering the effects of the negative developments in the global economy, and particularly the escalating debt crisis in the euro area. The uncertainty over the debt crisis led to a massive appreciation of the Swiss franc during the summer months. In their search for safe financial assets, investors drove the Swiss franc to an all-time high against the euro in early August, which posed an acute threat to the Swiss economy and carried the risk of deflationary developments. In response, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) set a minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro in early September of last year, which corrected the overvaluation of the Swiss franc to some extent. Thanks to this decision, investment planning for export-oriented companies has been facilitated, and the risk of both deflation and severe structural damage to the Swiss economy has been reduced. Without this policy measure, the extreme overvaluation of the Swiss franc and its volatility would probably have persisted.

However, the situation remains challenging for large sections of the economy - even at the current exchange rate, the Swiss franc is still very strong. The SNB expects it to weaken over time, and fall back to a level more in line with its economic fundamentals. As the data show, economic activity in Switzerland slowed significantly in Q3 2011. Exports, in particular, fell noticeably. In addition to the strong Swiss franc, the general global economic outlook has deteriorated and downside risks prevail. Given this difficult environment, the SNB remains firmly committed to defending the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro. This commitment applies at any time, from the moment the market opens in Sydney on Monday to when it closes in New York on Friday. The SNB will not tolerate any trading below the minimum rate in the relevant interbank market. To enforce this policy, it is prepared to buy foreign currency in unlimited quantities if necessary. Moreover, it stands ready to take further measures if the economic outlook and the risk of deflation so require.

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Author(s)

  • Thomas Jordan
    Vice Chairman of the Governing Board

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