The Swiss National Bank on Thursday reiterated its commitment to maintaining a minimum exchange rate for the Swiss franc, noting that in its opinion the currency was still strong.
Inflation numbers were slightly better, though not enough to encourage a shift in the SNB’s long term inflation forecast, which remained unchanged for 2015 at 0.7 per cent. Read more
It’s been a long time coming, but Geneva property owners desperate to sell are finally beginning to slash prices after a summer season characterised by a bitter standoff between buyers and sellers.
Transactions throughout the period were few and far between as bid-ask spreads widened dramatically, especially in the SF3m plus market range. Read more
Everyone has an open mind about negative rates these days… Swiss National Bank chief Thomas Jordan has said he certainly does following this piece of repeat advice from the International Monetary Fund’s annual report on Switzerland (our emphasis):
The conjuncture of Switzerland may render some of the potential drawbacks [of negative interest rate] less relevant than in other countries. Activity in the interbank market is already very low, as all banks have excess liquidity. Switzerland is experiencing strong credit growth, particularly in the mortgage market. The impact of negative interest rates on mortgage rates depends on the pass-through.
Are you a Swiss bank? Do you have haven appeal? Want to make some quick, easy money? Then keep reading…
Credit Suisse has decided it will start charging negative rates on Swiss franc cash balances above a certain threshold. From CS: Read more
Is the Reserve Bank of Australia intervening in the market to hold down the remarkably resilient Aussie dollar? That’s the question commentators and economists are asking themselves following the publication of data at the end of last week that showed a significant increase in the pace of foreign exchange accumulation (admittedly from a low very low base) in August and September. Read more
There is plenty of chatter out there about the Swiss franc floor being raised (and just as it celebrates its first birthday party too).
Nobody we have talked to has any actual idea if Jordan et al at the Swiss National Bank will kick the floor up (with SFr1.22 the likely spot if they do) and most don’t see them actually doing it . Read more
This is kinda sweet. From Fitch:
The Swiss National Bank’s (SNB) statement that UBS (‘A’/Stable/’a-’) and Credit Suisse Group (‘A’/Stable/’a’) should promptly improve their loss-absorbing capacity confirms that Switzerland maintains one of Europe’s strictest supervisory frameworks for banks, Fitch Ratings says. Read more
The Swiss boson is a hypothetical condition which is supposed to account for why the Swiss franc has ‘mass’ when all other neighbouring currencies don’t.
A multi billion-euro experiment, operated by BERN (but funded outright by tax payers), is currently under way on the borders of Switzerland and the Eurozone to try and stamp out the asymmetries, ideally by creating something known as the ‘anti-franc’. Read more
UBS announced lacklustre results on Tuesday, saying it expected further weakness in investment banking in the first quarter.
But the bank also provided details of some interesting underlying trends at the bank, funding wise. The following table taken from the bank’s results statement provides a good summary (click to enlarge): Read more
UBS issued a gloomy outlook for the current year, noting the tough conditions experienced in 2011 were likely to be prolonged, meaning “traditional improvements in first quarter activity levels and trading volumes may fail to materialise fully”, the FT reports. The Swiss group warned such conditions would “weigh on” its first-quarter results, notably in investment banking. The downbeat forecast came as the group said net profits in the fourth quarter slumped to SFr393m ($426m), reflecting the severe pressures on earnings seen at some US rivals and at Deutsche Bank in Europe. Earnings were a fraction of the SFr1.66bn made in the same period the previous year and demonstrated the impact of tough markets, reluctant clients and heavy costs, in spite of savings. Fourth-quarter earnings in investment banking, as at some rivals, turned negative, with a SFr256m pre-tax loss, compared with a profit before tax of SFr100m the previous year. The poor results reflected sharply lower revenues in all the investment bank’s businesses, notably the two powerhouses of equities and fixed income, currencies and commodities.
Hildebrand’s wife, Kashya Hildebrand, said in a written statement published on Swiss television late yesterday that her “interest in the dollar purchase was motivated by the fact that it was at a record low and almost ridiculously cheap.”
Via Bloomberg. Interesting background to that statement… Read more
Brussels is threatening to sue Britain unless ministers significantly alter a landmark tax deal with Switzerland, in a dispute that will cast doubt over the £4bn to £7bn of expected proceeds for the Treasury, the FT reports. European Commission lawyers concluded that the bilateral deal, which recovers billions of unpaid taxes in return for protecting the prized secrecy of the Swiss banking system, is in breach of EU laws that are tougher on tax evasion. Algirdas Šemeta, the EU’s tax commissioner, said he was “ready to defend this key principle” if no progress is made.
Swiss banks are likely to settle a US probe of offshore tax evasion by paying billions of dollars and handing over names of 5,000 to 10,000 Americans who have secret accounts, Bloomberg reports, citing two people familiar with the matter. Talks between US and Swiss officials are concluding on a civil settlement amid US criminal probes of 11 financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, suspected of helping American clients hide money from the Internal Revenue Service, the report says, citing five people with knowledge of the talks. One source said the Swiss government would outline a final accord to a parliamentary committee on November 10.
Switzerland’s traditional centre-right political parties were the big losers of Sunday’s national elections, as centrist rivals bit deeply into their support, the FT reports. But the election also represented a rare setback for the Swiss People’s party (SVP), putting an end to almost a quarter century of rising popularity for the ultraconservative anti-immigration group and Christoph Blocher, its billionaire figurehead. The centre-right Radicals, and, to a lesser extent, the more centrist Christian Democrats (CVP), were the biggest losers, suffering at the hands of the emerging Green Liberals and the Conservative Democrats (BDP). Support for the Radicals fell to 15 per cent from 17.7 per cent in 2007, while the CVP saw its vote decline to 12.1 per cent from 14.5 per cent.
Carsten Kengeter, head of UBS’s investment bank, plans to accelerate changes to the business’s size and structure following the Swiss group’s discovery of $2.3bn in unauthorised trading losses. Mr Kengeter, who senior executives say retains the board’s backing in spite of the losses, believes his division needs to move more quickly to reduce risk and to exit non-core businesses, the FT reports, citing people familiar with his thinking. The prime area for cuts is in UBS’s fixed-income business, which lacks the scale and the risk appetite to compete with global rivals. However, the trading scandal may force the bank to take an axe to higher-risk activities in its equities business, historically one of the bank’s strengths. Meanwhile the Swiss parliament piled pressure on the bank on Monday in the wake of the loss, reports Reuters, with a proposal to reopen debate debate on tough new capital measures for UBS and Credit Suisse so that a ban on investment banking could be added only narrowly failing to gain enough support. A plan to raise capital requirements passed the lower house.
There’s a great note from Marc Ostwald of Monument Securities this Thursday morning.
And he gets right to the heart of the issue. Read more
Switzerland’s decision to suppress Swiss franc strength via unlimited foreign exchange intervention will see the Swiss National Bank accumulate untold amounts of euro reserves, writes FT Alphaville. How the SNB chooses to invest those euros will be watched closely. Among the options are investing in core eurozone or periphery debt — both of which carry risks, notably by aligning Switzerland’s interests ever more greatly with those of the eurozone. This is why Deutsche Bank’s George Saravelos says the SNB could be tempted to take reserve management off-balance sheet. One way to do this would be to start its own sovereign wealth fund instead. Read more
Here’s an interesting view on the consequences of the SNB’s move from Societe Generale’s Sebastien Galy.
First of all, as others have noted too, Galy believes the decision to defend a 1.20 level floor against the euro is credible this time, since the environment is very different. Not only is there a political will to intervene, measures like CPI — which are dropping — justify an expansion of the monetary base. Read more
Or, turning the leveraged into fondue. Hat-tip to Scott Barber of Reuters graphics:
Switzerland should solve its dispute with the United States over wealthy citizens using secret Swiss accounts to dodge taxes under existing laws in a way that continues to protect bank secrecy, the Swiss Bankers Association head said on Monday, Reuters reports. Patrick Odier, the association’s president, told newspapers on Sunday that the United States has given an ultimatum to Switzerland, saying that unless detailed information on tax evaders using Swiss accounts is handed over this week Credit Suisse and nine other banks will face charges. “The cross-border problems with the United States can and will be solved. But the United States must understand that Swiss laws must be respected,” Odier told a news conference, according to Reuters. “Bank client secrecy protects wealth and does not hide it. This protection remains important.” In Odier’s opinion Switzerland must avoid repeating the deal it made to settle a US investigation against UBS. This bent many of the country’s banking secrecy laws and revealws the details of around 4,450 clients to avoid criminal charges.
The US has written to Switzerland to demand it hands over detailed information this week on its citizens using Swiss accounts to dodge tax or see Credit Suisse and nine other banks face charges, Swiss newspapers reported on Sunday, says Reuters. The letter, quoted by two Swiss Sunday papers, was sent by US deputy attorney general James Cole on August 31 and demands detailed figures on tax evasion at Credit Suisse by Tuesday and also seeks information from nine other smaller Swiss banks. In the letter, Cole demands that Switzerland quickly deliver a significant number of client accounts, the SonntagsZeitung reported, adding that US authorities are also ready to examine a Swiss offer to settle the dispute. Mario Tuor, a spokesman for the Swiss department for international financial affairs, would only say that Switzerland was in contact with the United States but declined to comment on the letter.
Negative rates have arrived! In Switzerland, anyway.
Which means the risk of the Swiss franc becoming a funding currency for carry trade — à la the Japanese yen — is very real. Read more
This should make Davos a bit less tense; a win-win for the British and Swiss governments on Wednesday:
Aug 24 (Reuters) – Switzerland and Britain struck a deal on Wednesday to tax money kept by British residents in secret Swiss bank accounts, which will gift a windfall to the cash-strapped British government and helps the Alpine country’s banks come clean on untaxed accounts. Read more
UBS announced on Tuesday that it was to cut 3,500 jobs, or more than 5 per cent of its workforce, in the latest move by the international bank to reduce costs amid tough trading conditions, the FT reports. The reductions, which had been signalled last month, were less than the 5,000 initially feared and will fall, as expected, predominantly on the group’s investment bank. Similar to its counterparts, UBS’s revenues have fallen and profits squeezed amid lower trading volumes, increasingly stringent regulatory requirements and consistently high costs. In recent weeks, HSBC, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse have slashed thousands of jobs UBS, together with its arch rival Credit Suisse, have been further burdened by the strength of the Swiss franc. This has depressed the value of income streams from other countries and reduced fees from clients’ portfolios at its powerhouse private bank, while the bulk of costs have remained in Switzerland.
The Swiss franc has strengthened against the dollar and euro, despite further injections of liquidity into Swiss money markets by the central bank, Reuters reports. Sight deposits at the Swiss National Bank will be significantly expanded once again in the latest move, FT Alphaville says. However, it falls short of a fully-fledged peg to the euro which markets had increasingly been expecting over the week. A strategy to turn some short-term interest rates negative previously deterred investors but has begun to wear off, the FT says. But the peg has not been completely ruled out, if the increased liquidity measures fall short, notes the WSJ.
The Swiss franc has fallen to a two-week low against the euro and the dollar following speculation that the Swiss National Bank will introduce target levels for the currency later this week, Reuters says. The Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung said on Sunday that the SNB was “ready” to begin targeting exchange rates, according to Bloomberg. EUR-CHF rates reached 1.14 in early European trading on Monday as traders speculated that the target level would fall between 1.10 and 1.20. A move to FX levels would follow the SNB’s embrace of negative interest rates last week as it reacted against the Swiss franc’s rise, notes the FT’s Gillian Tett.
FT Alphaville has already talked about the risks associated with a government bond turning into a bit of a Giffen good. (Great Depression, ahem.)
A Giffen good is essentially one in which the traditional laws of supply and demand do not apply because there is no viable substitution option. Read more
Consumer prices are on everybody’s mind in Switzerland.
World Radio Switzerland (the English-speaking Swiss network) kicked things of this morning with a debate about why on earth prices in Switzerland are refusing to budge lower, despite the reduced import costs for retailers because of the Swiss franc’s strength. The topic was discussed with Switzerland’s former price watchdog, Rudolf Strahm, who blamed affairs on the power of Switzerland’s veritical cartel systems, which are hard to break up. Read more
At least six more Swiss and one Liechtenstein private bank have attracted the attention of US prosecutors investigating whether Swiss bankers helped rich Americans evade tax, the FT reports. The revelations, contained in the latest court documents, show how inquiries by the US authorities that started with UBS in 2007 have mushroomed to include a swathe of the country’s financial sector. No additional bank has been named. However, US investigators generally began by prosecutions of taxpayers with undeclared Swiss accounts, then indicted Swiss bankers and specialist advisers, followed by investigations into specific banks. The documents show that numerous other Swiss private banks, at least one Liechtenstein group, and possibly two Swiss cantonal banks, are alleged to have knowingly opened accounts for UBS clients after the latter terminated the business at US pressure from 2008.
The Swiss National Bank has made the first of what could be a series of measures to curb the appreciation of the franc, which it said was “massively overvalued”, the FT reports. In a surprise move, the central bank cut its target rate of interest to “as close to zero as possible”, and said it would inject Sfr50bn in liquidity over the next few days. The SNB will also consider currency intervention if the outlook worsens, pledging to take “further measures if necessary”, a move which heralds a shift from the secretive approach it has taken in its forays into foreign exchange markets in recent years. The franc fell sharply in the immediate aftermath of the move, but pared much of its losses later in the day, with analysts expecting the SNB’s efforts to do little to subdue the franc’s appreciation. Elsa Lignos of RBC Capital Markets said: “The effect will not last unless the SNB follows it up by actively selling the franc or we get a drastic improvement in risk appetite.” Investors have flocked to the safe-haven Swiss currency – already trading at record highs as result of the crisis in the eurozone – in recent weeks owing to the US debt impasse and suggestions Japan could intervene to halt the yen’s rise.