The Swiss franc has had an incredible run over the past two years that has accelerated in 2011 as many traders and investors have sought “safety” from the European sovereign debt crisis. The Swiss National Bank has utterly failed in its varied attempts to fight currency appreciation over this time. (See “No Currency Peg Yet for the Swiss Franc As SNB Escalates” for the latest in this drama).
Source: dailyfx.com charts
A story out of Marketwatch provides a fascinating example of the impact of a much stronger currency: price deflation. In “Swiss supermarkets cut prices, cite franc strength” we discover Swiss shoppers are crossing the border to take advantage of their stronger currency to buy cheap goods in places like Germany and France. To win back the business, Swiss supermarkets are cutting prices and pressuring suppliers to lower their prices as well. Stories like these are important to watch as competitive devaluations continue to unfold across major currency countries.
Author disclosure: long USD/CHF
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) has been extremely reluctant to increase interest rates, presumably because its currency has been excessively strong. Meanwhile, its forecast for near-term inflation has increased, and the economy has performed reasonably well despite the strong currency (although tourism and exports have recently suffered a bit).
The pressure to increase rates may have ratcheted up a notch with Anne Heritier Lachat, the chairwoman of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), complaining about the potential for housing bubbles in Switzerland. Lachat cited in an interview that all the key ingredients for a bubble exist: low rates, demand exceeding supply, and the assumption that housing has once again become a safe investment. The direction of SNB monetary policy could get a lot more exciting from here…