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(Bloomberg) -- The Swiss franc’s 41 percent surge after the central bank unexpectedly lifted its cap against the euro is one of the biggest moves among major currencies since the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971.
Unlike previous foreign-exchange upheavals, today’s move occurred to one of the most-traded currencies that is considered a safe haven in tumultuous times, and few saw the move coming.
“It’s normal for ruble to do this kind of thing, but we’re talking about Swiss franc,” Axel Merk, president and founder of Palo Alto, California-based Merk Investments, who has 20 years of experience in the currency market. “That’s quite extraordinary and unheard of.”
A history of some of the biggest moves in the now $5.3 trillion a day market:
** Mexico Tequila Crisis, December 1994: U.S. interest-rate increases helped spark a peso devaluation and fueled capital flight across Latin America. The peso lost 53 percent in three months. The recession the following year, when the economy contracted 6.2 percent, was among the worst since the 1930s.
** Thai baht, July 1997: The currency fell 48 percent over the second half of the year after the central bank devalued its the baht in an attempt to revive its slumping economy, marking one of the biggest shifts in Asian currency policy since the country last devalued its currency in 1984.
** Japanese yen, October 1998: During the Asian Financial Crisis, the Japanese currency rallied as much as 7.2 percent in a day as hedge funds rushed to unwind carry trades by repaying the yen that they borrowed to invest in higher-yielding currencies such as the Thai baht and Russia’s ruble. The yen surged 16 percent that week.
** Turkish lira, 2001: A spat between then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit led to an exodus of foreign capital, pushed up government debt and throwing more than 20 banks into bankruptcy. The currency lost 54 percent in value that year and inflation jumped to 69 percent by December.
** Argentine peso, June 2002: Argentina started struggling to finance its debt in 1999 as the one-to-one peg to a rising dollar squeezed exporters and Brazil, the country’s largest trading partner, devalued the real. Interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa announced to default on $95 billion debts in December 2001. Within weeks, the central bank abandoned the peg, allowing the peso to fall 74 percent by June 2002.
** Russian Ruble, December 2014: The currency plummeted 34 percent in three weeks through mid-December as plunging oil prices and international sanctions pushed Russia toward a recession. The central bank has spent $95 billion of foreign reserves over the past year to shore up the ruble and boosted interest rate five times. While the efforts helped quell volatility, the ruble remains within 5 percent of the record low set on Dec. 16.
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