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(Bloomberg) -- The Swiss National Bank’s holdings of foreign currency increased just 0.7 percent last month, with a stronger franc potentially offsetting a further accumulation of euros due to interventions.
The reserves climbed to 498.4 billion francs in January ($541 billion) from 495.1 billion francs a month earlier, data published on the central bank’s website today showed. The holdings are calculated according to International Monetary Fund standards every month.
The central bank intervened heavily in the first half of last month, buying euros to defend its cap of 1.20 per euro on the franc. It then gave up that ceiling on Jan. 15, taking investors and economists completely by surprise and causing the franc to hit parity with the common currency.
“It’s pretty likely they intervened in January, even after they gave up the cap” said Maxime Botteron, an economist with Credit Suisse Group AG in Zurich.
Had the currency limit not been abandoned, the SNB would’ve probably spent 100 billion francs on interventions last month, Governing Board Member Fritz Zurbruegg said in a Jan. 22 newspaper interview.
“We recognized that an uncontrollable increase in these risks stood in no proportion to the monetary-policy benefits,” he told the newspaper Blick.
The franc appreciated nearly 16 percent against the euro, 8 percent against the dollar and 12 percent against the pound in January, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.
Sight deposits -- the money commercial banks hold with the central bank -- have soared since the middle of January, a sign the SNB could have waged further interventions. Since the cap was abolished, SNB policy makers have said on several occasions that they are prepared to intervene if necessary.
Ralf Wiedenmann, an economist at Vontobel Asset Management AG, said today’s data indicated that the SNB intervened by 57 billion francs in January.
The franc stood at 1.0544 per euro at 9:39 a.m. in Zurich, while against the dollar it was at 92.12 centimes.
“Given the current level of the exchange rate, I think interventions have become less likely,” Botteron said.
As of the end of last year, the SNB held nearly half its foreign currency reserves in euros and 29 percent in dollars. Three-quarters were in government bonds, with 15 percent in equities.
--With assistance from Joel Rinneby in Stockholm and Jan Schwalbe in Zurich.
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