Swiss National Bank raises interest rates in surprise move

"It cannot be ruled out that further increases in the SNB policy rate will be necessary in the foreseeable future,” the SNB said on Thursday. Keystone / Anthony Anex

Switzerland’s central bank has raised interest rates for the first time in 15 years (by half a percent), in a bid to prevent inflationary pressures on the Swiss economy.

This content was published on June 16, 2022 - 11:20

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) said on Thursday that its benchmark rate would rise from -0.75% to -0.25%. The hike was the first increase by the SNB since September 2007. Interest rates remain in negative – part of the SNB’s longstanding effort to keep control of the appreciation of the Swiss franc.

“The tighter monetary policy is aimed at preventing inflation from spreading more broadly to goods and services in Switzerland. It cannot be ruled out that further increases in the SNB policy rate will be necessary in the foreseeable future,” it said in a statementExternal link on Thursday.

The SNB said it would continue to monitor the value of the franc, and was prepared to intervene in the foreign exchange market to keep control of the country’s currency.

The franc strenthened against other currencies on news of the interest rate change.

The Swiss move followed a 0.75% rate hike by the US Federal Reserve on Wednesday while the European Central Bank signalled last week it would raise its rates in July to check surging inflation in the eurozone which hit 8.1% last month.

The Bank of England on Thursday raised rates by a quarter of a percent to 1.25%.

Swiss inflation

Inflation touched 2.9% in Switzerland in May and the SNB has raised its full-year forecast to 2.8% - up from the 2.1% estimate given in March. prices are then expected to rise by 1.9% next year (0.9% forecast in March) and 1.6% (0.9%) in 2024. 

The central bank said that without today’s interest rate increase, the forecast pointed to a significant further rise in inflation over the coming months.

The safe-haven franc’s overall strength has dampened the impact of inflation in Switzerland by reducing price rises for fuel and food imports.

SNB governing board member Fritz Zurbrügg cautioned that rising interest rates could increase the risk of mortgage loan defaults. Market simulations suggest most banks are well positioned to cope with this problem, but that "capital ratios of certain banks could decline significantly and approach, or even fall below, the regulatory minimum requirements."

Earlier this year, the government reactivated a countercyclical buffer mechanism, forcing banks to cushion potential mortgage loan losses with greater reserves.

SNB figures show that outstanding mortgage loans increased 3.4% to reach CHF1.13 trillion  ($1.13 trillion) in Switzerland last year.

The SNB said the overall economic outlook for Switzerland remained positive. It forecasts low unemployment, and a 2.5% rise in gross domestic product this year. The war in Ukraine and global energy crisis are unlikely to have a significant impact, it said.

The SNB still expects the Swiss economy to grow by around 2.5% in 2022.

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