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Conflicting opinions over strong Swiss franc

Hayek fears the strong Swiss franc could lead to job losses

(Keystone Archive)

The head of the Swatch Group, Nicolas Hayek, has added his voice to those calling for action to be taken against the strong Swiss franc.

In Friday's edition of the "Blick" newspaper, Hayek said he feared that the strong value of the franc would harm the tourism sector and Swiss industry, and could cost hundreds of jobs.

He called for a more determined stance to be taken by the Swiss National Bank, which sets Switzerland's monetary policy.

No rift

The Swiss economics minister, Pascal Couchepin, was also quoted as saying that the strong franc's exchange rate could be "improved".

However, a spokesman for Couchepin said the minister's remark did not mean there was a rift between the government and the central bank on the issue.

The strength of the franc, due in part to its status as a safe haven currency, has prompted moans from the Swiss export industry and the tourist sector, whose competitiveness is hit when the franc rises.

To counter gains of the franc, the central bank has been generous in providing money market liquidity. Its president, Jean-Pierre Roth, told swissinfo on Wednesday that the SNB would not hesitate to act should the priority of price stability be called into question.

Clear attitude

Roth said the bank had very clear attitude in the event of high demand for the Swiss franc.

"If our monetary policy would be distorted by an appreciation of the Swiss franc, we have to react with interest rates. We have done it in the past and we will do it in the future," he commented.

While some see a high franc rate as a threat, Swiss economic analyst and investor Marc Faber views the situation in a totally different light.

"Actually I disagree that it is a danger. Usually, countries that have a strong currency are also economically strong and the Swiss franc has actually been weak against the US dollar over the last two years," he told swissinfo.

"I think, if anything, the Swiss franc should be at a much higher level than it is at the present," he commented.

Imports cheaper

Known for swimming against the tide of conventional economic wisdom, Faber felt it would not be harmful if the Swiss franc appreciated further, noting that imports to Switzerland would be cheaper.

"Switzerland is similar to Japan. It has very little resources but it processes a lot of goods. So in a way a strong currency reduces the price of imported goods, especially food products, and also of raw materials."

"I would say it doesn't matter really whether the Swiss franc would appreciate here by ten to 20 per cent. It would have very little impact on the Swiss economy," he added.

by Robert Brookes

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