Some 60% of all Swiss banknotes are hoarded, study finds

Presenting the new version of the CHF1,000 note, March 2019. © Keystone / Ennio Leanza

The number of Swiss CHF1,000 notes that are hoarded rather than being used in the economy for payments could be as high as 87%, a study by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) has shown.

The report, “Demand for Swiss banknotes: some new evidence”, estimates the volume of Swiss banknotes being stashed – rather than spent or invested – over the period 1950-2017.

The results show that a much higher proportion than previously thought could be hoarded, especially the CHF1,000 ($1,013) note – one of the most valuable bank notes in the world.

Depending on the method of estimate used, the amount of such notes stuffed under mattresses (or elsewhere) was between 79% and 89% in 2017, the economists found. Some 42-60% of CHF200 notes were hoarded, and 8-16% of CHF100 notes.

The average for all denominations was around 60%, showing that some two-thirds of printed banknotes are not being used in the real economy.

Criminal use

Writing about the study on Thursday, the Tages Anzeiger newspaper said that this comes as bad news for the SNB, who has maintained that a Swiss preference for paying in cash – even with CHF1,000 notes – justifies the continued printing of such large denominations.

And though the paper did not speculate on for what or where the cash was being hoarded, critics of such high-value banknotes have warned that they are favoured by criminal organisations eager to operate without leaving traces.

The report also showed that levels of stashing vary over time. It wrote: “the hoarding shares increased around the break-up of the Bretton Woods system, were comparatively low in the mid-1990s and have increased significantly since the turn of the millennium and the recent financial and economic crises.”

By comparison, in April, eurozone economies said goodbye to the €500 note; in the US, the highest-value note in circulation is $100.

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