You are here
Swiss may have to print money to stave off deflation
By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
The Telegraph, London
Thursday, November 11, 2008
The Swiss National Bank has cut interest rates to 0.5 percent and opened the door for emergency stimulus, becoming the first country in Europe to flirt with zero policy rates.
South Korea cut to 3 percent and Taiwan cut to 2 percent, the lowest in 30 years. Both countries are facing a collapse in exports to China and traditional markets in the West.
Thomas Jordan, a board member of the SNB, said the bank was mulling extreme measures to stabilise the financial system and cushion the economy as it falls into recession next year.
"We could engage in quantitative easing and we could intervene in foreign exchange markets or we could buy up bonds and try to influence long-term interest rates. All these options are open and we're not limited in any way in choosing from among these instruments," he said.
Quantitative easing is the tool pioneered by the Bank of Japan to stave off deflation. It is tantamount to printing money.
David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC, said the shift in policy was breathtaking. "The SNB are the hard men of central banking; they are even harder than European Central Bank. What they are saying is that inflation is no longer a problem, it's the solution. They want stimulus any way they can get it."
The banking sector makes up 20 percent of Swiss GDP, leaving the country extremely exposed to the credit crisis. The liabilities of Credit Suisse and UBS are equal to seven times national GDP. This has echoes of the situation in Iceland before the country collapsed, although Swiss banks have a much better mix of assets.
"The crucial difference is that the Swiss own half a trillion dollars of external assets. They have a current account surplus of 16 percent of GDP. This is their ace in the hole. If push ever comes to shove, the Swiss taxpayers have the money to pay," said Mr Bloom.
Switzerland, Sweden, Britain, and Canada are all now following the US Federal Reserve in taking revolutionary action to head off a slump next year, while the ECB has moved with much greater caution. It is unclear whether this reflects a rift in doctrinal policy, or whether the ECB is less able to respond to crises because of its treaty-bound institutional structure. The ECB's chief theorist, Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, said it was hazardous for central banks to cut rates too low and risk using up ammunition.
* * *
Help Keep GATA Going
GATA is a civil rights and educational organization based in the United States and tax-exempt under the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. Its e-mail dispatches are free, and you can subscribe at http://www.gata.org/.