Currency Basket 2015-2016: How to Avoid Financial Setbacks
Causes and Effects of Black Thursday
Without question, the reliability of a currency concerns not only representatives of the IMF, central banks and other systemically important financial institutions but anyone deciding what country’s banknotes will at the very least safeguard their savings and ideally increase them.
For the past five or six years, currency ratings have been topped mostly by the Norwegian krone and the Swiss franc rather than by the US dollar or the euro. Back in 2008, HSBC analysts declared the Norwegian krone the most stable currency in the world. The same was said about the Swiss franc by nearly all world leading experts.
In 2011, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) reaffirmed its commitment to the minimum exchange rate of CHF 1.20 per euro and was prepared to buy foreign currency extensively in order to maintain it. Thus, taking into account the average interest rate Libor, the pair was supposed to be trading at 1.22-1.24 in the medium term. Rumor had it that the SNB might raise the EUR/CHF rate to 1.3-1.4 due to a sluggish economic situation in Switzerland.
Over the recent years, the Swiss National Bank kept the established rate. On 12 January 2015, SNB vice president Jean-Pierre Danthine officially called the cap on the franc a cornerstone of the country’s monetary policy. But already on Thursday, 15 January, catching the majority of financial market players off guard, the SNB decided to abandon all the restrictions for the currency market. As a result, the franc soared up almost instantaneously, even up to 30 percent at a time, which hasn’t happened for the past 25 years.
Who were the losers? In fact, there were many:
■ Firstly, it’s the SNB itself, whose assets were kept mainly in dollars and euros. As these currencies depreciated, the bank sustained a loss of about 60 billion.
■ Secondly, Switzerland’s economy was dealt quite a heavy blow. According to national stock market data, on Thursday, 15 January, the Swiss Market Index (SMI), comprising 20 largest companies, dropped 8.67 percent. One of the country’s main revenue items is exports. Swiss goods aren’t generally cheap, and if, for instance, Swiss chocolate becomes more expensive even by 15 percent, it will quickly start giving way to French and Belgian chocolate. The same applies to medicines and other export products. In Jean-Pierre Danthine’s words again, exporters may come short of 5 billion francs. On top of it, the share of tourism might contract whereas it currently stands at 7 percent of Switzerland’s GDP.
■ Thirdly, steep losses were sustained by those who had taken out Swiss franc loans as they got more expensive by 20 percent overnight. In France, for one, such contracts made 50 percent. Millions of private borrowers in other countries were affected by that turn of events – they considered the franc the most stable currency and thus believed that Swiss franc mortgages would be the most secure.
■ Deutsche Bank lost nearly €130 million due to the exchange rate, about the same as the US group Citibank in Europe and Barclays.
John Gordon, a leading analyst with international brokerage NordFX comments, “The exchange rate plunged so swiftly that brokers simply couldn’t close positions fast enough and those who traded against the franc suffered huge losses. The consequences for the Forex market were very grave, and hundreds of thousands of people worldwide said goodbye to their capitals.”
The next logical questions are why all that happened and who benefitted from it?
Some analysts tend to believe it was a plot by financiers (like what George Soros did with the British pound on Black Wednesday 1992). To prove it, they refer to a recoil 20 minutes after the fall of the dollar and euro rates – the profits gained by the initiators of the crash. They say that the initiators actually skimmed a 20 percent profit in just a few minutes!
Despite the fact that such a recoil did happen, most international experts hold a different view of the event. According to Alessandro Bee, a strategist at J. Safra Sarasin AG in Zurich (one of the oldest banks in Switzerland), the Swiss National Bank didn’t see any future for the franc rate cap, considering the strong US dollar and quantitative easing ahead in the eurozone.
Pick your reason (a possible Grexit, imminent ECB plans or the UK’s in-out EU referendum), the euro itself is facing a serious crisis and soon – so much so that, in Swiss bankers’ opinion, there’s just no time to contrive smart moves. Therefore, regardless of the losses, they decided to unpeg the franc from the euro. Otherwise, the sinking ‘euro Titanic’ would inevitably pull down the Swiss economy in its wake. Switzerland’s GDP certainly looks impressive with its $600 billion but, in comparison with the EU’s total GDP of 15,669 billion, it’s just too small to keep the euro afloat.
“What occurred has once more proved that it’s hardly possible to find an absolutely quiet and all-around sheltered haven for one’s savings,” says John Gordon from NordFX. “For instance, see what happened to the exchange rates of two of the most stable currencies supposedly. On January 15th, the Norwegian krone fell against the Swiss franc by over 17 percent. Krone investors lost majorly. Recently, I’ve come to realize once again that only a multi-currency basket can provide real capital protection. As for its makeup for the upcoming year or two, I wouldn’t concentrate on Norway’s krone. It’s just too dependent on oil prices and has dropped against the US dollar by about 25 percent over the past year alone. So, despite the Black Thursday developments, I still wouldn’t get rid of euros but actually stick with the classic combination – euros, US dollars and Swiss francs.
NordFX analysts believe that these three currencies aim at exchange rate parity around 1.0000, and the formation of such a congruent triangle should become the main trend for the next 6 months to a year. By the way, it’s not just our opinion but according NAB (National Australia Bank) forecasts, the EUR/USD exchange rate will reach 1.0000 already by this December and stay around it till at least the summer of 2016. Besides, SNB vice chairman Bruno Gehrig assured that the Swiss Central Bank would carry out large-scale interventions in order to curb growth of the domestic currency. To sum up, the tri-currency basket may not yield spectacular profits but, in any case, will help to prevent any tangible setbacks by acting like a gyroscope in a stable position regardless of the fluctuations on financial markets.”