A currency manipulator tag for SNB may not deter FX approach


LONDON: The threat of being named a currency manipulator by the US Treasury may be an embarrassment for Switzerland, but even if the country does get the tag, it likely will have little effect on the Swiss National Bank’s (SNB) monetary policy.

Switzerland is expected to meet all three criteria for such designation in the long-overdue US Treasury report on the foreign currency practices of major trading partners. The Treasury has some discretion on whether to issue such a label, and the coronavirus pandemic, which has thrown trade and capital flows into chaos this year, could be a factor.

There would be no automatic punishment with a label, though US law requires Washington to demand negotiations with designated countries. Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan this year have also been in violation of the Treasury’s three manipulation criteria: a US$20bil-plus bilateral trade surplus with the United States, foreign currency intervention exceeding 2% of GDP and a global current account surplus exceeding 2% of GDP.

Currency experts expect Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to issue the report within days, just over a month before he leaves office.

“The subtle implication of being put on this list is that you eventually could come under sanctions, and that puts pressure on these countries not to weaken their currencies so much, or to allow strengthening, ” said Win Thin, global head of Currency Strategy at BBH.

But he said that in Switzerland’s case, as the exchange rate is its main tool for fighting deflation, “they may say, ‘Well, tough’”.

The Swiss central bank is firmly under the Treasury’s focus after spending 90 billion Swiss francs (US$101.50bil) on foreign currency intervention in the first half of 2020 amid pandemic-driven safe-haven inflows.

The SNB has long argued it is not trying to weaken the franc to gain a trade advantage. Instead, it aims only to stem the appreciation of its currency to head off the threat of deflation, which runs contrary to its goal of price stability.

Latest data shows the SNB has dialled back on its interventionist approach. Despite the interventions, the franc is considered among the most over-valued major currencies in the world, according to various trade-weighted indexes. — Reuters

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