Swiss Publicly-Owned Banks and the Swiss National Bank: Marching to a Different Drummer

Part of article by Ellen Brown

Why Public Banks Outperform Private Banks: Unfair Competition or a Better Mousetrap?

Read full article here on Web of Debt

The Swiss have a network of cantonal (provincially-owned) banks that are so similar to the Sparkassen banks that they were invited to join the SBFIC. The Swiss public banks, too, have been shown to be more profitable than their private counterparts. The Swiss public banking system helps explain the strength of the Swiss economy, the soundness of its banks, and their attractiveness as a safe haven for foreign investors.

The unique structure of the Swiss banking system also helps explain the surprise move by the SNB on January 15, 2015, when it lifted the cap on the Swiss franc as against the euro, anticipating the European Central Bank’s move to embark on a massive program of quantitative easing the following week. Switzerland is not a member of the EU or the Eurozone, and the Swiss National Bank (SNB) is not like other central banks. It is 55% owned by the country’s 26 cantons or provinces. The remaining investors are private. Each canton has its own publicly-owned cantonal bank, which provides credit to local small and medium-sized businesses.

In 2011, the SNB pegged the Swiss franc to the euro at 1 to 1.20; but the value of the euro steadily dropped after that, and the SNB could maintain the peg only by printing Swiss francs, diluting their value to keep up with the euro. The fear was that once the ECB started its new money printing program, the Swiss franc would have to be diluted into hyperinflation to keep up.

The SNB’s unanticipated action imposed heavy losses on speculators who were long the euro (betting it would rise), and the move evoked criticism from the European central banking community for not tipping them off beforehand. But the loyalty of the Swiss National Bank is to its cantons, cantonal banks, and individual investors, not to the big private international banks that drive central bank policies in other countries. The cantons had been complaining that they were no longer receiving the hefty 6% dividend they had been able to count on for the previous century. The SNB promised to restore the dividend in 2015, and lifting the cap was evidently felt necessary to do it.

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