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Turning points in monetary policy

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) cuts its key interest rate and thus takes on a pioneering role

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) lowered its key interest rate to 1.5 per cent this morning. This makes it the first western central bank to start easing its monetary policy framework. In the context of the current economic situation, the interest rate cut seems entirely understandable and appropriate. Swiss inflation has weakened considerably in recent months and the risk of a new rise in inflation is currently very low. In addition, the Swiss economy has barely grown for 6 quarters. 

Both the US Federal Reserve (Fed) and the European Central Bank (ECB) have decided in recent days to maintain the current key interest rate. The SNB is thus taking on the somewhat unusual role of pioneer among international central banks. However, this move is well justified: Due to low inflation, the starting position for the SNB is much more comfortable than for most other central banks. In addition, by widening the interest rate differential with the European Central Bank (ECB), the SNB is likely intending to weaken the Swiss franc and thus strengthen the economy. In addition, both the Fed and the ECB have confirmed their intention to ease their monetary policy over the course of the year. This means that the SNB is only likely to be an outlier in the short term.

Japanese central bank (BoJ) raises key interest rate for the first time in 17 years

The latest interest rate hike by the Bank of Japan (BoJ), which was announced on Tuesday morning, marks a significant milestone in Japan's monetary policy. After decades of an extremely expansive monetary policy, the BoJ is now aiming for normalisation. Although this move is intended to be cautious and not abrupt, it is expected to have a significant impact on the exchange rate and the Japanese financial markets. In line with the expectations of some market participants, the BoJ raised the key interest rate from -0.1% to 0.0%. At the same time, it announced that it would abandon its previous policy of yield curve control for all maturities. The BoJ also plans to stop intervening directly in the capital market by buying exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. These measures are aimed at preparing the financial market for gradually rising interest rates across all maturities. 

This is happening at a time when the Japanese economy has been growing above trend for several quarters and the core inflation rate has risen to over 6 per cent at times. In the meantime, the rise in inflation has slowed and the inflation rate is approaching its long-term target of 2 per cent. The strong inflation was largely due to the weakness of the yen. Both imports of goods and inflation have risen significantly since the start of the coronavirus crisis, accompanied by a weaker yen.

Philipp Merkt

Chief Investment Officer