UPDATE 3-SNB says U.S.-China trade war triggering franc’s rise

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BERN (Reuters) – The Swiss National Bank (SNB) stuck to its ultra-loose monetary policy on Thursday and blamed rising trade tensions between the United States and China for a spike in the safe-haven Swiss franc.

1,000-Swiss-franc banknotes lie in a box at a Swiss bank in Zurich, April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The central bank kept its policy of negative interest rates and readiness to intervene in what Chairman Thomas Jordan called “fragile” foreign exchange markets.

“When the trade dispute between the U.S. and China escalated again in May, the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen appreciated,’ Jordan told a news conference.

“Both currencies are sought as safe havens in periods of uncertainty. In light of the high valuation of the franc and the fragility of the situation, our willingness to intervene remains necessary, as does the negative interest rate.”

This month, the franc reached its highest level against the euro in nearly two years on trade concerns, although the SNB did not change its description of the franc from “highly valued”.

Tentative moves by other central banks to relax interest rates could also heap more upward pressure on the franc, whose high value weighs on Switzerland’s export-reliant economy.

Both the U.S. Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank have given early indications they could be considering lowering their own interest rates to tackle weakening economic growth.

SNB INTERVENTION?

Moves by the ECB in particular to restart its bond-buying program could trigger higher foreign currency purchases by the SNB, as well as potentially even lower interest rates to head off a surge in the franc, analysts said.

“We think that the franc will continue to rise into 2020 which will cause a headache for the SNB,” said David Oxley at Capital Economics. “We forecast it to rise to CHF 1.08 by the end of 2019 and to push higher still next year on the back of higher demand for safe haven assets and looser ECB policy.

“We expect this to prompt a response from the SNB, starting with it intervening in the foreign exchange market. But if pressure on the franc continues to build, as we expect, we expect it to end up cutting rates even further into negative territory.”

Other analysts said the SNB would proceed more cautiously.

“The SNB signaled in its statement that it is in no rush to cut rates further,” said Karsten Junius from J. Safra Sarasin.

“Absent a significant further deterioration of external demand and lower ECB policy rates we expect that the SNB will remain on hold for the time being.”

Also on Thursday, the SNB introduced a new policy rate to replace its previous target for three-month Libor due to the future of the Libor not being guaranteed.

The new SNB policy rate was set at -0.75%.

“This adjustment does not entail any change in our current monetary policy and in particular our expansionary stance,” Jordan told the news conference.

The SNB kept an interest rate of -0.75% on balances it holds for commercial banks above a certain threshold, as forecast in a Reuters poll.

Reporting by John Revill and Silke Koltrowitz; editing by John Miller and Gareth Jones

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