Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Swiss franc

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Code  CHF
Exponent  2
Rappen  Rappen  (German)
Number  756
⁄100  Rappen
Swiss franc
Plural  Franken  (German) francs  (French) franchi  (Italian) francs  (Romansh)

The franc (sign: Fr. or SFr. or FS; German: Franken, French and Romansh: franc, Italian: franco; code: CHF) is the currency and legal tender of Switzerland and Liechtenstein; it is also legal tender in the Italian exclave Campione d'Italia. The Swiss National Bank (SNB) issues banknotes and the federal mint Swissmint issues coins.

Contents

The smaller denomination, a hundredth of a franc, is a Rappen (Rp.) in German, centime (c.) in French, centesimo (ct.) in Italian, and rap (rp.) in Romansh. The ISO code of the currency used by banks and financial institutions is CHF, although "Fr." is used by most businesses and advertisers; some use SFr.; the Latinate "CH" stands for Confoederatio Helvetica.

Given the different languages used in Switzerland, Latin is used for language-neutral inscriptions on the coins.

Before the Helvetic Republic

Before 1798, about 75 entities were making coins in Switzerland, including the 25 cantons and half-cantons, 16 cities, and abbeys, resulting in about 860 different coins in circulation, with different values, denominations and monetary systems.

The local Swiss currencies included the Basel thaler, Berne thaler, Fribourg gulden, Geneva thaler, Geneva genevoise, Luzern gulden, Neuchâtel gulden, St. Gallen thaler, Schwyz gulden, Solothurn thaler, Valais thaler and the Zürich thaler.

Franc of the Helvetic Republic, 1798–1803

In 1798, the Helvetic Republic introduced a currency based on the Berne thaler, subdivided into 10 batzen or 100 centimes. The Swiss franc was equal to 6 34 grams of pure silver or 1 12 French francs.

This franc was issued until the end of the Helvetic Republic in 1803, but served as the model for the currencies of several cantons in the re-formed Swiss Confederacy. For these cantonal currencies, see Aargau frank, Appenzell frank, Basel frank, Berne frank, Fribourg frank, Geneva franc, Glarus frank, Graubünden frank, Luzern frank, St. Gallen frank, Schaffhausen frank, Schwyz frank, Solothurn frank, Thurgau frank, Ticino franco, Unterwalden frank, Uri frank, Vaud franc and Zürich frank.

Franc of the Swiss Confederation, 1850–present

Although 22 cantons and half-cantons issued coins between 1803 and 1850, less than 15% of the money in circulation in Switzerland in 1850 was locally produced, with the rest being foreign, mainly brought back by mercenaries. In addition, some private banks also started issuing the first banknotes, so that in total, at least 8000 different coins and notes were in circulation at that time, making the monetary system extremely complicated.

In order to solve this problem, the new Swiss Federal Constitution of 1848 specified that the federal government would be the only entity allowed to make money in Switzerland. This was followed two years later by the first Federal Coinage Act, passed by the Federal Assembly on 7 May 1850, which introduced the franc as the monetary unit of Switzerland. The franc was introduced at par with the French franc. It replaced the different currencies of the Swiss cantons, some of which had been using a franc (divided into 10 batzen and 100 centimes) which was worth 1 12 French francs.

In 1865, France, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland formed the Latin Monetary Union, wherein they agreed to value their national currencies to a standard of 4.5 grams of silver or 0.290322 grams of gold. Even after the monetary union faded away in the 1920s and officially ended in 1927, the Swiss franc remained on that standard until 1936, when it suffered its sole devaluation, on 27 September during the Great Depression. The currency was devalued by 30% following the devaluations of the British pound, U.S. dollar and French franc. In 1945, Switzerland joined the Bretton Woods system and pegged the franc to the U.S. dollar at a rate of $1 = 4.30521 francs (equivalent to 1 franc = 0.206418 grams of gold). This was changed to $1 = 4.375 francs (1 franc = 0.203125 grams of gold) in 1949.

The Swiss franc has historically been considered a safe-haven currency with virtually zero inflation and a legal requirement that a minimum of 40% be backed by gold reserves. However, this link to gold, which dates from the 1920s, was terminated on 1 May 2000 following a referendum. By March 2005, following a gold selling program, the Swiss National Bank held 1,290 tonnes of gold in reserves which equated to 20% of its assets.

In November 2014, the referendum on the "Swiss Gold Initiative" which proposed a restoration of 20% gold backing for the Swiss franc was voted down.

2011–2014: big movements and capping

In March 2011 the franc climbed past the US$1.10 mark (CHF 0.91 per U.S. dollar). In June 2011 the franc climbed past US$1.20 (CHF 0.833 per U.S. dollar) as investors sought safety amidst the continuation of the Greek sovereign-debt crisis. Continuation of the same crisis in Europe and the debt crisis in the U.S. propelled the Swiss franc past US$1.30 (CHF 0.769 per U.S. dollar) as of August 2011, prompting the Swiss National Bank to boost the franc's liquidity in an attempt to counter its "massive overvaluation". The Economist argued that its Big Mac Index in July 2011 indicated an overvaluation of 98% over the dollar and cited Swiss companies releasing profit warnings and threatening to move operations out of the country due to the strength of the franc. Demand for francs and franc-denominated assets was so strong that nominal short-term Swiss interest rates became negative.

On 6 September 2011, when the exchange rate was 1.095 CHF/€ and appeared to be heading for parity with the euro, the SNB set a minimum exchange rate of 1.20 francs to the euro (capping franc's appreciation) saying "the value of the franc is a threat to the economy", and that it was "prepared to buy foreign currency in unlimited quantities". In response to the announcement the franc fell against the euro, to 1.22 francs from 1.12 francs and lost 9% against the U.S. dollar within fifteen minutes. The intervention stunned currency traders since the franc had long been regarded as a safe haven.

The franc fell 8.8% against the euro, 9.5% against the dollar, and at least 8.2% against all 16 of the most active currencies on the day of the announcement. It was the largest plunge of the franc ever against the euro. The SNB had previously set an exchange rate target in 1978 against the Deutsche mark and maintained it, although at the cost of high inflation. Until mid-January 2015, the franc continued to trade below the target level set by the SNB, though the ceiling was broken at least once on 5 April 2012, albeit briefly.

End of capping

On 18 December 2014, the Swiss central bank introduced a negative interest rate on bank deposits to support its CHF ceiling. However, with the euro declining in value over the following weeks, in a move dubbed Francogeddon for its effect on markets, the Swiss National Bank abandoned the ceiling on 15 January 2015, and the franc promptly increased in value compared with the euro by 30%, although this only lasted a few minutes before part of the increase was reversed. The move was not announced in advance and resulted in "turmoil" in stock and currency markets. By the close of trading that day, the franc was up 23% against the euro and 21% against the US dollar. The full daily range of franc was equal to $31,000 per single futures contract (to the positive if long, to the negative if short), and is more than the market moved collectively in the previous thousand days. The key interest rate was also lowered from −0.25% to −0.75%, meaning investors would be paying an increased fee to keep their funds in a Swiss account. This devaluation of the euro against the franc is expected to hurt Switzerland's large export industry. The Swatch Group, for example, saw its shares drop 15% (in Swiss franc terms) with the announcements so that the share price may have increased on that day in terms of other major currencies.

The large and unexpected jump caused major losses for some currency traders. Alpari, a Russian-owned spread betting firm established in the UK, temporarily declared insolvency before announcing its desire to be acquired (and later denied rumours of an acquisition) by FXCM. FXCM was bailed out by its parent company. Saxo Bank of Denmark reported losses on 19 January 2015. New Zealand foreign exchange broker Global Brokers NZ announced it "could no longer meet New Zealand regulators' minimum capital requirements" and terminated its business.

Media questioned the ongoing credibility of the Swiss central bank, and indeed central banks in general. Using phrases like "extend-and-pretend" to describe central bank exchange rate control measures, Saxobank chief economist Steen Jakobsen stated "as a group, central banks have lost credibility and when the ECB starts QE this week, the beginning of the end for central banks will be well under way". BT Investment Management's head of income and fixed interest, Vimal Gor stated "central banks are becoming more and more impotent. It also ultimately proves that central banks cannot drive economic growth like they think they can". UBS interest rate strategist Andrew Lilley commented "central banks can have inconsistent goals from one-day to another".

Coins of the Helvetic Republic

Between 1798 and 1803, billon coins were issued in denominations of 1 centime, 12 batzen, and 1 batzen. Silver coins were issued for 10, 20 and 40 batzen, with the 40-batzen coin also issued with the denomination given as 4 francs. Gold 16 and 32-franc coins were issued in 1800.

Coins of the Swiss Confederation

In 1850, coins were introduced in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 20 centimes and 12, 1, 2, and 5 francs, with the 1 and 2 centimes struck in bronze, the 5, 10, and 20 centimes in billon (with 5% to 15% silver content), and the franc denominations in .900 fine silver. Between 1860 and 1863, .800 fine silver was used, before the standard used in France of .835 fineness was adopted for all silver coins except the 5 francs (which remained .900 fineness) in 1875. In 1879, billon was replaced by cupro-nickel in the 5 and 10 centimes and by nickel in the 20 centimes. Gold coins in denominations of 10, 20, and 100 francs, known as Vreneli, circulated until 1936.

Both world wars only had a small effect on the Swiss coinage, with brass and zinc coins temporarily being issued. In 1931, the size of the 5-franc coin was reduced from 25 grams to 15, with the silver content reduced to .835 fineness. The next year, nickel replaced cupro-nickel in the 5 and 10 centimes.

In the late 1960s the prices of internationally traded commodities rose significantly. A silver coin's metal value exceeded its monetary value, and many were being sent abroad for melting, which prompted the federal government to make this practice illegal. The statute was of little effect, and the melting of francs only subsided when the collectible value of the remaining francs again exceeded their material value.

The 1-centime coin was still produced until 2006, albeit in ever decreasing quantities, but its importance declined. Those who could justify the use of 1-centime coins for monetary purposes could obtain them at face value; any other user (such as collectors) had to pay an additional four centimes per coin to cover the production costs, which had exceeded the actual face value of the coin for many years. The coin fell into disuse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, but was only officially fully withdrawn from circulation and declared to be no longer legal tender on 1 January 2007. The long-forgotten 2-centime coin, not minted since 1974, was demonetized on 1 January 1978.

The designs of the coins have changed very little since 1879. Among the notable changes were new designs for the 5 franc coins in 1888, 1922, 1924 (minor) and 1931 (mostly just a size reduction). A new design for the bronze coins was used from 1948. Coins depicting a ring of stars (such as the 1 franc coin seen beside this paragraph) were altered from 22 stars to 23 stars in 1983; since the stars represent the Swiss cantons, the design was updated when in 1979 Jura seceded from the Canton of Bern and became the 23rd canton of the Swiss Confederation.

The 10-centime coins from 1879 onwards (except the years 1918–19 and 1932–39) have had the same composition, size and design until 2014 and are still legal tender and found in circulation.

All Swiss coins are language-neutral with respect to Switzerland's four national languages, featuring only numerals, the abbreviation "Fr." for franc, and the Latin phrases Helvetia or Confœderatio Helvetica (depending on the denomination) or the inscription Libertas (Roman goddess of liberty) on the small coins. The name of the artist is present on the coins with the standing Helvetia and the herder.

In addition to these general circulation coins, numerous series of commemorative coins have been issued, as well as silver and gold coins. These coins are no longer legal tender, but can in theory be exchanged at face value at post offices, and at national and cantonal banks, although their metal or collectors' value equals or exceeds their face value.

Circulation

The Swiss franc is the currency and legal tender of Switzerland and Liechtenstein and also legal tender in the Italian exclave Campione d'Italia. Although not formally legal tender in the German exclave Büsingen (the sole legal currency is the euro), it is in wide daily use there. The Swiss franc is the only version of the franc still issued in Europe.

As of March 2010, the total value of released Swiss coins and banknotes was 49.6640 billion Swiss francs.

Combinations of up to 100 circulating Swiss coins (not including special or commemorative coins) are legal tender; banknotes are legal tender for any amount.

Reserve currency

The Swiss franc is used as a reserve currency around the world and is currently ranked rarely 5th or 6th in value held as reserves after the United States dollar, the euro, the Japanese yen, the pound sterling and the Canadian dollar.

References

Swiss franc Wikipedia


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