Desperate Measures

After Bernanke capitulated on the Fed’s responsibility to balance it’s dual mandate and committed to keep ZIRP alive for another 24 months the Swiss Franc exploded in value. It was up 6% in just a few hours. That was the biggest one-day move in 30 years.

The Swiss National Bank is getting desperate. They responded by announcing new emergency measures. They are immediately increasing “sight deposits” by CHF 40B. This is the second increase in a week. The two actions together will increase liquidity in the banking system from CHF 30B to CHF 120b. A 400% increase.

We are confronted with huge numbers every day. What does an increase of CHF 90b really mean? It’s a very big deal. Swiss GDP is about CHF 500b. So the increase in liquidity is equal to 20% of GDP. Now think of US GDP at $15 Trillion. What the Swiss have done in just a week is equivalent to $3 trillion in a big economy like the USA. That is massive.

This is the language from the SNB yesterday:

The massive overvaluation of the Swiss franc poses a threat to the development of the economy in Switzerland and has further increased the downside risks to price stability.

This was the sentence that caught my eye:

To accelerate the increase in Swiss franc liquidity, the SNB will additionally conduct foreign exchange swap transactions. The foreign exchange swap is a monetary policy instrument which the SNB uses to create Swiss franc liquidity.

From this I conclude that not only is the SNB trying to push interest rates to zero, they intend to push the interbank swap rates for Swiss Francs to BELOW ZERO. This is a form of intervention that is intended to discourage speculative holders of SFR. This action by the SNB is working as of this morning. The CHF has backed off against all currency pairs.

One sees the evidence of the monetary intervention in the short date swaps. This morning the Spot Next and Spot a Week roll of CHF to dollars is being priced in the hole. This is the area of the market where speculative holdings of CHF are rolled over. The one week bid offer spread pricing this AM is:

-1.9 / -0.83

Note that both sides of the swap are negative. This implies that CHF interest rates are negative. The left side (the bid side) is the price one has to pay if they were long CHF versus dollars and wanted to hold onto a long position for a week. Some math:

The USDCHF spot rate is .7378. The cost of the one-week roll is .00018. The cost of rolling a long CHF position of 10,000,000 Francs comes to $3,307 per week. That may not seem like a big deal as the dollar equivalent of CHF 10mm is $13,550,000. But that is not how things work in this big casino.

Currency trading is done on very high margin. Many participants can play at the table with only 2% margin. Others have to come up with as much as 5%. What does $3,307 come to when the equity involved is only a fraction of the principal? For the 5% player it comes an annualized cost of holding the position of 23% of equity. For that big shot who plays with only 2% down the rollover cost comes to an annualized penalty of a whopping 63%.

From long experience in this business I can tell you that short-term currency traders HATE negative carry trades. A long CHF position now has a big cost to it. If a trader has a short Dollar/Swiss position of $100mm (a modest currency position for these folks) the cost of holding it is now $25,000 a week. This cost was zero two weeks ago. This squeeze on short date swaps is a very good reason to cut those short dollar positions. That is exactly what has happened so far today. The CHF has backed off (a bit) against all other currency pairs as of this morning. As of today, the SNB has achieved its objective of getting people out of the currency market.

This won’t last for long. There will be another tremble in the market that gets people scrambling for safety. The “go to” trade will still be to buy CHF when that happens. The cost of ownership be damned. What will happen as a result of the liquidity steps is that greater volatility in spot Swissie will occur.

The relative rate of the CHF versus Euros or Dollars is important to the SNB. But even more important is the rate of change. The short date squeeze by the SNB may result in a bit of retrenchment for a few days. But it will almost certainly result in increased volatility.

My take on the actions by the SNB is that they are trying to buy time and create a more orderly adjustment to a stronger CHF. I think the consequences will be that we will have violent intraday adjustments, but over the course of a month the Franc will be stronger anyway. The SNB is trying to buy time as measured in days. To me, that is no plan at all, just a desperate act by a desperate central bank.

How long is the list of Central Banks that are undertaking extreme measures to influence very short-term outcomes? The list is endless. Virtually every CB in the world is doing it today. As a result, extremely high volatility across all markets will prevail. Squeezing short dates often has a negative affect. Something always blows up as a result. Yet every central bank is attempting essentially the same thing. They are trying to buy time. They are the source of the volatility we are living through.

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About Bruce Krasting 208 Articles

Bruce worked on Wall Street for twenty five years, he has been writing for the professional press for the last five years and has been on the Fox Business channel several times as a guest describing his written work.

From 1990-1995 he ran a private hedge fund in Greenwich Ct. called Falconer Limited. Investments were driven by macro developments. He closed the fund and retired in 1995. Bruce also been employed by Drexel Burnham Lambert, Citicorp, Credit Suisse and Irving Trust Corp.

Bruce holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Ithaca College and currently lives in Westchester, NY.

Visit: Bruce Krasting's Blog

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