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SNB hikes Swiss inflation view but policy to stay ultra-loose

06/17/2021 | 03:42am EDT
 The Swiss National Bank (SNB) logo is pictured on its building in Bern

* Central Bank keeps base rate at record low -0.75%

* Hikes 2021 GDP view, says Swiss franc still highly valued

* New inflation forecast no reason to change course - chair

* U.S. Fed brought forward rate hike timetable on Weds

BERN, June 17 (Reuters) - The Swiss National Bank on Thursday signaled monetary policy would stay ultra-loose for the foreseeable future, saying projected higher inflation was no reason to change course a day after the timetable for U.S. rate hikes moved forward.

The SNB followed the European Central Bank and the U.S. Federal Reserve in raising its inflation forecasts.

But, as it kept the world's lowest policy rate locked down at -0.75%, the SNB also said it remained ready to intervene to weaken a highly valued Swiss franc and predicted the country's economy would recover faster than expected this year from the effects of COVID-19.

Economists in a Reuters poll had unanimously forecast no change to the policy rate or to the rate the SNB charges commercial banks on some deposits they park overnight, which it also left at -0.75%.

The U.S. Fed on Wednesday signaled that broad changes in its policy may happen sooner than expected when officials moved their first projected rate increases from 2024 into 2023.

But the SNB's forecast for Swiss inflation of 0.4% for 2021 - up from the previous 0.2% - rising to 0.6% in both 2022 and 2023 did not justify a change of course, said SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan.

"In Switzerland, interest rates and inflation remain low by international comparison," he told a news conference in Bern. "Survey data show an expected inflation rate of around 1% for the long term.

"Against the backdrop of production capacity not yet being fully utilized and our moderate inflation forecast, our expansionary monetary policy remains appropriate."

STRONG FRANC

Inflation would have to rise substantially more - above the SNB's target range of 0 to 2% - before it would look to hike rates. "We still have a highly valued Swiss franc that is holding down inflation, that is a big difference with many other countries," Jordan added.

The 1% inflation forecast did not change the SNB policy outlook for either 2022 or 2023, said Thomas Stucki, chief investment officer at St Galler Kantonalbank.

"As long as the Fed does not start to raise its interest rate, nothing will happen at the SNB. That means: a couple of more years with negative interest rates."

The fact the SNB had forecast similar inflation rates in 2022 and 2023 "is a clear sign that it sees the current surge in inflation just as transitory," said Alessandro Bee, an economist at UBS.

The SNB continued to describe the franc as highly valued and said it remained ready to intervene in forex markets as necessary.

The currency has regained strength in recent weeks as other central banks kept their interest rates low. After the announcement it traded at 1.092 versus the euro, weakening slightly from 1.0904 just before.

The SNB said it was also more confident about the prospects for the Swiss economy as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. It now expects GDP to grow 3.5% this year, up from its previous forecast for a growth rate of 2.5% to 3%. (Reporting by John Revill; Editing by John Miller and John Stonestreet)


© Reuters 2021
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