What’s Up with the S&P-SNB Drama Over the Euro Zone?

Unlike most dramas, this one didn’t begin with a love triangle. Rather, it was a report that started it all.

Earlier this week, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) published a paper, claiming that the Swiss National Bank (SNB) had bought 80 billion EUR of core euro zone bonds over the past few months. This, according to S&P, resulted in an unstable bond market and caused the gap in euro zone bond spreads to widen.

True enough, during this time, we did see yields on the most liquid euro zone sovereign debts (that of Austria, Finland, France, Germany, and the Netherlands) drop to the floor. Heck, the yields of some of these debts even fell into negative territory! And at the other end of the spectrum, Italian and Spanish bonds suffered from weak demand and high yields during this period.

But why is the S&P blaming the SNB for aggravating the euro zone’s debt crisis?

It’s a well-known fact that the SNB has had to deal with a strong influx of money flowing into Switzerland in recent months. This is partly because Swiss citizens have been bringing home their dough to protect themselves from the shaky global economy, but it’s mostly because of the Swiss franc’s safe haven appeal, which has drawn capital from Italy, Spain, and Greece.

So how does the central bank respond to the flood of money into Switzerland and defend its EUR/CHF floor at 1.2000? By buying euro zone bonds! Which ones? Most likely those that it deems the most secure and liquid in the region.

Since the SNB will want to protect its holdings, it’s unlikely that it will settle for “higher-risk” bonds such as those from the PIIGS. It’s only common sense, right?

It’s for this reason that S&P suspects that the Swiss central bank has been loading up on bonds of more stable euro zone economies. Unfortunately, such acts effectively drive capital from the weaker economies to the stronger ones, resulting in wider gaps in bond yields.

In a move that would shame the Kardashians’ flare for drama, the SNB actually responded to the S&P’s claims. In its e-mailed statement, the central bank basically said, “You can’t prove anything! These are nothing but lies! Do your homework, kiddos.”

First, the SNB attacked the S&P report for ignoring the central bank’s large increase in deposits with other central banks. Then, it went further to say that the S&P’s report contains a “fundamental error,” and that the conclusion that the SNB had bought 80 billion EUR this year through July is “unfounded.” I don’t know about you, but this is worthy of a Jerry Springer episode right here!

But before you cook some popcorn and tune in to the SNB-S&P drama, you should remember that the burden of proof doesn’t lie with the SNB. Whether or not the S&P’s accusations are true, the central bank is technically just doing its job and is still acting within its power.

Still, the issue DOES raise a couple of questions. If the S&P’s claims are true, then is the SNB really prolonging the euro zone crisis? More importantly, are the SNB’s activities harmful enough to warrant intervention from the euro zone leaders?

  • Sebastian

    80 Billion is not close what just Italy an Spain owe each other. A drop in the bucket!