UPDATE 1-SNB expects FY profit as franc cap helps FX result

Fri Jan 13, 2012 2:12am EST

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* Swiss cbank expects 13 bln Sfr 2011 profit

* Value of FX and gold holdings rise

* SNB sharply criticised for huge loss last year

* Profit comes as search launched for new SNB chief (Adds quote, details, background)

By Catherine Bosley

ZURICH, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The Swiss National Bank expects to swing to a profit in 2011, helped by its foreign currency positions and by a rise in the value of its gold holdings, a boon to its credibility and reinforcing its ability to defend its cap on the Swiss franc.

The SNB expects a 2011 profit of 13 billion Swiss francs ($13.7 billion), preliminary data provided by the SNB on Friday showed.

It said the stabilisation fund of toxic assets from UBS would likely make the consolidated 2011 result somewhat higher.

In 2011, the value of the SNB's gold holdings climbed by 5 billion francs, while forex positions boosted the bottom line by some 8 billion francs. That compares to a 26 billion franc loss on its forex holdings in 2010.

The figures come just days after Chairman Phillip Hildebrand stepped down after doubts emerged about earlier claims not to have known about a big dollar trade made by his wife weeks before the SNB set a cap on the franc on Sept. 6.

Hildebrand's political adversary Christoph Blocher, mastermind of the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), was involved in the leak of Hildebrand's private bank account details.

After the SNB posted a 21 billion franc loss last year -- its biggest ever -- due to currency interventions to weaken the franc, Blocher repeatedly called on Hildebrand to resign.

Although officials have expressed their confidence in interim head Thomas Jordan, Hildebrand's departure and the lack of a permanent central bank governor is seen as leaving the SNB in a less solid position to defend the cap on the currency.

The annual profit may well offset some of that weakness, analysts said.

"Their action in the franc has proved a success," said Informa Global Markets analyst Tony Nyman. "The bank has managed to keep Eur/Chf above 1.20 in recent months and now it has the ability to contribute to the cantons."

"Sure it helps (credibility), but then again post Hildebrand we think Jordan will manage a smooth transition anyway," Nyman also said.

Switzerland's 26 cantons (states) are the central bank's biggest shareholders, and the huge loss last year meant they might have to forego their annual dividend.

Yet the SNB said on Friday it will distribute a total of 1 billion francs to the cantons and the federal government. ($1 = 0.9460 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Catherine Bosley; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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