SNB Chairman Jordan sees 'highly valued' franc despite recent fall

ZURICH, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Swiss National Bank Chairman Thomas Jordan said the Swiss franc remains highly valued even as UBS Chairman Axel Weber contended the currency is only slightly above what is warranted.

The Swiss franc spiked after the SNB lifted its cap against the euro in January 2015, but the currency has since pared those gains.

Last year, it lost nearly 9 percent versus the euro, a respite for Swiss exporters hurt by the currency’s surge that made their products much more expensive in their biggest foreign market.

Jordan told state broadcaster SRF in an interview with financial news program ECO Talk -- to be posted on its website at 1330 GMT and aired at 2100 GMT -- it was still too early to signal all clear.

“Since the summer of 2017, the significant overvaluation has been reined in a bit,” Jordan said. “But the franc remains highly valued.”

Weber, president of the German Bundesbank between 2004 and 2011, told the programme the franc has nearly normalised.

“The franc is still slightly overvalued” but moving in the right direction, said Weber.

Despite Switzerland’s negative interest rates, Jordan said the danger of inflation remained distant.

Consequently, raising interest rates to help fulfill the SNB’s price stability mandate is not a pressing need, even as the United States shifts rates higher and the European Central Bank signals a similar direction.

“Swiss inflation is still very low, significantly under 2 percent, actually even under 1 percent,” Jordan said. “There is no need to rush things.”

Jordan also saw no pressure to quickly reduce the SNB’s balance sheet that has been bloated by foreign currency purchases to keep a lid on the franc’s value.

“It makes no sense to reduce the balance sheet, only to later be forced to intervene and then have to loosen up monetary policy again,” he said. “We must move carefully, to be able to predict the effects a balance sheet reduction will have on monetary conditions.”

Even so, UBS’s Weber expects central banks’ balance sheets will be significantly cut over the next decade.

“They’re going to be well under the value where they have been,” he told SRG. “There will be a very slow reduction of these balances, in an orderly fashion.”

Weber expressed scepticism over cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin that have been hit by wild fluctuations of late. UBS has warned customers about the cryptocurrencies on the grounds they lack sustainable value, he said.

Weber expects increasing use of cryptocurrencies among broader groups will demand more regulatory scrutiny, something Jordan said is a hot topic.

“There is an important principle: Similar activities should be similarly regulated,” Jordan said. “And Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have some characteristics of other investment instruments. You can’t, on the one hand, heavily restrict cash and on the other hand permit fully anonymous instruments that to a great extent can be used for all manner of transactions.”

Switzerland has set up a working group to look into oversight of blockchain technology and initial coin offerings and report back to the government by the end of this year.

Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Michael Shields