Switzerland: the Safe Investment that Isn't?

Economic conservatives often fret that loose monetary policy (low interest rates), like that seen in the US, Japan, the UK, and, to a certain extent, the eurozone, can be dangerous as it causes bubbles as investors seek higher returns in more risky assets elsewhere. It's been hard to see any bubbles in the economies mentioned, however, as they continue to stagnate and have difficulty digesting debt and uncertainty.

For a while, it seemed that stocks in emerging markets as well as global commodities might be the bubble. Emerging economies have cooled, however, and this has caused commodity prices to come down as well. The relaxed pace of both means that neither seems to have been a bubble in hindsight.

Well, I have a bubble prospect: Switzerland. The central bank in Switzerland has set its interest rate to between 0 and 0.25% (just like America). At the same time, I recently read that rents for shops on one of Zurich's main shopping streets have tripled over the past few years (real estate prices in the US have trended downwards, though there's been some pickup as late). This one anecdote is far too little information to spot a general real estate boom or bubble, of course, though a quick check of an online resource suggests that Swiss house prices are rising significantly faster than inflation. In addition, the currency is riding high as money floods into Switzerland seeking safety. Apparently not all that money has stayed in bank accounts but is instead flowing into investments within the country. The danger is that, when things finally calm down, the capital flow will reverse and the Swiss franc will lose value quickly.

Whether this will damage the economy on the whole is harder to say, as it will depend on whether exporters are able to survive the high currency value to then get a boost from a falling one and whether the economy turns to rely too heavily on consumption and imports during the current inflow boom. I wouldn't put my money there, though.


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