As U.S. equity markets continue to experience low volume levels and extreme uncertainty, investors have sought the security of the market’s safe havens such as gold and silver in order to protect themselves from ongoing weakness in developed markets. Some have even taken up currency ETFs as a way to play markets with lower levels of risk than equities or bonds. Arguably, one of the world’s safest currencies is the Swiss franc which has had seen a long history of low inflation, stable governments, and a comparatively large holding of gold bullion to back up the currency.
This reputation has caused the franc to rise to near parity against the dollar and as the euro has fallen in value it has pushed the franc up to uncomfortably high levels against the common currency which are now approaching .80 euros. This is not unlike the situation in Asia in which the yen approached an extremely high level against the dollar, hurting a variety of multinational companies based in the island nation. Since Japan decided to intervene in the markets to try and stem the yen’s rise, many are growing increasingly worried that the Swiss bank will follow suit and try to send their currency lower against both the euro and the dollar.
This interventionist policy will likely be again under the microscope during today’s trading session as the Swiss National Bank meets to give its decision on rates. Analysts are widely predicting that the bank will keep the rates steady at just 0.25% with only a five percent chance of the bank hiking rates to 0.50%. Due to this, the focus of the meeting is likely to be the bank’s comments on currency intervention and inflation forecasts which both have the potential to move the markets later today. “Following the Japanese interventions overnight, we are concerned that the Swiss National Bank might also view the trade-weighted level of the Swiss franc as being too strong,” analysts led by Stephen Hull in London said in an investor note today. “While the fundamentals in Switzerland are still very good, we think that the risk/reward has deteriorated.”
One ETF that is likely to be in focus given the central bank meeting is the Rydex CurrencyShares Swiss Franc Trust (NYSEARCA:FXF) which tracks the price of the Swiss franc relative to the U.S. dollar. The fund currently has close to $400 million in assets under management and has adequate liquidity levels approaching 83,000 shares a day. Furthermore, the fund experienced above-average volume (close to 93,000 shares) during yesterday’s session so a high volume day seems likely in Thursday trading as well.
FXF charges an expense ratio of 40 basis points and has soared over the summer posting a gain of 12.6% over the past 13 weeks. However, now that the Bank of Japan has intervened in the currency markets, the Swiss central bank seems as the most likely major market candidate to sell their home currency in an attempt to bring down the exchange rate which could help to erase much of FXF’s recent gains. No matter what the central bank announces today look for FXF to remain in focus and be a key ETF to watch throughout today’s trading session.
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Disclosure: No positions at time of writing.
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