Tag Archives: Switzerland

Switzerland Peps Up SMEs

How Switzerland peps up SMEs: Banks are encouraged to extend credit (at 0%). The treasury guarantees the loans. The SNB refinances banks and accepts the guaranteed loans as collateral. Fast and efficient. Eventually, some of these loans will turn into grants of course. But that’s ok; the first-best response to a shock with asymmetric effects does involve transfers if markets are incomplete.

“Die SNB schuldet den Pensionskassen nichts (Nothing the SNB Owes to Pension Funds),” NZZ, 2019

NZZ, March 13, 2019. PDF. Updated: Ökonomenstimme, March 22, 2019. HTML.

  • Long-term real interest rates do not reflect monetary policy.
  • In the recent past, monetary policy has contributed to lower fixed-income interest rates but also to higher returns on other asset classes.
  • Complaining about low rates but not adjusting one’s portfolio makes little sense; there is no “financial repression.”
  • If politicians want to subsidize pension funds they should contribute funds from the government budget rather than asking the central bank to contribute.
  • Larger and earlier SNB dividend payouts to the government may not be in the government’s interest.

Swiss-German Media Quality

Two recent articles critically reflect on the quality of journalism in German speaking news, specifically in Switzerland. In the NZZ, Stephan Russ-Mohl reports about a study according to which in Switzerland, only 42 professors out of a sample of 1100 are regularly interviewed; they provide about half of the publicized statements. (In total, there are about 5500 professors in Switzerland.)

Eine Vielfalt wissenschaftlicher Stimmen gibt es in der Medienarena nicht: Von den 1100 der rund 5500 Professoren in der Schweiz, welche die Zürcher Forscher in ihrer Stichprobe erfasst haben, sind es ganze 42, die regelmässig von den Medien als Experten befragt werden und rund 50 Prozent aller Statements bestreiten. Die drei meistzitierten Medienstars der Schweizer Forscher sind Michael Hengartner (Molekularbiologe und Rektor der Universität Zürich), Michael Ambühl (Experte für Verhandlungsführung und Konfliktmanagement, ETH Zürich) und Kathrin Altwegg (Astrophysikerin, Universität Bern). Die meistgenannten Forschungsinstitutionen sind die Universität St. Gallen und das Hochschulinstitut für internationale Studien und Entwicklung in Genf.

In the NZZaS (other link), columnist Beat Kappeler explains that he has found it a waste of time to follow Swiss German radio, TV, or newspapers other than the NZZ. He argues that most German speaking news outlets lag the Financial Times and other Anglo-Saxon media by months or even years.

Ich habe bewusst in den letzten 40 Jahren nie TV geschaut, nie das deutschsprachige Schweizer Radio gehört, keine Deutschschweizer Presse gelesen ausser der NZZ …

[weil die angelsächsischen Quellen] mindestens drei Monate oder drei Jahre [voraus sind] …

Ihre Medien sind interessanter, kreativer und oft unkonventioneller. Die vielgekauten Themen Deutschlands und oft auch der deutschen Schweiz sagen mir nicht zu.

Negative Value Added of Switzerland’s Agricultural Sector

Farmers in Switzerland receive about CHF 2.7 billion in direct financial support annually. Total financial support by the federal and cantonal governments equals more than CHF 4 billion. But according to a report published by Zurich based think tank Avenir Suisse, this financial support constitutes just a minor part of the transfers from society at large to farmers, due to explicit and implicit subsidies, privileges, and—most importantly—negative externalities.

A list of privileges compiled by Avenir Suisse.

Avenir Suisse estimates the value added of Swiss agriculture to be hugely negative.

Die heutige Schweizer Landwirtschaft resultiert in einer negativen Wertschöpfung von minus 15,8 Mrd. Fr. pro Jahr. Damit kostet sie uns umgerechnet rund 1,8 Mio. Fr. pro Stunde.

In the NZZ, Nicole Rütti reports.

U.S. Tax Enforcement and Offshore Accounts

In an NBER working paper, Niels Johannesen, Patrick Langetieg, Daniel Reck, Max Risch, and Joel Slemrod discuss the effects of recent U.S. tax enforcement initiatives on tax compliance. They offer background information about U.S. initiatives since 2009 and conclude, based on administrative microdata, that

[e]nforcement caused approximately 60,000 individuals to disclose offshore accounts with a combined value of around $120 billion. Most disclosures happened outside offshore voluntary disclosure programs by individuals who never admitted prior noncompliance. The disclosed accounts were concentrated in countries whose institutions facilitate tax evasion. The enforcement-driven disclosures increased annual reported capital income by $2.5-$4 billion corresponding to $0.7-$1.0 billion in additional tax revenue.

Inequality in Switzerland

In a paper, Reto Föllmi and Isabel Martínez document trends in income and wealth inequality in Switzerland over the last 100 years.

Daniel Hug reports in the NZZaS (figures below taken from NZZaS).

Data (World Wealth and Income Database, based on tax records).

Some findings:

  • Income inequality has been rather stable and is modest …
  • … although social mobility as reflected in educational attainment is low.
  • Income inequality at the very top has increased.
  • The top 1% of income recipients earn at least CHF 300 000 annually (net income before tax), the top 0.01% at least CHF 4 million.
  • Wealth is distributed much more unequally. The top 1% own roughly 40%, slightly more than in the United States and twice as much as in France and the UK.
  • The wealth distribution is more equal if retirement savings in the second and third pillar are accounted for. PAYG funded pensions (first pillar) also contribute towards reducing inequality after taxes and transfers, much more so than taxes.

Swiss Perfectionism

In Der Bund, Adrian Sulc comments on the Swiss National Bank’s perfectionism.

Keine andere Schweizer Organisation kommuniziert so professionell wie die SNB, keine andere Organisation kann so gut dichthalten.

Perfectionism is costly.

Der Personalbestand ist in den letzten fünf Jahren um 18 Prozent auf 795 Vollzeitstellen gestiegen. … Die durchschnittlichen Lohnkosten pro Mitarbeiter betragen mittlerweile 155 000 Franken pro Jahr. Dies weil gemäss Nationalbank fast ausschliesslich Spezialisten aus Wirtschaft und IT eingestellt wurden.

“Die Vollgeld-Initiative und eine Alternative (The Swiss Sovereign Money Initiative, and an Alternative),” SNB, 2017

In: Thomas Moser, Carlos Lenz, Marcel Savioz and Dirk Niepelt, editorial committee, Monetary Economic Issues Today, Festschrift in Honour of Ernst Baltensperger, Swiss National Bank/Orell Füssli, Zürich, June 2017. PDF of draft.

The sovereign money initiative (Vollgeldinitiative) seeks to gain greater control over the money and credit supply, to increase financial stability and to achieve a fairer distribution of seigniorage income. The initiative’s suggested approach – a ban on active money creation – is inefficient and may even prove ineffective, as it fails to address the core problems. A variant of the initiative, which would allow the public access to electronic central bank money on a voluntary basis, would offer greater benefit at lower cost.

The Swiss Phillips Curve

On VoxEU, Stefan Gerlach reviews the case for tilting Phillips curves in Switzerland.

Previous research had suggested that the Swiss Phillips curve had steepened in the second half of the 20th century. Gerlach estimates a Phillips curve model that includes lagged inflation, an output gap measure, and a measure of import price inflation. His model suggests several structural breaks:

The first structural break occurs in 1936-37. The estimated Phillips curves indicate that inflation became much more inertial, as evidenced by the fact that the parameter on lagged inflation more than doubled.

The second break occurs in 1970-71 … While the sensitivity of inflation to the output gap essentially doubles, other parameters are broadly unchanged. This impies that the Phillips curve steepened sharply in the 1970s.

The third break occurs in 1993-94 … The parameter on the output gap falls to zero and becomes insignificant. The parameter on lagged inflation also falls sharply and loses significance. This implies that between 1994 and 2015 inflation in Switzerland was insensitive to the output gap and displayed little persistence, and seems to have fluctuated only in response to changes in import prices.

Tax Evasion and Wealth Inequality

The Economist reports about a study by Annette Alstadsæter, Niels Johannesen and Gabriel Zucman who matched leaked information from Swiss banks and Panamanian shell companies with Scandinavian wealth records. Their findings:

  • Tax evasion is progressive. The average / top 1% / top 0.01% Scandinavian household paid 3% / 10% / 30% fewer taxes than it should.
  • Accordingly, estimates of wealth inequality (based on tax data) likely underestimate the degree of inequality.

UBS Business Solutions AG

In the NZZ, Hansueli Schöchli reports about further steps by UBS, the Swiss bank, to prepare for the next financial crisis. In the future, a legally independent service unit—UBS Business Solutions AG—provides other business units with critical internal services, including payments, trading systems as well as legal services. A “Master Service Agreement” specifies that the service unit remains operative even if other business units fail.

Die UBS vollzieht nun einen weiteren Schritt. Sie überträgt dieser Tage die konzerninternen Dienstleistungen für das Schweizer Geschäft in die rechtlich selbständige Dienstleistungseinheit UBS Business Solutions AG. Übertragen werden damit im Inland rund 8000 Mitarbeiter. Weltweit soll diese Service-Einheit bis Ende Jahr etwa 18 000 Beschäftigte umfassen. Zu den betroffenen internen Dienstleistungen zählen unter anderem Informatik, Zahlungsverkehr, Handelssysteme, Risikomanagement, Rechtsdienst, Personal und Marketing. Hauptzweck der Übung: Auch wenn Teile des Konzerns in den Konkurs schlittern, sollen kritische Dienstleistungen weiterhin sichergestellt sein. «Dies ist eine Lehre aus der Pleite von Lehman», sagt Markus Ronner, Chef Notfallplanung bei der UBS.

Ein globales «Master Service Agreement» regelt die Service-Lieferungen gegenüber gut 130 UBS-Gesellschaften. Nebst Preisen und Qualitätserfordernissen ist dabei auch geregelt, dass die Service-Einheit im Fall des Konkurses eines Konzernteils ihre Dienstleistungen gegen Bezahlung noch mindestens zwei Jahre lang weiterführen muss. Wenn interne Kunden zahlungsunfähig werden, muss die Service-Gesellschaft genügend Liquidität haben, um in einer Übergangszeit ihre Dienste aufrechterhalten zu können; die Rede ist von sechs Monaten als Referenzmarke.

Effects of Climate Change for Switzerland

In the NZZ, Christian Speicher summarizes expected consequences of climate change for Switzerland by 2050–2060.

  • Mean temperatures exceed the 1980–2009 average by 1.6–2.9 degrees Celsius.
  • The temperature increase is more pronounced in Summer than in Winter. But ski resorts below 2000m are no longer competitive.
  • Less precipitation in Summer, maybe more in Winter.
  • More extreme weather events.
  • Increased need for water storage and conservation.


Fintech Regulation in Switzerland: Open Questions

In the NZZ, Jürg Müller reports about the developing regulatory framework for fintechs in Switzerland. A proposal by the federal finance department drew—reasonable—criticism by various lobbies and industry associations, including the CFA Society Switzerland.

Die CFA Society Switzerland will das systemrelevante Bankensystem von anderen Finanzdienstleistern trennen. Dafür sei eine präzisere Bankendefinition nötig, als sie heute vorgenommen werde. Nur Banken sollen demnach dem Bankengesetz unterstehen. Finanzdienstleister, die kein traditionelles Bankengeschäft betreiben und keine Liquiditätsrisiken eingehen, sollen einem anderen Regulierungsmodell unterstehen. Dabei sollen je nach Tätigkeit unterschiedliche funktionale Lizenzen zum Zuge kommen – dieser letzte Punkt wird von vielen Vernehmlassungsteilnehmern ebenfalls eingefordert.

Schliesslich identifiziert die CFA Society Switzerland auch zentrale Fintech-Themen, die in der Vernehmlassung aussen vor gelassen wurden. Eine dieser Lücken sei der direkte Zugang zur Schweizerischen Nationalbank (SNB). Aus heutiger Sicht sei nicht ersichtlich, weshalb nur Banken elektronisches Zentralbankgeld halten dürften. Auf Anfrage wollte die SNB zu dieser Forderung keine Stellung nehmen. Andere Zentralbanken wie die Bank of England zeigen sich solchen Ideen gegenüber derweil aufgeschlossen. Auch einzelne Schweizer Ökonomen wie beispielsweise Dirk Niepelt stehen allgemein zugänglichem elektronischem Notenbankgeld positiv gegenüber.

Link to my article mentioned above.