The shares of local group Medi-Clinic and the world’s largest jewellery maker Richemont, reacted strongly on the news that the Swiss National Bank has decided to stop intervening to hold down the franc against the euro.

In a surprise move on Tuesday night the Swiss National Bank slashed interest rates to minus 0.75%, from minus 0.25% before. It also dropped the cap that had prevented the franc from rising above CHF1.20 to the euro. The euro promptly plunged to CHF0.87.

Medi-Clinic, which derives almost 50% of its income from its hospitals in Switzerland gained almost 7.5% to end the day at R111.50. Richemont, whose depository receipt shares are listed on the JSE, had a volatile day, but ended down just 0.9% at R99.27. It did not fare as well on the Swiss Stock exchange where the shares fell 13% from CFR87 to CFR75.50.

The franc, the world’s favourite safe-haven currency, responded to the bank’s move by gaining 30% on the euro.

This has implications for companies operating in Switzerland. Most Swiss companies derive their income from exports, which means costs have gone up overnight and foreign currency earnings will go down.

In the case of Medi-Clinic the story is a little different. It earns almost 50% of its group revenues in Switzerland itself. These profits are then converted into rands.

In the case of Richemont, the picture is not as pretty.

“Richemont incurs a significant portion of its costs, around 40%, in Switzerland, but only 5% of sales are derived there,” says John Orford, senior portfolio manager at Old Mutual’s Macro Solutions boutique.

This will lower earnings for the 2016 financial year. “Analysts were talking about growth of 20% – this figure will be much lower,” he says.

The shares of other big Swiss-based firms like Swatch, Lindt & Sprungli, Novartis, Roche and Nestle fell between 5.5% and 12% on the news. The Swiss Stock Exchange fell by more than 8%.

“The bank has simply removed a market imbalance. In the short term there will be a hit, but it gets priced into currency and equity markets quite quickly,” Orford says.

However, Adrian Saville, CIO of Cannon Asset Managers questions the longer-term macro-economic impact of the move. “It is hard to understand why the bank lifted the cap so dramatically, given the elevated risk of deflation,” he says. “We have become sensitised to the economic impacts of deflation given what is happening in Japan, Europe and possibly even the US by the middle of this year. Capping the currency, as the bank has done for three years, mitigated the risk of importing deflation.

“This is a veiled call on the euro. It is an absolute mess and come January 25 – the Greek elections – the euro could weaken further if the Greeks opt to exit.”

The Swiss National Bank tried to mitigate the risk of the franc appreciating by carving another 0.5% off interest rates, he adds.

Defending the Swiss franc against a free-falling Euro just became too onerous, says Julian Wentzel, head of cash equities in Europe, at Macquarie Bank.

“This will have implications for the Swiss economy and Swiss stocks. I expect that once the news has been digested the franc will settle down at a lower level [than it is currently].

“What no one is talking about is the impact on depositors,” he says.

It is difficult to get a handle on the extent of Swiss deposits. “It’s billions and billions but people are not willing to admit the extent of their deposits. For various reasons, which include the fact that some of those deposits are illicit, people want to keep their money in Switzerland. I don’t expect to see money flowing out – despite the negative interest rate.”

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