Switzerland faces steady if slowing growth amidst currency and real estate risks

Switzerland is set for sturdy growth of 2.4% this year and 2.0% in 2019, though further Swiss franc appreciation against the euro remains a risk should investors turn again to the currency to hedge against tensions in global trade and EU politics.

For the updated rating report, click here.

Switzerland’s credit profile reflects its exceptionally strong fundamentals, low levels of debt and sound fiscal management.

Switzerland furthermore benefits from a strong external position, effective financial policy settings and highly developed capital markets, underpinned by the safe-haven status of the Swiss franc.

The Swiss currency however constitutes a potential source of economic uncertainty. The depreciation of the franc against the euro at end-2017, alongside strong external demand, drove the economy’s buoyant growth in the first two quarters of 2018 at 3.2% YoY. In line with the Federal Government’s and IMF’s estimates, Scope expects GDP growth of 2.4% for 2018 due to the continued strong performance of its main trading partners and robust domestic demand, supported by investment and favourable labour market trends, before flattening out to 2.0% in 2019, as the global economy slows down.

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The main risks to future growth stem from international trade tensions and regional political uncertainty, which could create renewed safe-haven pressures on the Swiss franc. This has been amply demonstrated in the past, triggering the SNB’s heavy currency intervention leading to a quadrupling in the size of the central bank’s balance sheet since the financial crisis.

On the domestic front, Swiss banks’ exposure to real estate, with mortgage lending accounting for around 85% of total domestic bank lending, is a source of potential economic instability given elevated household loan-to-income ratios, up 10 percentage points since 2013 to around 50% in 2017. Risks are somewhat mitigated by Swiss households’ ample financial assets, amounting to 370% of GDP.

In addition, while Scope is confident in continuing constructive relations between Switzerland and the EU, also with regards to concluding a new bilateral framework agreement, two key potential strains could emerge, given:

  • First, the right-wing Swiss People’s Party’s collection of more than 100,000 signatures (to be validated by the Federal Chancellery) necessary for a national vote to discontinue the existing free movement agreement with the EU. A similar referendum in 2014 took place, though the Swiss parliament later voted to ensure new legislation conformed with EU rules.
  • Second, the status of the Swiss stock exchange within the EU. In December 2017, the EU granted a one-year stock-market equivalence to Switzerland, while the Federal Council adopted a contingency measure, under which, if no extension is made by December 2018, it would require EU stock exchanges to apply for permission to trade in Switzerland.

Scope currently rates Switzerland at AAA with a Stable Outlook. This publication does not constitute a credit rating action. For the last credit rating action release, click here.