ZURICH, Jan 11 (Reuters) - The Swiss National Bank should consider easing its three-year-cap on the franc before Switzerland becomes too reliant on what was conceived as only a temporary measure, a former advisor to the central bank said in a newspaper interview on Sunday.
The comments from Ernst Baltensperger represent the first time an economist of his caliber has criticised the central bank’s cap on the franc of 1.20 versus the euro, which the Swiss have so far been largely in favour of.
The cap has shielded the Swiss economy from fallout of the euro zone crisis and protected exporters, but it has also severely bloated the SNB’s reserves because the central bank has had to intervene in currency markets to defend the franc.
The central bank now faces a renewed challenge of keeping the franc down as the euro zone grapples with talk of a possible exit by Greece and the single currency slides to lows against the dollar.
Ernst Baltensperger told the weekly Neue Zuercher Zeitung am Sonntag that the cap was conceived as a temporary emergency measure and that three years on, it should be adjusted.
Any changes to the cap were likely to become more politically contentious over time, as complacency sets in. Also, the SNB may struggle to offload the euros it bought to defend the cap, he said.
The central bank could replace its cap against the euro with one linked to a basket of euro and U.S. dollar, the economist suggested.
“One could replace the current cap with one for a basket of currencies, for example made up of half euro and half U.S. dollar,” Baltensperger was quoted as saying.
The franc would thus be able to appreciate against the euro, but only as much as the dollar appreciated against the franc, said Baltensperger.
“This would enable an easing of a solely euro-focused monetary policy, without making the franc overly attractive internationally,” Baltensperger said.
The SNB was not immediately available for comment.
Last month, the central bank said it would start charging banks for deposits in francs for the first time since the 1970s, an additional measure aimed at stemming a flight to the safe-haven currency. (Reporting By Katharina Bart; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)