The Swiss National Bank will strike a cautious note and keep interest rates at zero on Thursday, as signs of a slowdown mount and the euro zone debt crisis churns on, yet it is not expected to announce a shift of its franc cap of 1.20 per euro.
The SNB, which capped the franc on September 6 after it rose nearly 20 percent in just a few months, will announce the outcome of a regular policy review along with growth and inflation forecasts at 8:30 a.m. British time. That will be followed by a news conference with Chairman Philipp Hildebrand and his two deputies.
Signs of a slowdown in Switzerland are mounting: exports have begun to sag, third-quarter growth was the softest since 2009 and inflation has turned negative. This has led to calls from labour unions and politicians for the SNB to shift the cap to 1.30 or 1.40 to shield the economy.
According to a Reuters poll, the SNB is not likely to shift its cap on Thursday. Yet it may do so in coming months as the euro zone debt crisis, which sent investors flocking to the safe-haven franc, continues to fester.
We suspect that there will be no change in the euro/Swiss 'floor', said Swissquote analyst Peter Rosenstreich. We do believe that in the first quarter we will get an upwards adjustment to 1.2500 and, potentially, but less likely 1.3000.
The Swiss government cut its growth and inflation outlook for next year as the strong franc and waning growth elsewhere in Europe dampen exports.
The SNB is likely to strike a similar note. It is expected to forecast growth of 0.5 percent for next year, with inflation of -0.5 percent for 2012, the poll found.
SNB policymakers have been on a mission to talk down the franc and keep markets guessing on what their next step may be. They will likely pursue the same strategy on Thursday.
The SNB will make it clear that the severity of the European credit crisis has had significant negative implications for price stability in Switzerland. They will also stress that they are ready to do more should conditions deteriorate further, Rosenstreich said.
On the rates front, all 36 economists polled between December 8 and 13 expect the SNB to keep its target for the 3-month Swiss franc LIBOR unchanged at zero on Thursday.
On average the economists believe the SNB will keep its benchmark rate target at nil into 2013, the poll found.
(Editing by Stephen Nisbet)