Shoppers walk along the Bahnhofstrasse shopping street in Zurich, Switzerland. Reuters
Swiss consumer price inflation touched a 29-year high of 3.4 per cent in June, more than economists had expected and the first time inflation in Switzerland has topped 3 per cent since 2008.
The reading -- the fifth month in a row that inflation has risen above the Swiss National Bank’s 0-2 per cent target range -- fuelled talk that the central bank could soon tighten policy again after last month hiking its policy rate for the first time in 15 years.
“The Swiss National Bankraised its policy rate from -0.75 per cent to -0.25 per cent in June and we think there is a good chance it will lift it into positive territory before the next scheduled meeting, in September - possibly after the imminent ECB rate rise, on July 21,” analyst David Oxley at Capital Economics wrote to clients.
Prices rose 0.5 per cent versus May as fuel, heating oil and vegetables became more expensive. Prices for salads decreased. Core inflation that strips out volatile items like fuel and food prices rose 1.9 per cent.
Ongoing inflationary pressure means further monetary policy tightening will likely be needed, Swiss National Bank Chairman Thomas Jordan said last month.
“We published a new inflation forecast. If you interpret it correctly, you see that there’s a certain need probably to tighten further,” Jordan told a conference in Zurich.
The SNB has signalled it is prepared to see the Swiss franc strengthen as a way to choke off imported inflation, a departure from the campaign it waged for years to rein in the safe-haven currency whose strength hurts the export-reliant economy.
The franc now trades near parity to the euro and is worth more than one dollar.
Meanwhile Swiss businesses would be first to have energy rationed in the event of supply shortages, Energy Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told the Sonntags Zeitung, warning that the government cannot guarantee there will always be enough gas to go around.
Landlocked Switzerland gets its gas via trading hubs in neighbouring countries in the European Union, so disruptions there would also affect Switzerland.
Switzerland has relatively low demand for gas, which covers around 15 per cent of total energy consumption. Around 42 per cent of gas is used to heat households, and the rest in industry and in the service and transport sectors, according to government data.
However, it is nonetheless reliant on imported oil and gas.
“That is why no one can guarantee that there will always be enough gas for everyone,” Sommaruga told the SonntagsZeitung in comments published on Sunday.
Her remarks came after the Swiss government outlined plans on Wednesday to address a possible shortage of natural gas this winter and said it could resort to rationing should other measures prove insufficient.
In the event of a shortage of both gas and electricity in Switzerland, energy would first be rationed for businesses.
Sommaruga said there would “initially be restrictions for escalators or neon signs, for example”, adding that the government wants to “spare households the longest”.
She urged Switzerland’s regional cantons to invest more in the expansion of solar power, biogas, wind and hydropower.
Wary of supply chain vulnerabilities, climate change and conflicts such as the one in Ukraine, the Swiss government is also considering expanding its emergency food reserves to make sure the country is not hit by shortages of coffee, grain and sugar.
Neighbouring Germany moved last month to stage two of its three-tier emergency gas plan after Russia reduced deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline - a step before the government rations fuel consumption.
Meanwhile Switzerland is set to take a closer look at Swiss-based commodities traders to get more intelligence about a sector that has flourished in a country known for its light-touch approach to regulation.
The issue has come to the fore as the West tries to gauge Russia’s commercial ties and impose sanctions that aim to hamstring Moscow’s economy over its invasion of Ukraine.
The government on Wednesday instructed the economy ministry to look into a new data collection process that could shed light on the sector.
“The aim is to establish a solid foundation of reliable data on Swiss commodity trading that can be compared over time,” it said in a statement.
“It is complex and labour-intensive to expand existing data-collection practices and to collect data regularly; new official data on commodity trading will therefore appear only in the mid- to long term.” The government noted that Switzerland is a major commodity trading hub, but official statistics do not record commodity trading as a separate activity.
Around 900 Swiss-based commodity traders employ more than 10,000 people, but the state can make only rough estimates of the sector’s contribution to the economy, and no specific information is available on the goods they trade.