Abstract

The international money market transactions of Swiss banks serve partly as a substitute for a domestic money market and partly as a connection between the various segments of domestic and international financial transactions, including the Euro-Swiss franc market. The domestic money market is characterized by its thinness in terms of limited money market instruments and few participants. The lack of a developed money market is mainly attributable to fiscal impediments, especially the stamp duty, which amounts to 0.15 or 0.30 percent—independent of maturity—depending on whether the debtor is a resident or a nonresident.19 This is a prime reason for the lack of short-term instruments and for the fact that existing paper is often held to maturity. The existence of the stamp duty is also one of the reasons why less than 15 percent of the marketable debt of the Federal Government consists of short-term liabilities; there is no market for treasury bills as in many other countries. In addition, Swiss banks have not issued certificates of deposits to attract funds, in part because of resistance in the past from the Swiss National Bank which has feared that this instrument would compete with savings deposits with low interest, thereby raising the overall level of banks’ costs. Furthermore, Swiss industry has covered its short-term financing needs through bank credits rather than through commercial paper. Finally, export and import financing have normally not been associated with issuance of bankers’ acceptances, partly due to the stamp duty but also in order to protect customer relationships.20

Short-Term Transactions

Money Market Transactions

The international money market transactions of Swiss banks serve partly as a substitute for a domestic money market and partly as a connection between the various segments of domestic and international financial transactions, including the Euro-Swiss franc market. The domestic money market is characterized by its thinness in terms of limited money market instruments and few participants. The lack of a developed money market is mainly attributable to fiscal impediments, especially the stamp duty, which amounts to 0.15 or 0.30 percent—independent of maturity—depending on whether the debtor is a resident or a nonresident.19 This is a prime reason for the lack of short-term instruments and for the fact that existing paper is often held to maturity. The existence of the stamp duty is also one of the reasons why less than 15 percent of the marketable debt of the Federal Government consists of short-term liabilities; there is no market for treasury bills as in many other countries. In addition, Swiss banks have not issued certificates of deposits to attract funds, in part because of resistance in the past from the Swiss National Bank which has feared that this instrument would compete with savings deposits with low interest, thereby raising the overall level of banks’ costs. Furthermore, Swiss industry has covered its short-term financing needs through bank credits rather than through commercial paper. Finally, export and import financing have normally not been associated with issuance of bankers’ acceptances, partly due to the stamp duty but also in order to protect customer relationships.20

In the absence of domestic short-term paper, Swiss banks have invested surplus funds abroad. The bulk of their interbank transactions is with foreign banks (78 percent of assets and 53 percent of liabilities, at the end of 1984). The smaller Swiss banks typically adjust their liquidity position through the big banks which, together with foreign banks in Switzerland, are the main transactors in the international money market.

Fiduciary Accounts

Fiduciary accounts constitute an increasingly important element of short-term transactions of Swiss banks and especially of external transactions.21 They accounted for 24 percent of total assets and fiduciary assets (domestic and external) and for 44 percent of total external assets and external fiduciary assets at the end of 1984. They emerged during the 1960s at the same time as international banking picked up. They grew particularly rapidly after the second oil price rise with the emergence of sizable funds from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). In the period between the end of 1979 and the end of 1984, foreign fiduciary assets grew by 24 percent a year in Swiss franc terms, compared with 14 percent a year of banks’ external assets.

Fiduciary accounts are off-balance-sheet deposits and loans of a bank for the account of, and at the risk of, the customer with respect to the currency, transfer, and credit risk. To qualify for preferential fiscal status (exemption from withholding tax), a written contract between the bank and the customer has to exist. The maturity of deposits is normally from one to three months, but, in practice, the deposits are often rolled over so that they resemble medium-term placements. The banks perform no maturity or currency transformation but act solely as intermediaries, especially in the international money market. Notwithstanding the fact that the customer carries the full risk of a fiduciary transaction, the customer does not always know where the funds are placed. Equally, if the funds are placed with a foreign bank that bank is usually not aware of the underlying fiduciary transaction but considers it a normal transaction with a Swiss bank.

Fiduciary accounts are mainly denominated in foreign currencies (especially U.S. dollars), and most customers are nonresidents, although Swiss residents are free to hold fiduciary assets (also without withholding tax) and receive fiduciary loans. At the end of 1984, 90 percent of all fiduciary accounts were denominated in foreign currencies (68 percent in U.S. dollars) and the remainder in Swiss francs. At the same time, 84 percent of banks’ fiduciary liabilities and 99 percent of their fiduciary assets were against nonresidents.

The advantages of fiduciary deposits for the customer are (1) the exemption from the 35 percent withholding tax which applies to domestic deposits, (2) a small bank fee, (3) the discrete character of fiduciary operations compared with a direct placement in the international money market, and (4) the higher return available on Eurodeposits compared with domestic deposits. These benefits, however, have to be weighed against the risk associated with a fiduciary account compared with a bank deposit. The risks are twofold: the depositor has the full risk associated with the bank where the fiduciary deposits are redeposited abroad. In addition, the depositor has the risk with the Swiss bank where the deposit is placed, because the foreign bank which holds a liability against a Swiss bank does not distinguish the liability from any other against that bank and therefore might use it to cover outstanding claims against the Swiss bank should the Swiss bank default. For the Swiss banks, the advantages of fiduciary accounts are (1) a commission of 0.25–0.5 percent a year, (2) no risks and, consequently, (3) no liquidity or capital requirements.

From an economic point of view, the fiduciary business is close to other bank transactions, where the banks act as pure intermediaries. They affect capital movements in the same way as other bank transactions. If the Swiss banks act solely as intermediaries between two nonresidents, no net capital movements take place in Switzerland. In practice, however, Swiss residents have been providing funds for fiduciary lending to nonresidents, giving rise to capital outflows, cumulating to SwF 34 billion at the end of 1984. For the Swiss economy as a whole, the fiduciary business results in current receipts (commissions) from abroad amounting to SwF ½–1 billion a year (¼–½ of 1 percent of gross national product) (estimated by the Fund staff on the basis of outstanding fiduciary accounts at the end of 1984). To the extent that only nonresidents are involved, the fiduciary transactions imply no risk to the Swiss economy. The legal issues involved, however, are rather complex. Suppose, for instance, that Swiss banks although not legally obliged are de facto willing to cover a default connected to placements abroad. In this case, fiduciary transactions should be included in liquidity and capital requirements. There is no disclosed information about any default of a fiduciary business and the Swiss banks’ response to it. Another issue which has been relevant in recent years is the treatment of fiduciary business in negotiations about “new money” to debtor countries. Swiss banks have argued that fiduciary accounts should not be included in calculations of the Swiss banks’ share in package deals, despite the fact that to foreign banks there is no difference between a balance sheet transaction and a fiduciary transaction of a Swiss bank.

Medium-Term and Long-Term Transactions

General Characteristics

The comparative advantage of Swiss financial markets in international transactions has traditionally been in medium-term and long-term operations, particularly public bond and note issues.22 The importance of Swiss markets derives, in part, from the substantial placing power of Swiss banks both with private and institutional Swiss investors associated with the high domestic savings ratio and with foreigners who rely on Swiss banks for portfolio management. For borrowers, the low nominal interest rate on Swiss franc issues, compared with issues in U.S. dollars, deutsche mark, Netherlands guilders, and pounds sterling, has also been attractive, although the exchange rate appreciation of the Swiss franc wiped out any interest rate advantage during the 1970s. A low nominal interest rate for an appreciating currency might be attractive to a borrower compared with a high nominal interest rate for a currency with a tendency to depreciate because of the reduced liquidity requirement, insofar as the appreciation of the currency is reflected in payments—other than interest—only at the time of redemption of the loan. In this respect, it resembles an indexed liability.

Bond issues denominated in Swiss francs form a significant proportion of the international bond market. In 1985, they accounted for 48 percent of all recorded foreign bond issues in the world, making Swiss francs the most important currency of denomination for these issues (Table 2). The share of Swiss franc issues in total international bonds, which comprise both foreign bonds and Eurobonds, amounted to 9 percent in 1985 with the Swiss franc being the second most important currency of denomination after the U.S. dollar, which accounted for 60½ percent of international bond issues. It was followed by the yen, accounting for 8 percent of total issues, and the deutsche mark, accounting for 6½ percent of total issues. The value of Swiss franc issues was roughly twice the value of issues denominated in pound sterling and in ECUs (European Currency Units). The share of the Swiss franc increased sharply from 11½ percent of international bond issues in 1974 to a peak of 25 percent in 1979. Since then, however, the share declined following the strong expansion of Eurobonds denominated in U.S. dollars in recent years.

Table 2.

International Bond Issues1

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Source: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Financial Statistics.

Figures may not add up because of rounding.

The Swiss bond market for foreign issues is primarily confined to issues denominated in Swiss francs while Eurobond issues in other currencies are very few. The main reason for limited Eurobond activity in Switzerland is the stamp duty on every sale of securities. The stamp duty applies also to transactions of security dealers. Moreover, a large number of investors in bond issues are Swiss residents who have a preference for investments in Swiss francs rather than other currencies. There are no official data on investors in foreign bond issues on the Swiss market, but private Swiss banks estimate that more than half of public issues and about half of the notes are placed with Swiss residents. Swiss banks, however, participate actively through their foreign branches in Eurobond trading and issues abroad.23

That Swiss banks established in Switzerland have de facto monopoly in bond issues in Swiss francs is another feature of the Swiss bond market. The Swiss National Bank has prevented the emergence of a Eurobond market in Swiss francs for fear of uncontrolled internationalization of the Swiss franc. Legally, the Bank has not been in a position to prevent foreign banks outside Switzerland from issuing bonds denominated in Swiss francs. In practice, however, the Bank has made its position clear, both publicly and directly, to foreign banks that have considered issuing Swiss franc bonds or bonds with a Swiss franc link abroad. As long as the operations in Swiss francs remain in Switzerland, the central bank is in a position to supervise and, if necessary, to control bond issues. The nonexistence of a Eurobond market in Swiss francs has given Swiss banks a kind of monopoly that has resulted in relatively high fees and commissions for Swiss franc issues compared with issues in other currencies. For instance, the fees and commissions on an eight-year public bond issue in Swiss francs amount to about 3¼ percent, compared with about 2 percent for a Eurodollar issue with a similar maturity. This difference can probably be attributed to the absence of a Euro-Swiss franc bond market. For note issues in Swiss francs, however, the fees and commissions are similar (1⅞ percent) to public bond issues in the Eurodollar market.

Competition within the Swiss capital market seems to have increased somewhat in recent years. This is partly due to the removal of capital export regulations and the liberal implementation of the authorization practice of bond issues by the Swiss authorities, including the attitude toward swaps, which have been one of the driving forces in international capital transactions in recent years. As pointed out by the Deutsche Bundesbank in its Monthly Report of July 1985, the liberal authorization practice is evidenced by the fact that gross issues of Swiss franc bonds and notes of nonresident borrowers were twice as many (US$38 billion) as issues of foreign deutsche mark bonds (US$19 billion) during the period 1982–84, while Switzerland’s GNP was only 15 percent of that of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Total gross medium-term and long-term capital exports, which comprise public bonds, medium-term notes, and bank credits, totaled SwF 46½ billion in 1985 (Table 3).24 Capital exports have expanded at an annual rate of 14½ percent (measured in Swiss franc terms) during the last decade. While bank credits accounted for the strongest expansion between 1974 and 1981, public issues and notes have grown faster since 1982. This development is partly a result of the relaxation of restrictions on foreign bond issues, especially secondary market trading in notes, since 1982. In addition, the increasing importance of bond issues reflects the general trend in international lending in recent years toward securities rather than bank credits, which is, in part, related to the debt crisis of the early 1980s.

Table 3.

Switzerland: Medium-Term and Long-Term Capital Exports (Authorized)1

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Source: Swiss National Monatsbericht.

Capital exports which are subject to authorization from the Swiss National Bank comprise public issues of at least SwF 10 million, credits or participation in credits, which amount to SwF 10 million and above and have a maturity of at least 12 months, and issues of notes amounting to SwF 3 million and above and with a maturity of 12 months and above; figures may not add up because of rounding.

ADB (Asian Development Bank); and IDB (Inter-American Development Bank).

Another recent development has been the gradual disappearance of the boundaries between the various categories of capital exports. For instance, notes which used to be private placements now resemble public bond issues. Moreover, foreign bond issues comprise an increasing share of assets portfolios of banks. The share of foreign bond issues in total foreign assets of Swiss banks has risen from 4½ percent at the end of 1974 to 7 percent at the end of 1984. Similar blurring of boundaries between traditional bank lending and capital market transactions is observed in other countries.25

The Swiss capital market has traditionally been accessible only to first-class borrowers. Industrial countries accounted for 79 percent of medium-term and long-term capital exports in 1985, while non-oil developing countries made up only 5 percent and state-trading countries and OPEC countries together accounted for 3½ percent (Table 3). The emergence of the debt crisis in the early 1980s prompted Swiss banks to adopt a more cautious lending policy, leading to a concentration of lending to industrial countries rather than developing countries. Indirectly, however, developing countries have benefited from the tapping of the Swiss capital market by development organizations (e.g., the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank), which accounted for 12 percent of medium-term and long-term borrowing in 1985.

Among industrial countries, Japan has been a prominent borrower in recent years. According to the Swiss National Bank, more than half of the notes in 1983 and 1984 were issued by Japanese borrowers, implying that they accounted for at least one fourth of total medium-term and long-term capital exports.26 This also helps explain the proliferation of Japanese-owned banks and, especially, finance companies in recent years. The bulk of the notes was issued as convertible notes, that is, with the option of conversion to equity. Frequently, these convertible notes are converted into equity six to eight weeks after the issue date and the equity is bought by Japanese investors. The early conversion practice also implies that the issues of notes constitute short-term Swiss capital exports and that the statistics therefore overstate the extent of medium-term and long-term capital exports. The advantages of this “round-tripping” of Japanese borrowing via the Swiss capital market for the Japanese borrower are to secure funds at lower costs than through issues in Japan and, for the Swiss economy, to receive fees, commissions, and fiscal duties (e.g., stamp duty).

The Swiss capital market has also been attractive to international development organizations, especially the World Bank. In the World Bank’s fiscal year 1985 (July 1, 1984-June 30, 1985), 25 percent of its gross borrowing (including swap transactions) was denominated in Swiss francs, followed by 20 percent in yen, 17 percent in deutsche mark, and 8 percent in U.S. dollars. Thus, Swiss franc borrowings reached the maximum limit agreed between the World Bank and the Swiss National Bank. The World Bank converts the Swiss franc proceeds with the Swiss National Bank and the latter replenishes its foreign exchange reserves through foreign exchange purchases in the market according to market conditions. In this way, the conversion requirement serves mainly to prevent disorderly conditions in the foreign exchange market resulting from large transactions.

Since 1982 the World Bank has made extensive use of currency swaps in Swiss francs because its credit rating on that market is affected by an already high amount of outstanding debt in Swiss francs.27 The distribution between direct borrowings in Swiss francs and swaps is shown in Table 4.

Table 4.

World Bank Swiss Franc Borrowing

(In millions of Swiss francs)

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Source: The World Bank.

In agreement with the Swiss National Bank, swap transactions have not exceeded 40 percent of total gross borrowings of the World Bank in Swiss francs.28 The Swiss monetary authorities have generally shown a more liberal attitude than some other central banks (e.g., in the Federal Republic of Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands) to the use of swap transactions for both international development organizations and other borrowers. At the beginning of the 1980s, the Swiss authorities feared that borrowing on the Swiss market through swap transactions would increase the amount of borrowing on the market and drive up Swiss interest rates. However, as no disorderly conditions have occurred in the capital market, the official attitude has become more liberal. The Swiss authorities have recognized that they could not prevent the proceeds from loans in Swiss francs from being swapped against other currencies at some time.

Notes

Notes are medium-term bond issues and accounted for nearly half of total medium-term and long-term capital exports in 1985. The maturities range from a minimum of 18 months to a maximum of 8 years (requirements of the Swiss authorities), with 5–7 years being the normal maturity. Notes are usually paid back in full at maturity (bullet maturity), although other repayment schedules are permitted. Early redemption is allowed only after 18 months or after the expiration of half of the maturity. The restrictions have been imposed to prevent early repayments and thereby increased demand for Swiss francs in periods when the Swiss franc was appreciating. Note issues picked up strongly in 1982 after the lifting of restrictions on secondary market trading.

Until the early 1980s, notes used to be placed with a limited number of institutional investors (around 10–15) without any publicity. Similarly, they were not listed on Swiss Stock Exchanges, and no public prospectus for investors was required; however, since secondary market trading was permitted in 1982 (Section V), the character of note issues has changed, and the boundaries to public issues are disappearing. Both the amounts and the name of the borrower are now disclosed, and trading in the secondary market is very active (especially in convertible notes). Consequently, the Swiss National Bank raised the question in 1985 of whether note issues should be considered “public issues,” and require a public prospectus. On the federal level, there is no supervision of the securities markets such as, for instance, the Securities and Exchange Commission in the United States. On the cantonal level, there is supervision only of stock exchanges.

The Swiss National Bank which has opposed Eurobond issues in Swiss francs has also prevented a secondary Eurofranc note market from developing abroad. It has required that notes be held physically in custody in Switzerland with the bank of issue or (since January 1984) with the Swiss Security Clearing Organization (SEGA) from issue to maturity. The regulation seems mainly to provide information to the Swiss authorities on trading in notes and to make the notes subject to the stamp duty. While the rule may discourage secondary trading in notes among nonresidents, it does not prevent it from taking place. For instance, an investor in London is free to sell a Swiss franc note to an investor in New York. The note would physically remain in Switzerland and, in principle, the transaction would be registered in Switzerland, and be subject to the stamp duty. In practice, however, there is a market in Euro-clear and CEDEL with certificates, which replace the original notes and thereby permit secondary market trading abroad without any Swiss taxes.29

Table 5.

Comparison of Notes and Public Issues

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Sources: Credit Suisse, Swiss Capital Market, July 1985; and Swiss National Bank, Monatsbericht.

On January 1, 1984, the maximum limit on public issues was raised from SwF 100 million to SwF 200 million. On May 15, 1985, the ceiling was completely lifted.

Full repayment at expiration of term.

Calculated on issue price less underwriting commission and management fee.

Public Foreign Bond Issues

Public foreign bonds comprise foreign bonds issued with a minimum maturity of 8 years and average maturities of 8–12 years. To avoid additional exchange rate pressure during currency unrest, early repayment is allowed only after 5 years. The bulk of the issues are denominated in Swiss francs, but since mid-1982 dual currency issues have appeared. Their share in total public issues rose from 4 percent in 1982 to 12 percent in 1983 and then declined to 9 percent in 1984. Typically, the principal of a dual currency issue has been expressed in U.S. dollars and interest payments in Swiss francs. They cater both to U.S. borrowers who have been able to borrow at interest rates 1–2 percentage points lower than on straight U.S. dollar issues and to Swiss investors interested in receiving interest payments in Swiss francs. Floating rate issues are allowed but remain the exception. Issues with variable interest rates are in demand especially by banks in need of matching their assets and liabilities. The bulk of investors in Swiss franc issues, however, prefer fixed interest rates. In the spring of 1985, the first zero coupon bond issue was floated in Switzerland.

Since 1980, the restrictions on public bond issues have gradually been lifted. Foreign issues are no longer subject to obligatory conversion of the Swiss franc proceeds with the Swiss National Bank.30 Equally the queuing system has been removed effective January 1, 1984. Before then, the queuing system served to prevent the bunching of foreign bond issues and thereby erratic increases in interest rates on the bond market. De facto, this led to a quota system among market participants, insofar as bond issues were approved according to existing market shares of the various banking groups leading the issues. The system worked to the advantage of the established big banks but to the disadvantage of smaller domestic banks and foreign-owned banks.31 The Swiss National Bank was interested in increasing the competition among banks, because banks located in Switzerland were the only issuers of Swiss franc bonds. Partly as a consequence of the elimination of the queuing system, the market share of the big banks as lead managers has declined from about three fourths, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, to about two thirds, in 1985.

Public issues by foreigners exceeding SwF 10 million still remain subject to the permission of the Swiss National Bank which, however, is granted on a liberal basis. The Swiss National Bank has also gradually eliminated the ceiling on individual public bonds. On January 1, 1984, the ceiling was raised from SwF 100 million to SwF 200 million, and in May 1985, the ceiling was eliminated altogether.32

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