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The lowdown on the Swiss franc
The legal tender of Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Italian exclave of Campione d’Italia, the Swiss franc has had quite a history. Given that there are four official languages across Switzerland (German, French, Italian, and Romansh), the language used on Swiss coins is actually Latin. This is where the ISO code for Swiss francs as ‘CHF’ comes from: because the Latin name for the Swiss Federation is the Confoederatio Helvetica. The F is for ‘franc’, of course.
Before 1798 there were around 75 local currencies being used across Switzerland, including the Basel thaler and the Luzern gulden. From 1798 until the end of the Helvetic Republic in 1803, the Swiss franc was introduced and was equal to 6.75g of silver and 1.5 French francs.
By 1850, there were more than 8000 different notes and coins circulating around Switzerland and things were getting very confusing. To help simplify everything, the Federal Coinage Act passed by the Federal Assembly on 7 May 1850 confirmed the Swiss Franc as the official currency of Switzerland, setting its rate at par with the French franc.
A look back at British pound to Swiss franc rates
In 1865, the four countries of France, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland formed the Latin Monetary Union, which meant that each of these countries agreed to value their national currencies at 4.5 grams of silver or 0.290322 grams of gold. The Union lasted all the way until 1927, but after this, Switzerland carried on keeping the Swiss franc on that standard until 1936. On September 27 of 1936, the Swiss franc suffered its first devaluation, falling by 30% from the influence of the Great Depression and the resulting devaluation of the US dollar, British pound and the French franc.
Switzerland joined the Bretton Woods system in 1945, pegging the Swiss franc to the US dollar at a rate of 4.305Fr to $1 and 1Fr to 0.206418g of gold. At the time, the dollar was exchanging at a rate of $4.03 to £1, putting the franc at roughly 17Fr to £1. In 1949, this was changed to 4.375Fr and 0.203125g of gold.
For the rest of the century, the Swiss franc tended to be considered a safe and stable currency with zero inflation, partly due to a law that stated that at least 40% of the currency had to be backed by gold reserves at all times. This law was terminated on May 1, 2000 following a referendum and by March 2005, the reserves in the Swiss National Bank had fallen to just 20% of its assets.
Big movements and a cap on the Swiss franc
By March 2011, the franc had almost reached par with the pound, exchanging at a rate of 1.59Fr to £1, and by June 2011, had reached 1.35.
The strong franc was hurting the Swiss economy because it made exports expensive to foreign buyers. September 6, 2011 saw the Swiss National Bank set a minimum exchange rate of 1.20 francs to the euro, capping the franc’s appreciation. Within 15 minutes of the announcement, the franc had fallen from 1.22 to 1.12 against the euro, and to 1.17 against the pound. This was a striking turn of events for currency traders, since the franc was still regarded as a safe and stable currency.
End of the Swiss franc cap
On January 15 2015, the Swiss National Bank abandoned the cap and the franc quickly rose in value. Since the move wasn’t announced in advance, it resulted in a shock to the currency markets around the world. By the end of the day, the franc was up 23% against the euro and 21% against the dollar.
The businesses of Switzerland felt the impact the most. The Swiss National Banks tried to bring the franc lower a number of ways, including by setting the lowest interest rates in the world. The currency has begun to steady in the midst of 2015.
Exchange rates last updated Friday, 09 December 2016 08:59:46 GMT.
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