In Switzerland, it's not just the clocks that are cuckoo. Over the past four years Swiss politicians and central bankers have gone on an unprecedented buying spree of foreign exchange reserves. In 2012, their cache swelled to as much as $420 billion worth of various currencies, primarily the euro. This figure is a seven-fold increase since 2008 and equates to 70% of the country's annual GDP.
The sum translates to $200,000 per family of four, enough to keep the Swiss in clocks, chocolates, and fondue for many years to come. The Swiss leadership will claim the money has been "invested" with an eye to the future, but what they've done is impoverished themselves in the present. Although such a decision seems perverse, it makes perfect sense when seen through the lens of today's presiding economic thinking.
For the past few generations Switzerland has enjoyed some of the strongest economic fundamentals in the world. The country boasts a high savings rate, low taxes, strong exports, low debt-to-GDP, balanced government budgets, and prior to a few years ago one of the most responsible monetary policies in the world. These attributes made the Swiss franc one of the world's "safe haven" currencies. But in today's global economy, no good deed goes unpunished.
Central bankers around the world, particularly in Washington, Frankfurt and Tokyo, have been engaged in a massive and coordinated campaign of currency debasement to combat the recession. But for years the Swiss refused to join in the printing parade. As a result, investors around the world wisely decided to park their savings in the reliable Swiss franc. From December of 2008 to August 2011 the franc appreciated an astounding 59% against the U.S. dollar and approximately 30% against the Japanese yen. More importantly, the franc gained 42% against the euro. As the Eurozone completely surrounds Switzerland, its trade with those countries represents the vast majority of its international transactions.