The Swiss Franc: the 6th Most Traded Currency in the World

Information verified correct on December 10th, 2016

The Swiss franc’s performance in the global forex market has changed over time. Here’s all the information you need about this currency’s value and history.

Rates last updated December 10th, 2016
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The Swiss franc is the official currency of Switzerland and Liechtenstein, and it serves as legal tender in the Italian exclave Campione d’Italia. It’s also used in the German exclave Büsingen, although the legal tender there is the euro. The Swiss franc remains the only franc still in circulation within Europe.

The symbol for the franc is Fr. or SFr. or FS, and its code is CHF. People commonly refer to it as rappen in German, centime in French, centesimo in Italian, and rap in Romansh. It also goes by the nicknames Stutz, Chuffs, Eier and Stei.

By March 2010, the value of all Swiss coins and banknotes ever released stood at 49.6640 billion Swiss francs. It’s the seventh most popular  reserve currency behind  the US dollar, euro, pound sterling, Japanese yen, Canadian dollar and Australian dollar, as per data released in the first quarter of 2015.

Value and exchange rates of the Swiss franc

The Swiss franc maintains its reputation of being a safe haven currency, and its purchase during financial uncertainty is common because of its stability and reliability. In 2013, it was the fifth most commonly traded currency in the world.

The Swiss franc has  historically been viewed as a hard currency because of its near zero inflation coupled with a legal requirement that at least 40% of the currency have backing through gold reserves. But this link ended because of a referendum in May 2000. In March 2005, gold reserves of the Swiss National Bank (SNB) stood at 1,290 tonnes, equating to around 20% of its assets. A referendum in November 2014 that tried to restore gold backing did not find enough votes.

The US dollar traded at CHF1.5163 in January 1990. This exchange rate saw fluctuations over the next couple of decades, with the US dollar staying in between CHF1 and CHF1.5. It was only in October 2010 that the Swiss franc climbed past the US dollar, when the dollar traded at CHF0.9689.

In April 2011, the Swiss franc traded at USD1.1116, and it breached the USD1.2 mark by July 2011 to trade at USD1.2132. This was mainly because of investors seeking safety during the Greek sovereign debt crisis. The crisis did not subside in Europe, and a debt crisis in the US around the same time saw the Swiss franc trading at USD1.2810 in August 2011.

This is when the Swiss National Bank (SNB) decided to try countering the franc’s overvaluation by giving its liquidity a boost. By this time,  the demand for francs and assets denominated by the Swiss franc became very strong, causing short-term Swiss interest rates to become negative.

In September 2011, when the euro traded at CHF1.095, the SNB capped the franc’s appreciation by setting a minimum exchange rate of CHF1.20 to the euro. Almost immediately, the franc fell from CHF1.12to CHF1.22. It also lost around 9% against the US dollar within a matter of minutes. This was the biggest drop against the euro that the franc ever witnessed. The value of the franc remained below the SNB’s target levels until the middle of January 2015, although it did cross the barrier briefly in April 2012.

In December 2014, the SNB introduced a negative interest rate on bank deposits in order to support its franc ceiling, but it had a negative effect on the markets. It abandoned the ceiling altogether in January 2015. This saw the franc rising in value against the euro by as much as 30% almost immediately, but part of the increase reversed quickly. By the end of the day, when the SNB announced its decision to do away with the ceiling, the franc gained more than 20% against the US dollar as well as the euro. The SNB also lowered interest rates, requiring investors to pay more in the form of fees to keep their money in Swiss bank accounts.

The euro’s devaluation against the franc does not bode well with the large export industry in Switzerland, and the sudden jump resulted in some currency traders suffering major setbacks.

The table below shows  how the Swiss franc has performed against some other popular currencies.

19902000200520102015
US dollar0.65910.62880.84970.96711.0622
EuroNA0.62110.64650.67720.9120
Pound sterling0.39930.38390.45150.59840.7000
Canadian dollar0.77190.91041.03831.00921.2799
Australian dollarNA0.95641.10811.06121.3734
Japanese yen95.5166.0587.6688.37125.83

All values are for the month of January.

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History of the Swiss franc

Before 1798, there were around 75 entities that made coins in Switzerland. At one point, there were more than 850 different coins with different monetary systems and denominations. In 1798, the Helvetic Republic introduced the Swiss franc, which was equal to six and three quarter  grams of pure silver, or one and a half French francs. The Helvetic Republic continued issuing these coins until its abolition in 1803.

From 1803 to 1850 more than 20 cantons and half-cantons issued coins, and some banks started issuing banknotes. With over 8,000 different coins and banknotes, the complexities in Switzerland’s monetary system continued.

In 1848, the Swiss Federal Constitution ruled that only the federal government could make money in the country. The Federal Assembly passed the first Federal Coinage Act in May 1850, when it introduced the franc as the country’s monetary unit. At that time, the Swiss franc was at par with the French franc.

Switzerland, Belgium, France and Italy formed the Latin Monetary Union in 1865. They agreed to value their currencies to a standard of 4.5 grams of silver or 0.290322 grams of gold. While this union ended in 1927, the Swiss franc maintained that standard until 1936, when it suffered its only devaluation. In 1945, Switzerland opted to join the Bretton Woods system, and the Swiss franc was then pegged to the US dollar.

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Coins and banknotes of the Swiss franc

From 1798 to 1803, the Helvetic Republic issued billon coins in denominations of 1 centime, half batzen and 1 batzen, and silver coins in 10, 20 and 40 batzen. It also issued 16 and 32 gold franc coins in 1800.

In 1850, coins were introduced in the denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 centimes and half, 1, 2 and 5 francs. The 1 and 2 centimes coins used bronze in their making; the 5, 10, and 20 centimes coins used billon; and franc coins made use of .900 fine silver. In 1879, cupronickel replaced billon in 5 and 10 centimes, and 20 centimes started making use of nickel.

Now, all coins make use of cupronickel, although the 5 centimes coin makes use of aluminium bronze. Coins currently in circulation come with denominations of 5 centimes, 10 centimes, 20 centimes, half franc, 1 franc, 2 francs and 5 francs.

franc12Fr5FR

In 1907, the SNB took over the job of  issuing banknotes from other bodies and introduced denominations of 50, 100, 500 and 1,000 francs. The 20 franc note came into effect in 1911, followed by 5 franc notes two years later. Notes currently in circulation come in denominations of 10 francs, 20 francs, 50 francs, 100 francs, 200 francs and 1,000 francs.

50francs100francs
1000francs
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