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January 13 2015

Buying your own gold bars in Switzerland

Alpenrose Wealth Management, a Swiss wealth management company founded by partners Pierre Gabris, Thierry Grin and Yves Marchand, created a new service allowing its private clients to acquire gold and silver bars, that are purchased and stored at some of the best known Swiss banks. This new trend has gained increased popularity over the past several years due to the belief in the financial community that the amount of physical gold available has been largely overestimated.

January 12 2015

Cross-border pizza trade cut into pieces

Switzerland’s frugal pizza lovers have had their hopes dashed for a special rule that would have allowed them to keep ordering cheaper pizza delivery from neighbouring Germany.  Pizzas delivered from Germany must pass full customs inspections, Swiss customs authorities have decided, drawing ire from German business representatives. The regional chamber of commerce for the Swiss-German border region in Germany‘s Baden-Württemberg state last week announced that talks with Swiss authorities on finding an unbureaucratic solution to this problem had failed. The previous system had prompted businesses across the border to offer deals targeting Swiss customers, a spokesman for the customs office said.  The strong Swiss franc has prompted Swiss bargain hunters to cross the border in search of cheaper goods in neighbouring Germany and France.  The Chamber of Industry and Commerce for Hochrhein-Bodensee, a German region that borders Switzerland, had lobbied for an ... Show more

Let us laugh together, on principle

The tragic events in Paris tug at our hearts and pose questions to our heads. Our deepest sympathies go to the families and friends of the victims. While we mourn the deaths of the cartoonists and police and are revolted by people being gunned down in premeditated murder, we are led to reflect on what freedom really means and the role of humour. Many questions are being raised about Islam and its relation to violence. From across the political spectrum, cause-and-effect-corollaries between the teachings of the Koran and violence are being debated. Is there something inherent in Islam that fosters jihadists? Is there something particular about this monotheistic religion that differentiates it from Christianity and Judaism? Neither of these questions are easily answered. But they could also be raised in other forms about Christian Crusaders during the Middle Ages or Jewish settlers recently retaking what they consider to be their Holy Land. ... Show more

SNB may consider changing exchange rate ceiling

Ernst Baltensperger, a former adviser to the Swiss National Bank (SNB), has said on Sunday that the central bank should consider replacing the Swiss-franc peg to the Euro with a more flexible tie to a currency basket to give the bank more room to manoeuvre. Baltensperger said in an interview with NZZ am Sonntag that fixing the Swiss franc at 1.20 euros is too rigid and that the SNB should adapt its policy so that it may react more flexibly. Since fixing the Swiss currency in September 2011, the central bank was forced to buy euros to keep the franc at the required level. The exchange rate ceiling has worked well so far, Baltensperger told the Zurich-based Sunday newspaper. “But it was always clear that it also entailed costs and risk,” he added. He also criticised the tendency of the public to focus too much on the losses on the currency reserves.  Still, in December the SNB had to introduce negative interest rates to defend its exchange rate ceiling with the euro. Show more

January 08 2015

Domestic banks reject EU finance fusion

A consortium of domestically-focused banks has warned against a financial services agreement between Switzerland and the European Union, as advocated by the recent Brunetti Report into the Swiss financial centre. The consortium – made up of cantonal banks, the Raiffeisen  group, Migros Bank and smaller regional banks – said that while a fusion of Swiss and EU banking laws and regulations might favour larger international institutions (most notably UBS and Credit Suisse), it could pose problems for banks that concentrate on domestic deposits and loans. The Brunetti committee was commissioned by the government in September 2013 to provide advice on a range of challenges facing the Swiss financial centre. Chaired by University of Bern economist Aymo Brunetti, the commission released its non-binding proposals last month. Among other topics, it looked at changing EU financial regulations that threaten to squeeze out Swiss banks from the lucrative market. The report ... Show more

New flight plans outlined for WEF’s top guns

For the first time, VIPs attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) will land their private jets at the military airport in Dübendorf near Zurich, pass through customs there, and continue by helicopter to the meeting site in Davos, the defence ministry announced on Thursday. In previous years, Zurich airport hosted up to 1,000 extra take-offs and landings by people attending the annual meeting – which draws heads of state and business leaders from around the world to discuss topics of global interest. The theme of the 2015 session, taking place from January 12 to 26 in Davos in canton Graubünden, is “The New Global Context”. This theme “has to do with new political developments in connection with the technological revolution,” said WEF Founder Klaus Schwab in an interview with the business magazine Bilanz. The first 400 Swiss soldiers have already started work on the logistics and security for the meeting. A total of 3,000 soldiers are expected to be on duty, with two ... Show more

Totalitarian state reaches out to Swiss tourists

A holiday fair in the Swiss capital is promoting an unusual destination: North Korea, a totalitarian state better known for its human rights abuses than its tourism industry. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) The organisers of the Bern Holiday Fair have invited a delegation from the North Korean tourism ministry, in the hope that promoting holidays there will help to encourage openness in the notoriously secretive society. Tourism in North Korea is highly controlled by the government, which is one of the reasons not many people go there. It’s estimated that 3,000-4000 western tourists visit the communist state each year.  Since December 2013, North Korea has been open to tourists during the winter. The Masik Ryong ski resort outside Wonson City in Kangwon province opened in 2014. Other “prestige projects” have popped up largely in the capital, Pyongyang, such as the Munsu Water Park, the Rungna Dolphinarium and the Kaeson Fun Fair. Human rights organisations disagree with giving North Korea a ... Show more

January 06 2015

North Korea attempts to attract tourists at Bern fair

North Korea will showcase its tourist offerings at the Bern Holiday Fair opening on January 15. A delegation from the country’s ministry of tourism will be present to encourage Swiss tourists to visit the Hermit Kingdom. The organisers of the tourism fair discussed at length whether to offer North Korea a platform, said the fair’s spokesperson, Adrian Hault, in an interview with Swiss public television, SRF, on Tuesday. “We concluded that every country should have the opportunity to use this platform. We assume that visitors are mature enough to decide if they want to travel to the country or not,” said Hault. He also offered the example of Burma as a justification. There, interaction between tourists and locals has helped soften rigid laws and improve living conditions, he said. The contact with North Korea was facilitated by the Globetrotter travel agency, which has been offering guided trips to the country in recent years. Tourists cannot travel on their own in ... Show more

North Korean attempt to attract tourists at Bern fair

North Korea will showcase its tourist offerings at the Bern Holiday Fair opening on January 15. A delegation from the country’s ministry of tourism will be present to encourage Swiss tourists to visit the Hermit Kingdom. The organisers of the tourism fair discussed at length whether to offer North Korea a platform, said the fair’s spokesperson, Adrian Hault, in an interview with Swiss public television, SRF, on Tuesday. “We concluded that every country should have the opportunity to use this platform. We assume that visitors are mature enough to decide if they want to travel to the country or not,” said Hault. He also offered the example of Burma as a justification. There, interaction between tourists and locals has helped soften rigid laws and improve living conditions, he said. The contact with North Korea was facilitated by the Globetrotter travel agency, which has been offering guided trips to the country in recent years. Tourists cannot travel on their own in ... Show more

January 01 2015

Swiss New Year’s regulations to hit wallets

As the Swiss welcomed in the New Year, a raft of new laws and regulations came into effect, many of which will hit the pockets of normal citizens. As from January 1, electricity prices will soar by 5% forcing each Swiss household to pay out around CHF1,000 ($1,005) annually, mainly due to higher network investment and environmental costs. Health insurance premiums are also expected to rise by an average of 4% nationwide. Some residents who paid too much in previous years – notably those living in cantons Vaud, Geneva and Fribourg – will receive reimbursements, however. Basic health insurance is compulsory for all residents of Switzerland. Premiums vary from one client to another and from region to region but do not depend on their income. Critics regularly complain about ever-rising healthcare costs and premiums offered by private firms. But it is not all about money. Changes to the justice system mean victims can now be warned when their culprit is let out of prison. Show more

December 30 2014

Another record year winds up for watch exporters

The Swiss watch industry is set to exceed 2013’s record exports of CHF21.8 billion ($22 billion) and is optimistic for 2015 despite economic and geopolitical uncertainty.  In recent months the industry has seen slower growth than in previous years as a result of the weakening global economy and the crisis in the eurozone, which affected the order books.  Nevertheless, Jean-Daniel Pasche, president of the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, dismissed talk of a crisis in the industry.  Over the first 11 months of 2014, exports of watches and watch components rose 2.3% compared with the same period for 2013, despite dropping by 4.4% in November.  “One mustn’t forget that we’re active at a very high level,” Pasche said, adding that exports could break the CHF22 billion barrier by the end of the year.  Oil price impact  Orders to Switzerland’s main export market, Hong Kong, fell by 13.5% in November but remain up 0.8% for the year. A similar situation was seen in ... Show more

December 29 2014

Swiss luxury hotels hit by rouble crisis

Russia’s current rouble woes are set to have a much bigger effect on Switzerland’s hotels over the winter season than the late arrival of snow.  “We’re looking at income from Russian guests dropping by up to 30%,” said Guglielmo Brentel, president of the Swiss Hotel Association (hotelleriesuisse).  He said hotels in the top-price bracket have been hit particularly hard, with the absence of wealthy Russians set to really hurt hoteliers in January.  “Because the holidays take place later in Russia, Russian guests have always helped [Swiss hotels] fill the January hole,” he said.  Russia’s economy shrank sharply in November and the rouble resumed its slide on Monday as Western sanctions and a slump in oil prices combined to inflict the first contraction in GDP since the global financial crisis in 2009.  The rouble had lost more than half of its value at one stage in December, although it has since recovered after the government introduced informal capital controls ... Show more

December 27 2014

Switzerland’s oldest steamship catches fire

Fire broke out in the engine room of Switzerland’s oldest steamship, the Uri, while it was traveling on Lake Lucerne on Saturday. The 89 passengers aboard were evacuated to safety at Hergiswil in canton Nidwalden. The electrical fire in an auxiliary engine broke out shortly after noon, producing strong smoke on the ship. The personnel were unable to put out the fire with fire extinguishers, but the captain was able to pilot the boat to Hergiswil. Around 150 firemen were called to battle the blaze, which was brought under control shortly after 2pm. The cause of the fire is unknown. The Uri, a paddle steamer, began service in 1901 and was completely renovated in the 1990s. It will be towed to Lucerne for examination by the Swiss Accident Investigation Board. Show more

Swiss banks continue their balancing act

Despite rising costs, declining revenue and increased regulation, banks in Switzerland can still make money in asset management, said Boris Collardi of bank Julius Baer on Saturday.  Customers with comparatively low fortunes of a few hundred thousand Swiss francs are turning their backs on Swiss banks, said Boris Collardi, head of bank Julius Baer, in an interview published on Saturday in the newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung. Collardi believes that very wealthy customers will remain true to the country, however, because they appreciate the high quality of service and security they receive. “For me, Switzerland is still the clear leader as a centre for international asset management,” Collardi told the NZZ. “Nowhere in Europe will investors get such good service.” Collardi minimized the importance of competition provided by banks in Singapore, saying that for Europeans the country is too far away. For Julius Baer, Switzerland will always remain the heart of the ... Show more

December 25 2014

Energy transition: taking stock and looking ahead

“2014 – a milestone on the way towards a climate-friendly and successful Switzerland”: this is what University of St Gallen professor Rolf Wüstenhagen would like to read in the annual review of 2050. The media response to the latest energy policy decisions looks different. The energy expert reviews the sceptics’ arguments and explains why the Swiss energy strategy is more than “illusion”, “subsidies” and “chaos”. In the Swiss newsrooms journalists seem to be in agreement for once. If we believe the echo in the print media following the national parliament’s autumn session, Switzerland’s energy policy is on the wrong track. “A serious strategy would look different”, “National parliament opens the tap for subsidies”, “Energy turnaround plunges power supply into chaos” are the headlines across a variety of national newspapers. What was the momentous decision taken by representatives before the end of the year? Has parliament decided to break up the big banks? Show more

December 24 2014

The return of the board game

Sales of board games are on the up as a Christmas gift. Fans like the person-to-person contact in this digital era. (SRF/swissinfo.ch) In the age of smartphones and computer tablets it might come as a surprise that board games are becoming increasingly popular. The Spikus games shop in Winterthur has noticed a clear increase in sales compared with last Christmases. Spikus owner Peter Moll says that people like to communicate, after sitting in front of the computer every day. They like quizzes and parlour games. Games enable communication. Party games, such as Tabu or the board game version of Rummy, are a perennial favourite at wholesaler Manor. Every year around 1,000 new games are put on the market. The current trend is for games with a scary theme, says games reviewer Tom Felber.  According to Felber, the board game boom is even bigger in the United States, where sales have increased by 20% compared with the previous year. He sais this is also thanks to some celebrities, such ... Show more

December 23 2014

Ethos threatens Sika takeover legal action

A Swiss investment fund, known for taking companies to task over inflated executive bonuses, has launched a challenge against a decision by the family owners of chemicals firm Sika to sell their stake to a French conglomerate. Ethos Foundation, along with 11 pension and investment funds, have demanded that the firm removes an opt-out clause from its statutes that would allow Saint-Gobain to buy the Burkard family stake without having to extend the same offer to other shareholders. “This is very detrimental to minority shareholders and endangers one of the flagships of Swiss industry despite the company currently being well positioned in its market with very good growth perspectives,” the Ethos-led protest group said in a statement. The sale has sparked controversy because the 16% Burkard stake comes with 52% of voting rights thanks to the nature of the shares the family owns. If the deal goes ahead as planned, the French group would gain strategic control of the ... Show more

Bank Leumi hit with $400 million US fine

Bank Leumi has been made to pay the price for aggressively poaching tax cheating clients from Swiss banks that were under United States investigation. The Israeli bank was fined a total of $400 million (CHF393 million) by the US authorities for tax evasion offences. Leumi, that has a private banking arm in Switzerland, was among 14 Swiss or Swiss-based banks under active investigation by the Department of Justice (DoJ). Credit Suisse was fined $2.6 billion earlier this year after admitting similar offences, but on a larger scale. Leumi set up various “egregious schemes” designed to help US citizens dodge taxes, including “complex, sham loan arrangements”, New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) superintendent Benjamin Lawsky said in a statement. “What’s worse, when certain Swiss banks began to put the brakes on this type of misconduct, Bank Leumi instead hit the accelerator even harder – viewing it as a ‘golden opportunity’ to pick up new business,” ... Show more

December 19 2014

Bank whistleblower sentenced for fake leaks

A former employee of Geneva-based private bank Reyl, was handed a two year suspended prison for violating confidentiality agreements. He had alleged in 2013 that around 15 French politicians had secret accounts with the bank. Pierre-Gerbier Condamin admitted sharing financial information and violating trade secrets to the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona that pronounced the verdict on Friday. He also admitted to fabricating the list of French tax evaders and falsifying documents to prove its existence. In 2013, Condamin claimed that he held a list of well-known French names with undeclared Swiss bank accounts and had testified at a French parliamentary commission investigation into tax evasion charges against former French budget minister Jerôme Cahuzac. Cahuzac initially denied allegations of wrongdoing but resigned his post after later admitting to holding €600,000 (CHF739,000) in a secret Swiss account. Reyl filed criminal charges against Condamin for ... Show more

Exports to Russia take a nosedive

Swiss exports to Russia plummeted 36% last month compared to the same period last year according to the latest official statistics. But companies are refusing to panic, instead taking a long-term view of the currently volatile market. Falling oil prices, coupled with Western sanctions that are beginning to bite in Russia, have sent the rouble into freefall this week. Russia’s central bank hiked up interest rates an astonishing 6.5% to 17% on Tuesday, but it still fears the economy could shrink by up to 5% next year if oil prices stay so depressed. President Vladimir Putin held a three-hour press conference on Thursday, blaming Western interference for his country’s woes, specifically economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union over Russia’s involvement in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea earlier this year. Switzerland has imposed much milder sanctions and frozen free trade agreement talks with Russia and surrounding countries. With the rouble ... Show more
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