IMF says Swiss central bank could ease policy via asset purchases

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's central bank should consider easing monetary policy further to limit a slowdown in economic growth, potentially through pre-announced asset purchases, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Monday. Such purchases could consist of foreign-currency assets and some domestic assets, with their pace adjusted as necessary in response to developments, the IMF said in a statement. The Swiss National Bank removed a 1.20 per euro cap on the Swiss franc in mid-January, sending the domestic currency soaring and stoking fears for the export-reliant economy. "Exchange rate appreciation in early 2015 has left the Swiss franc overvalued and weakened the near-term outlook," an IMF review based on scheduled annual consultations said. The IMF said it expects GDP growth to ease to around 0.75 percent this year, with the strong franc and low oil prices seen driving down inflation to around -1.5 percent by late 2015. While both inflation and growth should gradually recover, there were important downside risks to that outlook. "The duration of the downturn in both growth and inflation is highly uncertain and could be more protracted than projected," it said. If the downturn proved to be more severe than expected, the IMF said the Swiss government should consider discretionary fiscal easing to support the economy. Among other recommendations, it said Switzerland should: - adopt a pension reform to ensure the sustainability of the safety net for future generations; - raise banks’ minimum leverage ratio requirements to more ambitious levels to ensure banks have adequate capital to weather future shocks without recourse to public support. - monitor closely financial stability risks related to the housing market and its high levels of mortgage debt. If risks do not decline, consider tighter and more binding prudential measures, such as explicit limits on the percent of new mortgages that can exceed a given debt-service-to-income or debt-to-income ratio. (Reporting by Alice Baghdjian and Paul Taylor; Editing by Alison Williams and John Stonestreet)