The Swiss National Bank announced an annual profit of SFr48.9bn ($50.2bn) on Monday, powered by a huge gain in foreign equity investments, including Apple and Amazon, and a holding of more than 1000 tonnes of gold.

The windfall makes the SNB one of the world’s most successful investors in 2019 — outperforming many of the savviest traders in the hedge fund and asset management industries.

In a statement on Monday, the central bank said that its profit from its foreign-currency positions amounted to SFr40.3bn, while it also recorded a valuation gain of SFr6.9bn on its gold holdings. The profit on its Swiss franc positions was much smaller, at SFr2.1bn.

Swiss monetary policymakers have accumulated huge amounts of foreign-currency assets as part of a battle to hold down the value of the franc. Choppy global markets and mounting political risks worldwide have underscored Switzerland’s reputation as a haven for the super-wealthy and the risk-averse, putting significant upward pressure on the franc as a result.

The SNB is five years into an unprecedented experiment in negative interest rates. The benchmark Swiss rate — currently held at minus 0.75 per cent — is the lowest in the world.

Though this year’s bumper payout is a consequence of monetary policy, and is not part of any profit-seeking agenda, its size has increased the political pressure from Bern for the SNB to share the fruits of its success.

The federal government and cantons will now receive SFr4bn from the SNB — double the amount previously paid out — as part of a special agreement struck to cover 2019 and 2020.

The largest part of last year’s profits came from investments in foreign equities, principally in the US. Included in the SNB’s portfolio at the end of December, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, was a $4.2bn position in Apple, $3.6bn in Microsoft, $2.4bn in Amazon and $1.6bn in Facebook.

In total, the SNB gained SFr33bn last year from rising global equity markets, it said.

Policymakers at the SNB have so far resisted most efforts to distribute a greater portion of gains linked to its holdings. They argue the bank’s primary concern must be the effective pursuit of monetary objectives, and that outsized gains in any given year could easily be matched under different circumstances by big losses. The SNB must maintain a balance sheet strong enough to accommodate such fluctuations, they argue.

At the heart of the SNB’s concerns is the belief that any appreciation in the value of the franc — which could be large, in the absence of SNB controls — would cause damage to the Swiss economy. Export-dependent industries in the wealthy alpine state could be hit by an even stronger currency.

The policy is not without its critics. Switzerland’s banks, in particular, have suffered as negative rates have squeezed their margins to historic lows, leading to substantial underperformance compared with European and US peers.

Swiss pension funds have also been hit hard. The country has gone from having one of the best funded pension systems in the developed world to one of the worst, as ultra-low bond yields have eroded returns for risk-averse strategies.

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