Switzerland's central bank said Monday it lost billions in 2013 as gold prices plunged and therefore could not pay dividends to the Swiss cantons for the first time in more than a century.
The Swiss National Bank (SNB) has been dishing out dividends to the Swiss cantons ever since its creation in 1907, and to the Swiss Confederation since 1991.
But on Monday the bank said neither would receive handouts this year, after provisional figures showed it would be reporting a loss of 9.0 billion Swiss francs ($9.9 billion, 7.3 billion euros) for 2013.
It had lost far more on the value of its gold holdings, which shed 15 billion francs during a year when the price for the precious metal dropped by 28 percent.
That deep loss was offset though by gains of 3.0 billion Swiss francs on the bank's foreign currency positions, and another increase of 3.0 billion on a stabilisation fund it put in place in 2008 to save Switzerland's largest bank, UBS, from collapse.
But since SNB needed to put aside 3.0 billion Swiss francs as a provision for its currency reserves, it said it expected to end up about 12 billion francs in the red.
"As this loss will be substantially larger than the 5.3 billion Swiss francs in the distribution reserve, the SNB cannot make a profit distribution," the bank explained.
The loss does not come as much of a surprise since SNB already said in October that the value of its gold holdings had shrunk by 10.7 billion francs during the first nine months of the year.
But the news that the bank would not be padding state and cantonal coffers this year did come as a blow and sparked worries of looming budget deficits.
Last year, SNB reported a 6.9-billion-franc profit and redistributed one billion francs of its profit to the Swiss Confederation and cantons.
This year, the country's 26 cantons, which resemble US states, stand to lose out on 667 million Swiss francs, according to Peter Hegglin, who heads an organisation of all the Swiss cantonal financial chiefs.
"This is a shame, because many of the cantons are already suffering from financial difficulties," he told AFP, pointing out that SNB's contributions usually represent between 0.4 and 1.2 percent of cantonal budgets.
At the federal level, the withheld cash could also translate into a small budget deficit.
Bern had hoped to post a 121-million-franc surplus, but now that it will lose out on 333 million francs from the central bank, it could post a deficit of some 212 million francs, a finance ministry spokesman told AFP.
He stressed though that in light of the 66 billion Swiss francs in expected revenues, the deficit was tiny.
And in the case of an economic upswing, higher-than-expected tax revenues could easily compensate for the loss and put Switzerland back in the black.
The SNB is set to announce its full results on March 7.