Swiss central bank owns big stake in troubled drug maker

Valeant fraud

Switzerland might be known for making precise clocks, but its timing couldn't be worse on at least one investment.

The Swiss central bank increased its stake in Valeant Pharmaceuticals (VRX) right before the controversial U.S. pharmaceutical company was accused of Enron-like fraud.

First, you might be wondering, what is a European central bank doing owning stocks in the first place? In recent years the Swiss National Bank has used its swelling currency reserves to acquire equities. The central bank owned nearly $39 billion worth of shares in 2,569 U.S. companies as of the end of September.

The bank doesn't handpick its stocks. The central bank's website says it "only invests passively." It uses a set of rules based on strategic benchmarks to determine which stocks to add to its massive portfolio.

Unfortunately for Swiss taxpayers, one of those stocks is Valeant, the troubled pharmaceutical company whose share price is in freefall mode.

Related: Company that hiked drug price 5,000% investigated by U.S.

The SNB owned 1.44 million shares of Valeant as of the end of September, up from 1.28 million at the end of June, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The central bank said its Valeant stake was worth about $257 million.

Valeant stock has more than halved to $84, from $178 at the end of September. That means that if the Swiss central bank did not sell any shares, it is staring at a loss of about $146 million on its Valeant holdings.

The SNB told CNNMoney it does not comment on its equity holdings, but emphasized it does not do stock picking. A spokesperson also pointed out that SNB does not invest in banks due to potential conflicts of interest nor does it invest in companies in "gross violation of ethical principles."

Valeant is under pressure in the U.S. over its strategy of jacking up prices on drugs. In mid-October Valeant disclosed a federal investigation over its pricing tactics.

Six days later a short seller accused Valeant of pulling an Enron and concocting phantom sales. Valeant has since vehemently denied the allegations but its stock has lost two-thirds of its value since early August.

The SNB said last week it lost nearly $34 billion last quarter, largely on its foreign currency holdings. The central bank shocked financial markets in January by abandoning a cap on the value of the Swiss franc against the dollar. The move caused the value of the Swiss franc to surge dramatically.

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