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Rough week for Roche

Roche is in trouble again Keystone Archive

The week in business saw the Basel-based drugs and diagnostics company, Roche receive another heavy fine on Friday.

A jury in the United States found it had violated a licensing agreement with the American company, IGEN.

Roche was ordered to pay more than $500 million damages in a dispute that has been running for four years. IGEN welcomed the result though Roche is expected to appeal.

Potentially worse than the damages awarded is IGEN’s entitlement to end the licensing agreement and gain control of various technologies crucial to Roche’s diagnostics business.

Licensing agreement

“The verdict is rather good for Roche in financial terms,” Bank Sarasin analyst, Ivo Stayigen told swissinfo, “But the additional terms disclosed could be more serious. If IGEN’s right to withdraw its license is upheld, then Roche could lose a product line which makes SFr1 billion in sales every year.”

Roche says the licensing agreement cannot be terminated until the appeal has been heard, a process which could take many months. It said it would continue to produce products linked to the case while the appeal was in progress.

The US decision comes on top of a European Union fine of €462 million imposed on the company for its role in a vitamins and additives cartel.

Unemployment in Switzerland increased sharply in December, with the jobless rate up to 2.4 per cent or 86,000 people. In November, the rate was 2.1 per cent.

The news was a nasty shock for economists.

“It’s a clear expression that the Swiss economy in on a downturn,” said UBS Warburg chief economist, Klaus Wellershof, “The market was expecting a rate of around 2.2 per cent and the figure of 2.4 per cent is quite a surprise. The trend is clearly upwards and this will have an impact on consumer confidence and growth.”

Economists say the jobless rise is set to continue and expect the figure to break through the 100,000 mark sooner rather than later. Trade unions warn that the barrier could be breached as early as February.

Zurich Financial Services said on Wedensday that it had completed the spin-off if its re-insurance arm, Converium.

At the issue price of SFr82, Converium (formerly Swiss Re) has a market capitalisation of SFr3.28 billion, entitiling it to blue-chip status and inclusion in the Swiss Market Index.

Deploying capital

Zurich says the spin-off will allow the group to redeploy its capital to other areas of growth.

The Phonak hearing systems group has bought the wireless activities of the US company, Telex Communications.

In a statement on Thursday, Phonak said the acquisition would add some $3.5 million to the group’s consolidated sales and make an above average contribution to its operating profit.

Jelmoli announced plans last week to split into separate retail trading and real estate groups.

Jelmoi said it was a logical step to divide the two businesses, meeting a long-standing request for unitary shares and a better focus for investment.

The country’s largest retailer, Migros, reported on Tuesday that sales had exceeded SFr20 billion in 2001 for the first time in its history.

Migros said that although its businesses had felt the effects of the economic slowdown, its group cooperatives had performed well.

It said that growth was particularly good in the fourth quarter.

Swisscom chief, Jens Alder, ruled out any major foreign acquisitions this year despite having piles of money in the bank.

Alder said the risks of a big European expansion were too great and that he favoured a strategy of prudent growth.

Instead, Alder said that a share buy back programme was more likely. The government still has a 65.5 per cent stake in Swisscom.

By Michael Hollingdale

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR