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Exports post double-digit drops

Switzerland's watchmakers say exports dropped 22.4 per cent to SFr1 billion ($856 million) in February, the fourth straight month of declines.

The Swiss Watch Federation said the number of timepieces exported also fell 28.4 per cent from a year ago to 1.4 million. Watches worth SFr200-SFr500 saw a fall of around 33 per cent and sales of watches worth SFr500-SFr3,000 almost halved from a year ago.

Exports to Hong Kong, the biggest market for Swiss watches, fell only 4.4 per cent while exports to the United States, the second-largest market, fell 47.5 per cent in February.

Swatch Group, the world's largest watchmaker, on Wednesday struck an optimistic tone and said demand would pick up in the second half of 2009. Rival Richemont said it was facing the toughest market conditions in two decades and had started to cut jobs.

Overall, Swiss exports continued their downward trend in February, falling 17.3 per cent to SFr14.365 billion ($12.6 billion), the finance ministry confirmed on Thursday.

While exports fell in all sectors, the hardest-hit sector was the metals industry, which saw a 36.6 per cent decline, followed by the textiles and plastics industries, which dropped more than 30 per cent. Food, beverages and tobacco were down 7.3 per cent and precision instruments lost 6.5 per cent.

The finance ministry said imports fell 6.7 per cent, adjusted for inflation, to SFr13.634 billion, bringing Switzerland's trade surplus to SFr731 million.

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