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Swiss banks under pressure

Swiss banking activity seems stable, but more job cuts could be on the way

(Keystone)

Switzerland's banks have come out of last year's economic turbulence relatively unscathed, but some institutions reported heavy losses in 2002.

Despite the reassuring results, Swiss unions are warning that more job cuts could be on the way soon.

Switzerland's banks last year saw their aggregate net profits drop nearly five per cent to SFr11.9 billion ($9.1 billion), according to the Swiss National Bank (SNB).

Officials blamed the weaker performance on higher depreciation costs, which rose 45.7 per cent, and the need to set aside greater reserves (+5.8 per cent).

Gross profits rose 1.7 per cent to SFr24.5 billion even though earnings from banking operations dropped - reflecting the weak economic situation and the decline of the stock market, according to the SNB.

The central bank said the increase in gross profit was due to better cost management. Personnel costs were down 4.6 cent while others were cut by 9.3 per cent.

Job cuts

Many Swiss banks made heavy job cuts during 2002.

Swiss banks employed over 104,000 people domestically at the end of last year, a drop of nearly 2,500 full-time positions.

Half of those layoffs were made in the country's bigger banks.

Susanne Erdös, secretary of the office workers' union, warns that the good times are still far away for Swiss banks.

"I don't expect an improvement any time soon," she told swissinfo. "It may look like there has been a consolidation in the sector in 2002, but Credit Suisse posted its worst monthly result in its history in January this year."

Erdös fears that bank employees will face the consequences of bad management decisions and says more staff cuts are imminent.

"We reckon there will be just 95,000 bank employees in the near future," she said.

Losses

Total losses by Swiss banks reached SFr2.6 billion, three times more than in 2001. This was mainly because of bad results from the Vaud cantonal bank and Credit Suisse First Boston.

Overall, 52 institutions out of 356 reported losses in 2002, compared with 39 the previous year.

Assets and liabilities rose by just one per cent, reaching SFr2, 252 billion.

Securities portfolios held by domestic banks dropped over 13 per cent, down to SFr2,945 billion. The fall in equity prices was the main reason and continued the previous year's trend.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Net profits at Swiss banks dropped nearly five per cent last year (SFr11.9 billion).
Fifty-two Swiss banks out of 356 finished 2002 in the red, losing SFr2.6 billion.
The biggest losses were made by the Vaud cantonal bank and Credit Suisse First Boston.
Over 104,000 people work for the banks domestically, and unions warn this number could decrease again.

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