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Swissair plans dominate business headlines

Swissair was the big news story in business again this week

(Keystone)

It was another challenging week for Swissair Group as its chairman, Mario Corti, gave further details of his plans to restore the group to profitability.

At a press conference on Thursday, Corti said he plans to sell assets worth more than SFr3 billion ($1.7 billion) over the next 18 months and wants to cut costs by SFr215 million a year. He said his policies had already reduced the group's debt mountain by SFr500 million to SFr7.8 billion.

There was no news on Swissair's continuing row with the Belgian government over their investment in Sabena. Brussels and Sabena have launched a lawsuit against Swissair alleging breach of contract over what they see as its refusal to meet financial obligations.

Swissair Group's share price jumped 13 per cent on Thursday after the statement from Corti, although many analysts said they'd been expecting him to announce a much more radical plan.

The medical technology company, Sulzer Medica, broke away from its parent company Sulzer Industries on Tuesday amid a growing crisis over the recall of faulty hip and knee implants in the United States.

At a special shareholders' meeting on Monday, the company said around 2,200 people had undergone revision surgery since last December when 17,500 hip implants were recalled.

The recall was made after the discovery that lubricant residue on the artificial joints could prevent the implant bonding properly with the bone.

Interim CEO, Max Link, said it was nevertheless an ideal time to go ahead with the company's spin-off.

The banking world in Switzerland was shaken up this week, with sweeping changes to its management and structures.

On Wednesday, the largest Swiss financial group, UBS, announced the departure of Pierre de Weck, chief executive of UBS Capital. And on Thursday, the number two bank, Credit Suisse, said that, Allan Wheat, the head of its investment banking unit, Credit Suisse First Boston, was also leaving.

He is to be replaced by John Mack, a former Morgan Stanley investment banker. He earned the nickname "Mack the Knife" in his previous job, and analysts say his appointment is likely to lead to a new round of cost cutting at CSFB.

The country's biggest travel group, Kuoni, saw its share price slide on Friday after issuing a profit warning. It comes after the recent bitter boardroom battle that saw the previous chairman, Daniel Affolter, forced out. There have also been problems at Kuoni's Scandinavian unit.

The Geneva-based drugs company, Serono and its American competitor, Biogen, took their battle over rival treatments for multiple sclerosis to a Geneva court on Wednesday. The US company accuses Serono of breaking a court order banning publication of data comparing the firms' drugs.

The life sciences giant, Novartis, said on Wednesday that its new asthma drug, Xolair, had not satisfied the American regulatory authorities. They have requested further information. Analysts said the announcement was a severe setback for the company.

The Zurich-based information technology group, ABB, announced a jobs freeze on Wednesday, saying that it planned to cut thousands of posts worldwide through natural wastage. It said there would be no redundancies. ABB shares have been hammered over the past year, losing some 50 per cent of their value.

That announcement came just after the ESEC group, based in Cham in canton Zug, announced 250 job cuts worldwide. ESEC, which builds semi conductor assembly robots, said on Monday it had suffered from the recent downturn in the industry. Sales reached only SFr140 million from January to June, less than half the 2000 result.

And Nestlé turned the heat up on the ice cream market, strengthening its position as the world number two producer by increasing its stake in the Californian company, Dreyer.

by Michael Hollingdale


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