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The business week in Switzerland

Ascom's annual general meeting and allegations from more than one quarter concerning Novartis dominated the week. The dollar continued to dominate the foreign exchanges, while the Swiss stock market mirrored movements on Wall Street.

Among the major stories were:

- Monday. Price pressure in Switzerland increased slightly as the economy continued to do well. Data from the Federal Statistics Office showed that producer/import prices rose 0.1 per cent in April month-on-month, increasing 2.8 per cent year-on-year, that follows on from a 2.9 per cent increase in March.

- Tuesday. Novartis rejected allegations against its Ritalin drug. Legal action has reportedly been taken against Novartis in the American State of Texas for lack of information concerning side effects of the drug.

- Wednesday. Novartis was criticised by environmentalists for taking out a European patent on genetically altered living organs used in transplant operations. Greenpeace claimed the patent proved that life science companies were intent on turning plants, animals and people into market commodities, for the purpose of profit making.

- Wednesday. Shareholders of telecommunications equipment group, Ascom, decisively turned down a move to introduce a uniform share structure at its annual general meeting in Bern.

- Wednesday. Textile machinery group, Saurer, announced that it expects a positive operating result in 2000 after returning to profit in the first four months of this year.

- Thursday. Swiss group, Feintools, saw first half profits rise 39 per cent at 13 million francs. The group, which manufactures and develops precision cutting instruments for industry, is also looking to a similar improvement for the year as whole.

- Friday. Swisscom maintained its forecast of higher full year sales and net profits but a lower operating income after reporting its first ever first quarter results. The group revealed sales up 31 per cent at SFr 3.4 billion over the first three months of 2000. First quarter net income more than tripled at SFr 2.065 billion, boosted by extraordinary gains of SFr1.335 billion on the sale of its one third stake in Swiss cable television operator, Cablecom. However, operating income at Swisscom fell over the first quarter of 2000, in line with analysts' expectations, dropping 30 per cent at SFr 660 million.

by Tom O'Brien.

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