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The business week in Switzerland

Crossair issued a profits warning this week, blaming high fuel prices and a strong dollar

(Keystone)

The biggest political news of the week - George W Bush's victory in the United States presidential elections - failed to reassure the markets. The dollar weakened against the Swiss franc amid jitters over profit warnings from US firms.

Swiss traders were more interested in a report from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on the Swiss economy.

The OECD gave Switzerland high marks in its latest survey, saying Switzerland's economic growth in 2000 will be the strongest in 10 years and is likely to be followed by robust activity over the next two years.

On the corporate front the Swiss national carrier, Swissair, confirmed that it wanted to buy a stake in the loss-making Malaysia Airlines.

The company had said it was only interested in a "strategic partnership" with the Malaysian carrier, but Swissair officials confirmed on Monday that their interest went beyond mutual cooperation.

The technology group, Sulzer, signed a declaration of intent with its social partners in a bid to save as many jobs as possible in the wake of a major restructuring.

A statement on Wednesday from Sulzer headquarters in Winterthur said that potential buyers of the divisions up for sale would be urged to maintain current working conditions. Wherever possible, current production sites should also be maintained.

Disappointing news came from SAirGroup's regional carrier, Crossair, when it announced on Thursday that it did not expect to make a profit for the year 2000 because of the high cost of fuel and the strength of the US dollar. Higher fuel prices have been affecting profits throughout the airline industry

In boardroom reshuffles, Urs Fischer, the designated head of the merged phone operator Sunrise/diAx, was appointed chief executive of the telecommunications group, Ascom.

The 46-year-old Fischer will take over from Ascom boss, Hans-Ulrich Schroeder, who has run the Bern-based concern since 1995.

On the trade front, ministers of the European Free Trade Association, which includes Switzerland, signed a cooperation declaration in Geneva with the four South American countries in the Mercosur economic grouping.

The deal, signed on Tuesday, was seen as a first step towards a free trade agreement. EFTA ministers are expected to sign a similar agreement with Yugoslavia.

Also attracting attention during the week was news that a new report had put forward a series of recommendations to combat corruption in Switzerland. The measures were based on the first in-depth study of such crimes, and stressed the need for greater accountability and transparency.

The study, presented in Fribourg on Thursday, contained 50 proposals to tackle corruption at all levels of government and industry.

by Tom O'Brien

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