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The business week in Switzerland

Swatch chairman, Nicolas Hayek, has plenty to smile about after the announcement of record sales figures in 2000

(Keystone Archive)

Record-breaking numbers at Swatch, Switzerland's first trade deficit in eight years, and the ongoing changes in policy at SAirGroup dominated the business headlines in the past week.

The Swatch Group, which includes some of Switzerland's most renowned watch brands, said on Wednesday that sales grew by 17.6 per cent in 2000 to reach a record SFr4.26 billion ($2.6 billion).

Record profits are also expected, with growth rates "substantially higher" than those of sales.

On Thursday, economists welcomed news that Switzerland's merchandise trade balance fell into the red for the first time in eight years. They said the deficit was evidence the Swiss economy was performing well.

The Swiss current account data, which includes the more important banking and financial services sector of the economy, remained strongly in the black.

Switzerland had a trade deficit for 2000 of SFr2.07 billion ($1.26 billion). It had posted a trade surplus of SFr1.03 billion in 1999.

Earlier in the week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) praised Switzerland for its strong economy, but said more structural reforms were needed if the country was to improve growth in the long term.

At a press conference in Bern on Monday, IMF experts said Switzerland was enjoying its best economic performance for a decade, and forecast "relatively robust" growth of 2 - 2.5 per cent for this year.

The SAirGroup remained in the news when it announced on Thursday that it was withdrawing its bid for a 34 per cent stake in TAP-Air Portugal, after calling a halt last week to all new investment and acquisitions in the airline industry.

There was more bad news for SAirGroup on the same day as Sabena's chief executive, Christoph Mueller, warned that the loss-making Belgian national airline will run out of cash by the end of this month.

Sabena is jointly owned by the Belgian government, which has a 51 per cent stake, with the SAirGroup holding 49 per cent.

Better news came for the world's largest food group, Swiss-based Nestlé, and Coca-Cola. They announced plans Tuesday to boost a long-standing joint venture by adding new brands and entering new markets.

The 50-50 joint venture is to be run as an independent entity from headquarters in Zurich.

by Tom O'Brien

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