Unemployment in Switzerland remained steady in April, but experts expect the rate to rise above four per cent by the end of the year.
Seasonal conditions meant that the jobless figure fell slightly to 141,624 last month, halting a recent climb towards five-year highs.
"The slight drop in unemployment has been caused by seasonal effects - more workers needed in tourism and construction - and cannot be credited to a market recovery", commented Jean-Luc Nordmann of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco).
He added that despite a slight increase in vacant jobs in the construction, information technology, tourism and agricultural sectors, unemployment remained at 3.9 per cent.
However, Seco expects April's figures to be just a temporary respite and the department is preparing to readjust its unemployment rate upwards.
Nordmann said on Wednesday that he believes the average unemployment figure for 2003 will remain steady at 3.8 per cent, but Seco will be announcing an updated prognosis in mid-May.
Most analysts expect the unemployment rate to rise above four per cent in the coming months as hopes for an upturn in the Swiss economy remain elusive.
The Swiss Institute for Business Cycle Research (KOF), which issued its spring forecast on Wednesday, warned that the unemployment rate would reach 4.2 per cent by the end of the year.
It estimates that 150,000 people will be out of work by the end of 2003, rising to 156,000 by the end of 2004.
KOF, which surveyed 4,260 Swiss firms, said the economy was showing no sign of recovery and would continue to stagnate for the rest of the year.
However, there was some good news from the regional unemployment offices which were able to put more people back to work more quickly than in previous years.
In 2002, those registered unemployed received weekly benefits on average for only 129 days.
This was 11 days - or eight per cent - less than the previous year and saved the government around SFr250 million ($188 million) last year.
Men and women
Last month, unemployment for women increased slightly to 4.3 per cent, and remained steady at 3.7 per cent for men in Switzerland.
Geneva is still at the top of the list for cantonal figures with a jobless rate of 6.8 per cent, followed by Jura and Zurich which have an unemployment rate close to five per cent.
The cantons of Uri (1.1 per cent), Appenzell Inner Rhodes (1.5 per cent) and Obwalden (1.7 per cent) scored the best results nationally.
Seco expects the federal figures to fluctuate in June, when young people leave school or graduate from tertiary institutions.
However, Nordmann drew some comfort from the fact that the jobless rate among 15-24 year olds fell from 3.7 to 3.6 per cent in April.
"Switzerland has fewer problems than its neighbours in this category," he said.
The current fall in the jobless figures is expected to continue to the end of May, but seasonal industries will lead to an increase in unemployment again in the autumn.
swissinfo, Tania Peitzker
The number of jobseekers rose by 952 to 200,654 last month.
The total number of people registered unemployed fell by 0.1 per cent.
Economic analysts expect the unemployment rate to rise by 2004.
The number of long-term unemployed increased by more than 1,000 to 20,737.