A fall in imports boosted Switzerland's merchandise trade surplus to SFr587.3 million ($327.9 million) in May, according to the Federal Customs Office. Economists said the weaker demand was a sign of a slowdown in the Swiss economy.This content was published on June 21, 2001 - 12:56
The figure released on Thursday compared with a SFr496 million deficit in April.
In real terms, exports were stagnant compared to the same month last year, while imports fell by 5.7 per cent. Economists interpreted the data as more evidence that Swiss economic growth was losing momentum.
The drop in imports compared to last year was mitigated slightly because May had one less working day than the same month last year, but the customs office said that "even on a basis adjusted for the same number of days, imports were weak".
A spokesman said the May surplus was primarily caused by a decline in imports from the United States, Canada and Japan. Imports from the European Union remained largely unchanged.
Swiss exports were also lower in May, and the country ran trade deficits with most of its industrialised trading partners, with the exception of the US. "It could be a sign that Switzerland is buying less in the US - that the overall mood is somewhat hesitant," the customs office said.
Economists were reluctant to make forecasts based on the latest numbers.
"The problem is they will probably be revised sharply in the following weeks," said Hanspeter Hausheer, a senior economist at UBS Warburg.
"If the figures are confirmed, we should say we are seeing a slight downturn on the domestic side because imports are going down as well. This is probably a sign that the Swiss economy is losing steam," Hausheer said.
UBS now expects Switzerland's gross domestic product to grow by 1.6 per cent in 2001, down from an original forecast of 2.2 per cent growth.
swissinfo with agencies
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