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Business

Swiss economy contracts as franc strengthens

Switzerland's economic output slowed sharply in the first quarter of 2015 after the country's currency appreciated against the euro and the US dollar. The GDP drop was the first quarterly contraction in three years.

Swiss gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter of 2015 shrank 0.2 percent compared with the previous quarter, according to data published by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) on Friday.

Seco said in a statement that specifically the trade balance in goods and services was responsible for the contraction, with drops in exports visible in "virtually all sectors."

The slump in exports is primarily due to a sharp appreciation of the Swiss currency, the franc, against the euro and the US dollar earlier this year. It came after the Swiss National Bank (SNB) in January abandoned its three-year policy to hold down the franc's exchange rate.

SNB gave up its effort just days ahead of an announcement by the European Central Bank (ECB) to start buying sovereign eurozone bonds to stimulate the economy, rendering SNB's policy obsolete.

Exports dip

Between January and March, Swiss exports fell 2.3 percent as the Swiss franc jumped in value.

According to Seco data, chemicals and pharmaceuticals were making a "significant negative contribution." But machinery, equipment, electronics as well as precision tools, watches and jewelery also reported a fall in exports. Overall, the trading sector contracted by 1.9 percent.

In addition, the hotel and restaurant sector contracted by 3.8 percent and the manufacturing industry dipped by 0.1 percent. The transportation, information and communication sectors slowed by 0.4 percent and the finance sector dropped by 0.6 percent, said SECO.

Economic output was somewhat sustained by a 0.5-percent rise in household consumption and increased government spending, which was up by 0.1 percent.

As a result of the first-quarter figures, analysts have lowered their growth estimates for this year, with some even expecting a brief recession. But both Seco and the leading Swiss economic think tank KOF expect the economy to continue to post modest growth this year, helped by stronger economic activity in the EU and the US.

uhe/pad (AFP, dpa)

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