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Head of Communications division
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MEM industries still seeing sharp decline in new orders ─ securing supply of credit takes priority

In the first quarter of 2009, the Swiss mechanical and electrical engineering industries were once again faced with a sharp decline in new orders. While sales fell by a still moderate 15.1%, demand was 41.8% below year-back levels and a recovery is unlikely before 2010 at the earliest. Swissmem is warning of liquidity bottlenecks, particularly for SMEs, and is calling for a review of the system of guarantees. However, Swissmem is tending to adopt a critical view of any third stabilization programme, as an increase in government borrowing would place an additional burden on companies in the medium term.

The drop in demand and the barriers to investment stemming from global economic developments have had a major impact on the Swiss MEM industries. The first quarter of 2009 saw new orders from abroad decline by 43.6% compared with the previous year's high levels, while domestic demand fell by 34.5%. The level of new orders, which had already started to fall in previous quarters, has had a correspondingly negative impact on sales, with exports slipping back by 15.3% during the first three months of the current year, while domestic sales were down 14.1% on 2008.

The first quarter of 2009 saw declines in exports not only to the core European markets of Germany (-22.6%), France (-24.2%) and Italy (-29.9%), but also in exports destined for regions of eastern Europe which up until recently had been enjoying high growth. Sales contracted in these regions by between 20% and 50%. The trend in important export markets such as China (-4.4%), India (-14.7%), Brazil (-4.3%) and the USA (-13.3%) was slightly more stable. As a result sales to these markets fell by a total of 19.1%.

Different product markets

Within the MEM industries, the impact of the crisis has varied from one subsector to the next. The metalworking and mechanical engineering sectors have been badly affected, with the first quarter of 2009 seeing exports slump by 34.3% and 23.1% year-on-year respectively. The electronics and electrical engineering sector (-15.6%) also experienced a sharp decline, but in the precision instruments sector exports were at the same level as the previous year (-0.1%). Some product sectors saw exports increase compared with the year-back quarter, including medical instruments (+13.5%), turbines (+2.2%) and electricity generating equipment and electric motors (5.7%).

The order situation over the preceding months led to a marked 5.2 percentage point decline in capacity utilization in the first quarter of 2009 to 82.8%. As a result, a number of companies have been forced to make adjustments and introduce short-time work and initial staff lay-offs. In the first quarter of 2009, the number of full-time employees decreased by 1.5% and stood at 345,221 at the end of March 2009.

For 2009, companies in the MEM industries expect the market situation to remain difficult and overall anticipate even sharper declines in sales. A real economic recovery is unlikely to emerge before 2010.

Securing the supply of credit

Many export companies, whether they be SMEs or major corporations, have seen a deterioration in access to the credit and capital market in particular. Although the supply of credit is in principal a matter for the commercial banks in conjunction with the Swiss National Bank (SNB), Swissmem is calling on the Swiss government to look into ways of devising an adequate response in the event of a serious crisis in the supply of credit. This includes reviewing the system of guarantees and appealing to the banks not to add to companies' difficulties by massively tightening credit terms. Even in difficult times, it is important for companies to be able to maintain sufficient investment in innovation, improvements in processes and staff training.

As part of the increase in funding for the CTI (second stabilization stage), we have seen the creation of innovation vouchers, an instrument particularly tailored to SMEs. This instrument has been intensively used and the sum of CHF 1 million made available has been completely used up. The instrument is to continue to be provided by means of a reshuffle of Federal Government funds allocated to the CTI.

Labour market and youth unemployment

We cannot rule out the possibility that next year could see unemployment rise above the predicted 5% mark and that young people could be particularly badly affected. This will put great strain on the social security safety net and could mean that additional measures will need to be taken by the Government. However, it is essential to ensure that Switzerland's free labour market is preserved.

Swissmem would nonetheless take a critical view of any third stabilization stage initiated by the Federal Government which would entail a massive increase in government spending. Given that the crisis in the MEM industries is primarily attributable to the collapse in export demand, domestic fiscal policy stimuli would make little difference. By contrast, Swissmem supports Federal Government measures designed to ensure innovative capacity, training and important infrastructure elements such as sufficient, low-cost power generation and to relieve the difficult situation in the labour market.

Zurich, 26 May 2009

For further information please contact

Ruedi Christen, Head of Communications Swissmem

Mobile: +41 (0)79 317 24 09

E-mail: r.christennoSpam@swissmem.ch

Jonas Lang, Communication Manager Swissmem

Tel.: +41 (0)44 384 48 33

Mobile: +41 (0)79 777 41 36

E-mail: j.langnoSpam@swissmem.ch