The business situation in the Swiss technology industry (mechanical and electrical engineering industries and related technology sectors) is currently still good. Both sales (+4.9 %) and exports (+2.8 %) rose in the first quarter of 2023 compared with the previous year. However, the decline in new orders in the first quarter (-4.8 %) and the low worldwide Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) indicate considerably more difficult times ahead in the next few months. In addition, the latest foreseeable interest rate hikes by the main central banks are likely to further slow the economy, and thus demand for the Swiss technology industry’s products. There are also some major economic risks, including the continuation of the war in Ukraine and tensions between China and the USA. Companies are increasingly worried about subsidy competition in the USA and the EU, which is putting pressure on Switzerland as a business location. The main opportunities for the technology industry lie in technological innovations to limit climate change. Swissmem therefore supports the Climate and Innovation Act that will be put to the vote on 18 June 2023.
Sales in the Swiss technology industry were up 4.9 % in the first quarter of 2023 compared with the same quarter of the previous year. This rise was considerably more pronounced for large companies than for SMEs. New orders fell by 4.8% in the first quarter compared to the same period of 2022. The level of new orders is still high overall, as the good capacity utilization within companies of 89.5 % shows. This is above the long-term average of 86.2 %.
Rising exports in all key markets
Swiss technology industry goods exports grew 2.8 % year-on-year in the first quarter of 2023, to reach CHF 18.4 billion. Exports increased in all major markets, specifically by 3.4 % in the US, 3.0 % in Asia, and 2.9 % in the EU. The export performance varied in the main product groups. While exports rose in mechanical engineering (+6.0 %), electrical engineering/electronics (+5.4 %) and precision instruments (+1.2 %), they fell sharply in metals (-5.7 %). The latter shows the extent to which companies in this area are being impacted by the continuing high energy prices and foreign subsidies.
High energy and raw material costs reduce earnings performance
The very good business performance of the past year has unfortunately not brought about a significant improvement in the earnings situation for technology industry companies. Of these companies, 18 % reported a negative EBIT margin and 27 % a positive though insufficient EBIT margin of less than 5 percent. “The higher raw material and energy prices caused by the war in Ukraine, together with persistent problems in some areas of supply chains have put a lot of pressure on margins”, says Stefan Brupbacher, Director of Swissmem. “To ensure that companies remain able to invest and innovate, they should not be burdened with additional costs”, he stresses. Although the general business situation is currently still good for the majority of Swiss technology industry companies, there are considerable differences between the sub-sectors. Energy-intensive companies, SMEs, and increasingly mechanical engineering, are under particular pressure. In contrast, companies that offer products and services relating to the transformation of the energy supply system are performing well.
The outlook for the coming months does not inspire a great deal of optimism. “Companies are currently drawing on the very good order intake from the past year,” comments Stefan Brupbacher. “The decline in new orders in the first quarter and the status of the Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which is currently below the growth threshold in all key markets, point to a clear slowdown.” At the same time, there are significant risks. The latest interest rate hikes by the main central banks are likely to further slow the economy, and thus demand for the technology industry’s products. The energy situation also remains tense. However, there are also great risks for the global economy in a further escalation of the war in Ukraine and an exacerbation of the tensions between China and the USA.
Swissmem supports the 2050 net-zero target
In addition to the tense geopolitical situation, climate change also remains a major challenge. “Technological innovations are the only way in which we can limit climate change while maintaining Switzerland’s prosperity”, says Martin Hirzel, President of Swissmem. “The aim is net zero. And the technology industry is supplying the solutions that will enable us to achieve this goal. Swissmem’s Executive Committee has therefore decided to support a “yes” vote for the Climate and Innovation Act”, emphasizes Martin Hirzel. Swissmem is also in favour of the OECD minimum tax rate. Both proposals will be put to the vote on 18 June 2023.
 The technology industry includes the mechanical and electrical engineering industries as well as companies in other pioneering technology sectors such as sensors, photonics, robotics, additive manufacturing and industrial ICT.