ZURICH, Aug 31 (Reuters) - Swiss mechanical and electrical engineering companies saw an 18.5 percent increase in new orders in the second quarter, raising hopes of a recovery in a sector hit by the strong franc.
Sales rose by 1.8 percent in the three months to June 30, industry association Swissmem said on Wednesday, snapping a series of falling sales.
The recovery "is sustainable," Swissmem president Hans Hess told reporters. "We have been hit more than other segments, so the recovery seems faster. But we are not back to 2014 levels."
Swiss industry was shaken last year when the Swiss central bank scrapped a long-standing limit on the strength of the Swiss franc against the euro, sending the currency soaring in value and making Swiss products more expensive abroad.
The engineering, electrical and metal industry is Switzerland's largest industrial employer, with around 321,000 jobs, and generated just under a third of Swiss exports in 2015.
Increasing demand from the European Union and U.S. markets helped exports in the second quarter, Swissmem said.
Most of the recovery was among larger companies, Hess said, although the surge in new orders meant that sales were likely to improve for companies of all sizes in the second half of 2016.
"Things are getting a bit brighter, there is some optimism coming back, we think we should have a decent second half of the year, and how it develops beyond that depends on the global economic outlook," he said.
The figures contrasted with government data last week, which said orders to Swiss industry as whole, an indicator of future industrial production, fell 5.6 percent year-on-year in the second quarter, as manufacturers such as watchmakers, which are not covered in the Swissmem data struggled. (Editing by Alexander Smith)