Swiss exports falter in May as machine and chemicals sales drop
* Swiss exports fall in May to 17.3 bln Sfr
* Sales of chemicals and electronics decline
* Watch exports show moderate growth - industry federation
ZURICH, June 24 (Reuters) - Switzerland's exports slipped in May, as sales from its key machinery, pharmaceutical and chemical sectors dried up and demand from its main trading partner Europe weakened, the Federal Customs Office said on Tuesday.
Real exports fell 0.9 percent in May to 17.253 billion Swiss francs ($19.28 billion), 0.7 percent on a nominal basis, the data showed.
Swiss exports have been supported by a cap the central bank imposed on the soaring franc currency almost three years ago, but have suffered from sluggish demand in Europe where slow growth has sapped business and consumer confidence.
Exports of pharmaceuticals and chemicals, the country's biggest export category, fell a nominal 1.9 percent while machines and electronic devices were down 3.0 percent.
Last week, the Swiss government scaled back its forecasts for economic growth for this year and next, citing weak growth in the European Union, which could weigh on appetite for Swiss goods.
The SNB cautioned there were still substantial risks attached to the economic recovery which in turn could hamper Switzerland's export-orientated economy, but it kept its growth forecast unchanged.
Exports on watches rose a nominal 1.2 percent in May and their total value since the start of the year increased 3.3 percent compared the prior-year period, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) said.
"The rebound in growth remains moderate, but is perfectly in line with forecasts for the first-half year," it said in a statement.
The trade surplus widened to 2.8 billion francs in May from 2.4 billion a month earlier. ($1 = 0.8950 Swiss Francs) (Reporting by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Andrew Heavens)