By  on April 22, 2010

PARIS — Swiss watch exports confirmed a strong rebound in the first quarter, with a rise of 32.8 percent in March compared with the same month last year to 1.2 billion Swiss francs, or $1.14 billion, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said Thursday.

“The recovery is therefore clearly confirmed, with the first quarter showing an upturn of 16.6 percent and a return to levels recorded in 2007,” the federation stated.

Sales of timepieces priced at more than 500 francs, or $468, grew by more than 40 percent in value terms, signaling a return of consumer confidence following a sharp drop in luxury watch sales in 2009. Dollar figures are converted at average exchange rates for the period.

The top three markets showed a marked pickup, with sales in the U.S. up 56 percent versus March 2009, while Hong Kong sales jumped 67.7 percent and China saw a rise of 89.8 percent.

Switzerland exported 1.8 million wristwatches in March, with gold and steel timepieces leading the gains. In the first three months of the year, volumes rose by 900,000 units, or 19.8 percent, versus the same period last year.

“The most expensive segment has finally turned the corner and is returning to a more favorable position within the Swiss watch industry,” Dennis Weber, luxury goods analyst at Evolution Securities, said in a research note. “With its broader exposure to different price ranges, Swatch was probably best placed to benefit from the performance in recent months, where cheaper-end products have outperformed more expensive watches. This trend has been reversed in March and Richemont’s market leading portfolio is in our view best placed to benefit from this development,” he added.

Shares in Swatch Group closed down 0.3 percent at 325.50 Swiss francs, or $304.38, while Richemont shares closed down 0.4 percent at 39.96 Swiss francs, or $37.37.

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