PARIS — Exports of Swiss watches climbed 12.6 percent in January, driven by swift growth in Asia, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said Tuesday.Sales of Swiss watches totaled 1.62 billion Swiss francs, or $1.74 billion, with an increase in sales of watches priced at more than 200 Swiss francs.“The year starts on a high note,” said the federation, citing strong gains in markets such as Hong Kong, where exports grew at their fastest level in five years, up 21.3 percent, and China, where exports rose 44.3 percent.“January is a relatively small month and the later timing of the Chinese New Year clearly boosted these figures, hence we should not extrapolate double-digit growth for coming months,” Rogerio Fujimori, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, cautioned in a research note to clients.China has overtaken the U.S. market to become the industry’s second-largest market after Hong Kong, the federation said. Exports to the U.S., meanwhile, continued their two-year decline, down 1.9 percent in January.Exports to Japan were up 12.9 percent, confirming a strong performance in recent months. In Europe, business was uneven, with declines in Germany, down 4.1 percent, and Italy, down 4.7 percent. Meanwhile, exports to France and the U.K. were up 19 percent and 4.6 percent, respectively.Foreign sales of Swiss watches are considered a bellwether for the luxury goods industry and thus closely eyed by analysts. While the sector’s recovery has been uneven in recent months, a 2.7 percent rise in 2017 as a whole came as a welcome relief after the declines of the two previous years.January’s growth was fueled by exports of timepieces priced between 500 Swiss francs and 3,000 Swiss francs, which rose 20.8 percent. The fast growth of the segment bodes well for Swatch Group, as its brands Omega and Longines are the two leading players in that category, said Fujimori.Compagnie Financière Richemont SA, meanwhile, likely stands to gain from the 10.2 percent growth clocked by watches worth more than 3,000 Swiss francs, the analyst said, noting the company’s cautious sell-in approach in recent quarters.Watches priced under 200 Swiss francs, a category that has been competing with connected watches, continued their decline, down 3.5 percent.
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