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Swiss Watch Sales Fall 2.7% in September

Sales of Swiss timepieces declined for the first time in more than two years, reflecting weakness in Asia.

PARIS — Swiss watch exports fell in September for the first time in more than two years, reflecting a sharp slowdown in growth in the key Asian market, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said on Thursday.

Foreign sales of Swiss watches in the month totaled 1.7 billion Swiss francs, or $1.84 billion at average exchange for the period, down 2.7 percent compared with the same period last year, it said.

“This poor showing, while rather sudden, follows more than 30 months of steady increase and is not therefore cause for concern. It confirms the expected slowdown in growth and aligns the industry with its general progression towards the projected annual target, which will remain well above the level attained in 2011,” the FHS stated.

It noted that Swiss watch sales were up 13.6 percent in the first nine months of the year.

The volume of exported timepieces fell by 2.1 percent relation to September 2011, largely due to a 10.7 percent drop in sales of watches costing less than 3,000 francs, or $3,190. By contrast, sales of timepieces costing more than 3,000 francs rose 3.7 percent.

Swiss watch exports to China fell by 27.5 percent, while Hong Kong posted a 19.9 percent decline. “These developments reflect sales figures on these markets over a period of several months, with growth clearly losing its momentum,” the FHS said.

Sales in the United States fell by 5.4 percent, but Europe was resistant, with Italy posting a 23.7 percent increase, Germany a 31.2 percent jump, and France a more modest 2.6 percent rise. Other growth regions included the Middle East, where sales were up 31.8 percent.

Thomas Chauvet, European luxury goods analyst at Citi Research, said the market was likely to read the data as a clear negative for hard luxury players like Richemont and Swatch, whose shares closed down 3.5 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively, on Thursday.

“We were not surprised,” Chauvet said of the September watch sales figures.

“On the contrary, further normalization of exports is necessary to reflect weak sell-out in Asia and mitigate inventory risks. Exports to Greater China down double-digit finally reflect more accurately what is happening in the underlying demand and consistent with Golden Week sell-out trends,” he noted.

Chauvet said the question was how long destocking would continue.

In presenting its third-quarter results earlier this week, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton cited a slowdown in demand for watches and jewelry in Asia, with Europe still posting gains, partly driven by tourism. Overall, the division eked out organic growth of 2 percent. By region, sales of watches and jewelry were up 5 percent in the U.S., 12 percent in Japan and 18 percent in Europe.

Stripping out the impact of important high-end jewelry sales in the year-ago quarter, sales in Asia were roughly flat, LVMH said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong-listed luxury watch retailer Hengdeli reported in August that the growth of its retail business slowed down in the first half of the year, compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.

“This was mainly because the growth of the group’s overall sales was dragged down by subdued sales of high-end watches in the wake of the slowdown in China’s economic growth amid the global economic turmoil,” it stated.

In mainland China, where Hengdeli operated a total of 352 retail outlets as of June 30, “the group took initiatives to enhance management through continuous upgrading of the standards of outlet establishment and evaluation, timely adjustments to brand portfolio, optimization of its inventory structure and effective cost control,” it added.

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