By  on February 4, 2010

PARIS — Foreign sales of Swiss watches are set to recover in 2010 after falling 22.3 percent last year, amid signs demand for luxury goods is returning in the wake of the global economic downturn, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said Thursday.

December exports fell 7.2 percent, their lowest decline in 2009, to 1.2 billion Swiss francs, or $1.17 billion. This compares with average monthly declines of 20 percent to 33 percent between January and October.

In 2009 as a whole, Swiss watch exports fell to 13.2 billion Swiss francs, or $12.8 billion, their lowest level since 2005, when exports totaled 12.3 billion Swiss francs, or $9.9 billion. Dollar figures are calculated at average exchange rates for the period concerned.

“Signals perceived on the markets indicate that 2010 should see a turnaround for Swiss watch exports. It will however be modest and will only really be felt in the second half of the year, when the annualized variation will return to positive rates,” the federation said.

John Cox, watch analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in Zurich, noted the figures lagged behind reports from luxury group Compagnie Financière Richemont and Swiss watchmaker Swatch indicating sales rebounded in the fourth quarter. This suggested the recovery could happen sooner then the federation predicts, he said.

“I think it’s already happening at the retail level. It’s just that the export data are not reflecting it yet,” said Cox, pointing to retail sales figures from Hong Kong, the world’s biggest market for Swiss watches, showing sales of watches and jewelry jumped in December.

Among the top 15 markets worldwide, Thailand performed the worst with a 39 percent drop in sales of Swiss watches, closely followed by the United States, which saw sales plummet 37.9 percent, the federation said. South Korea registered the only increase in sales, with a jump of 35.7 percent.

China remains a key market for 2010, despite seeing sales slide 15.2 percent for 2009 as a whole. “It is in fact one of the rare markets, with Singapore, to have recorded a second half-year of growth,” the federation noted.

— Joelle Diderich

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