PARIS — Deteriorating market conditions in Asia and parts of Europe drove Swiss watch exports down 14.2 percent in July to 1.54 billion Swiss francs, or $1.61 billion.
Exports sank 32.7 percent in Hong Kong, 27.8 percent in France, 23.7 percent in Germany, 14.7 percent in the United States and 11.9 percent in Japan, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
Two European markets perked up, with Italy posting a 9.9 percent gain and the United Kingdom 13.4 percent. The federation offered no explanation for the buoyancy, although retail sales have been percolating in the U.K. since the June 23 Brexit referendum drove down the value of the pound, fueling tourist spending.
“No turning point,” Thomas Chauvet, luxury analyst at Citi, wrote in a research note.
He noted the dismal numbers reflect “the cautious mood amongst watch retailers globally given challenging economic conditions in emerging markets, stock market and foreign exchange volatility, travel fears after repeated terrorist events in Europe and depressed oil prices.”
He brushed off the federation’s suggestion that two fewer working days in July penalized the results: “We remain concerned about continued disruption in Hong Kong — the Swiss watch industry’s largest and most profitable market — and to a lesser extent mainland China, which has been improving for some players (e.g. Richemont, Swatch, but at the expense of Europe). Swiss watchmakers depend on the health of global tourism, and with tragic terrorist events in Europe and a stronger JPY and USD, tourist-related demand from Chinese has been impacted.”
Barclays estimates that half of Richemont’s sales derive from watches compared to 95 percent for Swatch Group. Swatch is also slightly more exposed to Asia.
Watches made of precious metal watches posted their fifth consecutive month of steeply falling sales, the federation noted, pegging the July drop at 31.1 percent.
Exports of gold and steel timepieces dropped 21.6 percent, steel watches 9.6 percent and other metals 36.3 percent. Each category “lost more than 100,000 units in the space of one month,” the federation said.
Unit sales of all price categories were in negative territory, with watches costing less than 200 francs ($208) dropping 19.7 percent; and those over 3,000 francs ($3,125) falling 14.4 percent.
“The midprice category has been resilient across several ‘masstige’ brands such as TAG Heuer, with many high-end labels such as Piaget launching lower entry-level pieces recently,” Barclays analyst Julian Easthope said in equity research released Tuesday. “It is difficult to determine the impact of the Apple Watch disruption on the Swiss Watch industry — with data inconclusive,” he added.
Dollar amounts are converted from Swiss francs at current exchange rates.
Macquarie Group forecasts a 9 percent decline in Swiss watch demand and exports in 2016.
In a recent report, the Australian investment bank said it anticipates “mild” growth for Swiss watch exports over the next seven years, likening this pace to “what was seen during the Seventies Quartz crisis,” albeit at a slower pace. That new technology dented sales of mechanical watches and precipitated a slowdown in Swiss timepieces.
“We believe smartwatches are becoming a real competitor to traditional watches as shown by the number of smartwatches overtaking in volume terms (around 30 million units) the number of Swiss watches already in 2015,” the report said.