PARIS — Swiss watch exports rose 1.9 percent in 2013 as sales picked up in the second half after a difficult start to the year, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry reported Thursday.

The modest increase ended a three-year streak of double-digit growth and reflected a sharp decline in demand from Hong Kong and China, the number-one and number-three markets for Swiss timepieces, respectively.

Nonetheless, the value of Swiss watch exports reached a new record of 21.8 billion Swiss francs, or $23.53 billion, last year. Dollar figures are calculated at average exchange rates for the period to which they refer.
“On the strength of this solid base, watch exports should continue to grow in 2014. Initial estimates indicate a higher rate of growth than in 2013, to which all regions will contribute, even if the rate of growth is likely to be more moderate in the Far East,” the federation said.

Recent signals are encouraging: Foreign sales of Swiss timepieces rose 3.8 percent in December to 1.84 billion Swiss francs, or $2.06 billion, according to the federation. This followed a 0.5 percent decline in November.

The number of exported wristwatches rose 3.2 percent in relation to December 2012, with a jump in sales of platinum watches offsetting a decline in exports of bimetallic timepieces.

Sales to Hong Kong were down 1.8 percent in December after posting declines for two thirds of the year.
But China, which has seen a steady decrease in watch sales since the government introduced measures to curb the practice of giving expensive gifts to officials, rebounded by 18.8 percent in December.

Japan posted a 26.4 percent jump in December, while the U.S. — the second-largest market for Swiss watches last year — registered 1.9 percent growth.

HSBC said in a research note that the Chinese rebound was modest considering the basis of comparison was a 32.3 percent decline in December 2012. However, it noted that Swatch Group chief executive officer Nick Hayek told analysts in a conference call on Wednesday that sell-out in China picked up in December.

“Hayek added that genuine consumption was now more than compensating for the reduction in corporate gifting,” the note added.

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