PARIS — Hong Kong is losing its luster as a shopping hub for Chinese luxury consumers and is likely to witness a rash of closures of luxury boutiques in the coming years, according to HSBC analyst Erwan Rambourg.
“It has become a little banal to buy luxury in Hong Kong,” Rambourg said during a meeting with journalists on Friday at the bank’s headquarters on Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris.
It’s not all down to the pro-democracy protests that have periodically closed key shopping arteries in Hong Kong. Rambourg, author of “The Bling Dynasty,” noted that for many Chinese luxury consumers, Hong Kong was a familiar destination, and mall tenants there have made few efforts to differentiate themselves.
As a result, many Chinese tourists now favor Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei.
“Within the region, Hong Kong will continue to lose market share and you have the emergence of alternatives in Asia and elsewhere,” said Rambourg, who spends his time traveling the region to garner market intelligence.
“Excluding Moncler, nobody is opening, everybody is renegotiating rents and most likely in the next two or three years, there will, in fact, be closures,” he predicted.
“Swarovski, for example, is closing. For us, it is only a question of months before Ferragamo, Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Cartier probably close points-of-sale, because if the flows move elsewhere, there is not really any point in having that many boutiques. For me, Hong Kong is a city that has structural overcapacity,” he added.
Chinese consumers’ growing disaffection for Hong Kong will have a negative impact on the territory’s traditionally elevated margins, the analyst said. Companies that report in euros will see this effect masked by the deterioration of the European single currency, but others — such as Burberry — will take a sharp hit, he predicted.
Meanwhile, European stores will see their margins increase globally thanks to strong tourism flows driven by the weakness of the currency, which makes European goods cheaper in foreign currency terms, Rambourg said.
Consequently, luxury brands are no longer lining up to snag stores that become vacant in Hong Kong. The contenders now are high-street brands including Superdry, Zara, H&M and Uniqlo, he said.
In parallel, China is likely to increase the number of duty-free stores on its territory as part of government efforts to boost domestic consumption, said Rambourg, citing the opening last September of the world’s largest duty-free store in the city of Sanya on south China’s Hainan Island.
Haitang Bay International Shopping Complex, which is operated by the government-controlled China Duty Free Group, spans 72,000 square meters, or 775,000 square feet, and sells 300 luxury brands in categories including cosmetics, ready-to-wear, accessories and hard luxury.
It now draws 20,000 visitors a day with a conversion rate of 20 percent to 25 percent, Rambourg said.
“No project has been set, but the administration announced three months ago that it would develop domestic duty-free stores in the midterm in locations other than arrival airports. That to me suggests there will likely be other test zones like Sanya,” he said.
In addition, the Chinese government has announced a reduction of import taxes on goods ranging from diapers and cosmetics to shoes and fur coats. Rambourg cautioned that these factors did not imply a softening in China’s anticorruption drive, which has sharply dented sales of cognac and luxury watches.
“The focus of the Chinese administration is to revitalize consumer spending, not luxury spending. It just so happens that certain companies or certain luxury products will benefit from that,” he said. “The anticorruption campaign is still in full swing. It is not losing steam at all.”