PARIS — Exports of Swiss watches climbed 6.3 percent in November, propelled by a surge in demand from China and confirming an “uneven” recovery in business, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said on Thursday.
Sales of Swiss watches totaled 2 billion Swiss francs, or $2.01 billion, with exports to China clocking their fastest growth in 30 months, up nearly 40 percent. The federation said the monthly figures confirmed a recovery in business but characterized it as uneven, with key markets either growing swiftly or falling moderately.
Analysts said the overall monthly rise matched expectations.
Hong Kong, the industry’s most important market, posted 4.4 percent growth, marking eight months of gains there. The federation attributed swift growth in Japan, up 23 percent, to Chinese tourists in that market.
The U.S. market is gradually improving with a 0.4 percent decrease, a better performance than steeper declines of previous months, but remains negative over the year. Sales to the U.K. have “run out of steam,” since September, according to the federation, and were down 1.9 percent in November.
Exports to Europe contrasted during the period, with brisk growth in Italy, up 5 percent; and France, up 19 percent; but declines in Germany, down 0.2 percent, and Spain, with a 6.5 percent decrease.
Considered a barometer of the luxury goods industry, monthly watch exports are scrutinized for clues about the broader health of the luxury goods sector.
The fastest growth came from watches priced between 200 and 500 Swiss francs, up 19 percent in terms of value. Exports of watches worth less than 200 Swiss francs fell, however, down 11 percent, prompting the federation to characterize the category as “still in a difficult situation despite a more favorable general environment.”
In recent months, analysts have flagged the lower-priced watch segment as most vulnerable, due to competition from Apple’s connected watch.
Pricier watches performed better, the November figures show, with an 11 percent rise for watches in the 500 to 3,000 Swiss franc rang while more expensive ones rose 4.3 percent.
The 6.3 percent monthly rise in watch exports met expectations, said analysts.
Mario Ortelli from Bernstein noted the figure was “in line with our expectation overall of growth,” noting the figures compared to weak year-before figures, as well as the outperformance of middle-range watches compared to the less-expensive watches which were hit by competition from smart watches.
Optimism has gradually returned to the industry in recent months, following a drop in exports last year of nearly 10 percent.
“I do not expect a bounce-back with incredible growth rate,” said Ortelli, who projects around 3 percent growth for the global luxury watch market in 2018. He expects the watch market’s future landscape to be competitive, noting the images of some brands were damaged by cutting prices in 2015 and 2016 after increasing them excessively in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Rogerio Fujimori of RBC Capital Markets also said the monthly growth figure was in line with expectations, adding it supported his outperform rating for Swatch Group and Compagnie Financière Richemont.
The “strong outperformance” of watches in the 200 to 3,000 Swiss franc range “bodes particularly well for Swatch Group,” according to Fujimori, who sees the group’s Omega and Longines brands among the best-performing of the Swiss watch industry in the second half of this year, and likely gaining market share.
“This more than offsets persisting weakness” for watches priced under 200 Swiss Francs, added Fujimori, noting that segment accounts for just 15 percent of Swatch Group sales.
“Richemont continues to benefit from healthy trends in the high-price segment. We remain positive on both names going into 2018,” concluded Fujimori, referring also to Swatch Group.