PARIS — Swiss watch exports declined 0.4 percent in April as lower exports to Hong Kong and China weighed on a monthly performance buoyed by brisk figures for the U.S. and Japan.
“Four months into the year, the situation continues to be better than expected,” said the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry Tuesday, noting the overall increase since January stands at 2.1 percent.
Analysts at AB Bernstein called the decline “very modest,” while noting that lower-end watches suffer from competition from smartwatches and fashion watches made outside of Switzerland. “This is clearly more bad news for Swatch Group…than for Richemont as high-end products continue to grow,” the analysts said in an e-mailed statement to clients, referring to Cartier owner Compagnie Financière Richemont.
Exports totaled 1.76 billion Swiss francs, or $1.75 billion, with exports to the U.S. and Japan growing 16.8 percent and 21.2 percent, respectively. The figure for Hong Kong, the industry’s largest market, showed a 3.9 percent drop, while exports to China were down 5.5 percent.
In Europe, exports declined by 4.3 percent overall, despite a 1.6 percent increase for Germany. Exports rose 7.2 percent to the U.K., a market that is “exerting less influence on the figures than during the first quarter,” noted the federation. Stockpiling in the U.K. amid uncertainty around Brexit has boosted exports to the country in recent months.
Swiss watch exports are eyed by analysts looking for clues about the broader health of the luxury sector. Industry executives have noticed that a certain amount of watch purchases customarily made in Hong Kong are shifting to mainland China as government measures encourage consumption at home.
“The negative change in exports to Hong Kong accentuated the slowdown in growth that began in late 2018,” the federation noted.
Exports of lower-priced watches declined the most, with a drop in the performance of timepieces priced less than 3,000 Swiss francs, led by the below-200-Swiss-franc category, which was down 16.3 percent.
Demand for lower-priced timepieces has suffered the most from competition from the Apple Watch.