PARIS — Swiss watch exports, a barometer for luxury goods consumption, fell 6.9 percent in September, their first decline in a year and a half, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said Thursday.
Considered a bellwether for the high-end sector, the figures come as investors fret that growth in luxury consumption could falter, particularly in China. Share prices of luxury goods companies tumbled last week on fears that trade tensions could disrupt the sector’s fast pace of expansion, fueled by Chinese appetite.
Watch exports in the month totaled 1.7 billion Swiss francs, or $1.7 billion, as sales to Hong Kong, the industry’s most important market, weakened.
The federation moved to quell concern that the decline signaled a longer-term shift in demand.
“This variation is explained in part by the fact that there was one less working day in the period than last year. However, it is too soon to view this as a significant trend change,” it said.
The data confirms a “softer environment” for the category, Luca Solca, analyst with Exane BNP Paribas, said in a note to clients. He cautioned that the figures only represent sell-in data, which can be volatile on a monthly basis.
“Adjusting for one working day, the decline is less severe…but nevertheless a decline,” he added, estimating it at around 2 percent overall and 3 percent for wristwatches.
Exports to China remained firm, up 17.3 percent. But they dropped 49 percent in Singapore, where exports had risen significantly the year before. The federation noted sales to Japan, which rose 2.4 percent, had “slackened distinctly” in the last for months.
The U.S. posted a 3 percent decline, but the federation noted “no significant influence on the medium-term trend” in that market. Exports to the U.K. were down 2 percent.
Declines were similar across price ranges, with the steeper drops coming from the cheapest and priciest categories. Sales of the least expensive watches, sold for less than 200 Swiss francs, were down 8.6 percent while the most expensive, more than 3,000 Swiss francs, saw sales slip 7.8 percent.
The poor performance of low-end watches is a negative indicator for Swatch, said analysts at Morgan Stanley in a research note. They noted the monthly data were “disappointing” overall as exports had been consistently positive since April 2017.
Exports of timepieces made from precious materials were down the most, 14 percent, while watches made of steel, the most prevalent material, fell 9.3 percent.
Nine months into the year, “growth remains strong [at] 7.5 percent, in line with forecasts,” the federation said.