PARIS — Swiss watch exports rebounded in January after two months of declines, rising 3.7 percent on the back of a recovery in its top three markets: Hong Kong, the United States and China.
Exports of Swiss timepieces totaled 1.64 billion Swiss francs, or $1.74 billion, in the first month of the year, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.
Exports to Hong Kong rose 5.4 percent on the month, while China posted a 4.1 percent increase. In recent months, demand has been hit by low demand from wholesalers, who have failed to restock due to weak demand and pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, which strangled tourist flows to Hong Kong and Macau.
The U.S. registered a 1.8 percent increase in January on the back of a very strong fourth quarter. Noting that the monthly results were often volatile, the federation reported an upturn of 9.9 percent for Singapore and a drop of 8.5 percent for the United Arab Emirates.
The United Kingdom saw a 19.2 percent increase, Taiwan was up 22.6 percent and South Korea posted a 42.4 percent jump.
Citi analyst Thomas Chauvet said the January figures partly reflected a surge in orders from retailers before major watch players push through price increases, mainly in Europe, as a result of the sharp strengthening of the Swiss franc following the Swiss National Bank’s decision in January to de-peg the currency from the euro.
Another factor was the later timing of Chinese New Year, which this year begins on Feb. 19 instead of Jan. 31 in 2014, he added.
“The January data is difficult to read given the distortion from timing of Chinese New Year and pre-buying in Europe ahead of price increases, but will on balance be taken as a positive in our view,” Chauvet said. However, he noted the industry faces a series of challenges this year.
“Despite the anniversary/’rebasing’ of a significant decline in gifting-related demand in China in 2013 and 2014, we remain concerned about continued disruption in the Swiss watch industry’s largest market, Hong Kong (and its spillover to Macau), recent industry slowdown in the U.S., potential impact of a lower oil price on Russian/Middle Eastern demand and CHF strengthening,” he said.
Steel watches, up 8.2 percent in value terms, headlined the January increase, while gold watches recorded a 1.8 percent decline, the federation said. In volume terms, the level was on a par with January 2014, it noted.
The most expensive timepieces registered the best performances. Watches costing more than 3,000 francs, or $3,190, rose 7.5 percent in value terms. Those priced between 500 francs and 3,000 francs, or $530 to $3,190, posted a decline of 4.8 percent.