Hong Kong Luxury Sales Rebound on Confidence in Mainland

Hong Kong’s luxury sales rebounded in a sign that confidence is returning to a Chinese economy that probably picked up pace in the final three months of last year after a seven-quarter slowdown.

Sales of goods including jewelry and watches jumped 13.7 percent in November from a year earlier after a 2.9 percent decline in October, Hong Kong’s government said in a statement on its website yesterday.

The role of mainland tourists in driving the city’s retail sales makes the figures one gauge of sentiment in the world’s second-biggest economy. Infrastructure projects and an expansion of credit through so-called shadow banking are supporting growth in China as Xi Jinping cements his leadership after becoming head of the Communist Party in November.

“China’s economic data in the past few months have improved and this is supporting luxury sales here,” said Lily Lo, a Hong Kong-based economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd., Southeast Asia’s biggest lender. “The rebound in luxury sales will be sustainable, although we’re unlikely to see the 30 percent or 40 percent growth of the past.”

Emperor Watch & Jewellery gained 4.9 percent to HK$1.08 as of the midday break in trading. Hengdeli Holdings Ltd., the Chinese partner of Swatch Group AG, rose 2.4 percent to HK$3.03. Sa Sa International Holdings Ltd., Hong Kong’s biggest cosmetics retail chain, increased 1.1 percent to HK$6.59.

Those gains compared with a 0.8 percent decline for the benchmark Hang Seng Index.

Tourist Surge

In November, visitor arrivals from mainland China jumped to more than 3 million, an increase of 30 percent from a year earlier. The city’s total retail sales rose 9.5 percent from a year earlier, the biggest gain in five months and more than any of seven analysts forecast in a Bloomberg News survey with a median of 4.2 percent.

Some luxury companies have been betting that Chinese shoppers will loosen their purse strings after the leadership change, which began in November and will be completed at a meeting of the National People’s Congress in March.

The transition will clear uncertainty about political appointees and economic policy, and encourage the giving of business gifts, Kent Wong, managing director at the world’s largest jeweler, Chow Tai Fook Jewellery Group Ltd., said late last year. At the same time, the Communist Party under Xi has said that it wants to discourage official extravagance.

Wage Growth

In Hong Kong, strength in sales “can be traced back to more active spending by both mainland visitors and local households,” said Donna Kwok, a Hong Kong-based economist at HSBC Holdings Plc. “China’s ongoing recovery, more stable financial market conditions, sturdy job market conditions and robust wage growth have all played a part.”

Kwok said that a Chinese recovery may help the value of Hong Kong retail sales to increase an average 15 percent to 16 percent this year. China’s gross domestic product is poised to expand 8.1 percent this year, up from 7.7 percent in 2012, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed last month by Bloomberg News.

Chinese consumers have overtaken U.S. shoppers this year to become the world’s biggest buyers of luxury goods, accounting for 25 percent of global sales through purchases at home and overseas, consultant Bain & Co. said.

U.S. consumers now account for one-fifth of the world’s luxury sales, followed by the Japanese shoppers at 14 percent, according to a report released by Bain last month.

(Updates with stock moves in fifth paragraph.)
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