Swiss Watch Exports Rise the Least Since Crisis on China Slump

Swiss watch exports rose 1.9 percent in 2013, the slowest rate since the financial crisis, as China cracked down on bribery and extravagant lifestyles among government officials.

Exports advanced to a record 21.8 billion Swiss francs ($24.1 billion), the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said on its website today. The growth rate slowed from an average annual rate of 17 percent in the three years to 2012.

Timepieces make up more than a tenth of Switzerland’s total exports, led by brands including Rolex, Swatch Group AG’s Omega and Cie. Financiere Richemont SA’s Cartier. Demand from mainland China, which displaced France as the third-biggest market for Swiss watches in 2011, fell 13 percent. The trade group forecast a gain in 2014.

“Initial estimates indicate a higher rate of growth than in 2013 to which all regions will contribute, even if the rate of growth is likely to be more moderate in the Far East,” the federation said.

Exports to Hong Kong, the largest market for Swiss watches, declined 5.6 percent in 2013, while shipments to the U.S., the next biggest market, gained 2.4 percent.

France has become a less significant buyer, overstepped last year by both Germany and Italy. Shipments to the Middle East rose 10.7 percent.

“Asia recorded a negative start to the year, but became a driving force from the summer,” the trade group said, adding that the region imported about 54 percent of Swiss watches.

Swiss watch exports will probably rise 5 percent in 2014, Patrik Schwendimann, an analyst at Zuercher Kantonalbank, has estimated. That compares with an average annual growth rate of 7 percent in the past three decades.

“Everybody was hoping that wholesale demand in mainland China would recover in the second half of 2013, but so far it hasn’t happened because end-demand is not good enough and retailers are still very prudent,” Schwendimann said before the release.

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