Swiss Watch Exports Plunge on Hong Kong Unrest

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Swiss watch export growth stagnated in October as anti-Beijing protests in Hong Kong led shipments to the market to plummet.

A 30% plunge put the city behind mainland China as a landing spot for the products for the first time since the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry began keeping monthly records about 30 years ago. Hong Kong had already begun slipping behind the U.S. in recent months after ranking as the largest destination for Swiss timepieces for about a decade.

As the protests rage on, rich Chinese are increasingly buying timepieces in their home country. The stream of tourists into Hong Kong watch shops has dropped to about a tenth of its former level, according to Alain Lam, finance director at Oriental Watch Holdings Ltd., which sells brands such as Rolex and Piaget at stores in both Hong Kong and on the mainland.

“Even Hong Kong locals are afraid of coming out onto the street,” he said in an interview.

Weakening of the yuan has also reduced the price differential between the mainland and Hong Kong, where watches were once about 20% cheaper. Now the difference is about 10%, Lam said.

Globally, Swiss watch exports gained 1.5% in October. Growth in the first 10 months of the year was 2.7%, compared with the industry’s annual pace of 6.3% last year.

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