Swiss exports gain 7.6% despite U.S. `slowdown’

Swiss exports of finished watches and components rose 7.6% in value, overall worldwide, to 5.1 billion Swiss francs (about $2.9 billion) in the first half of 2001 despite a “slowdown” in the United States economy, says a new report from the Federation of Swiss Watch Industry.

The industry is “still going strong,” although the double-digit growth seen last year [17.2% in the first half] is “no longer being achieved,” the report says.

A drop in the volume of exports, it continues, is “accelerating.” Some 12.7 million units were exported by the Swiss watch industry between January and June, compared to 14.6 million last year.

However, the value of finished watch exports grew 7.3% to 4.55 billion Swiss francs (about $2.6 billion). Much of that was in precocious metal watches-particularly 18k gold watches, up 19%, whose export value grew 35.5% or 1.48 billion Swiss francs (about $864.3 million).

Because of that, the average price of the exported Swiss watch is “rising fast once again,” says the report. It reached 357 francs ($208.51) for the first six months of 2001, compared to 291 francs ($169.96) last year, and 242 ($141.34) in the first half of 1999.

However, precious metal watch gains weren’t enough to offset other declines. There were export drops in stainless steel watches (one in four of every Swiss watch made), both in volume (-5%) and value (-0.9%). The value of all other materials (except precious metals) dropped, overall, 2.4%.

Exports to the United States-the largest and most important market for Swiss watches-dropped 5.3% in value the first half, to 769.9 million francs (about $449.6 million). The U.S. drop, said the Federation report, was “predictable” because of “the slowdown in the American market.” However, most of the other national markets of the Swiss watch industry’s top 15 export destinations showed gains (except for Thailand an Australia).

Regionally, North America -including both Canada and the United States-saw a drop in the value of -5.6%, for a total of 793.5 million francs or US$463.4million. East European countries showed a 33.5% gain (to 98.3 million francs, or about $57.4 million) while Latin American markets rose 22.4%, to 226.3 million francs (about $132.1 million).

Elsewhere, Asian countries showed a 7.1% gain, to 1,736.2 billion ($1 billion), Africa overall is up 32.3%, to 37.8 million ($22 million) and the Middle East showed a 27% rise, to 316.9 million ($185 million).