Swatch profits go backwards as Hong Kong protests bite

Swatch watches are displayed in front of a shop at the central station in Zurich February 4, 2013. ―  Reuters pic
Swatch watches are displayed in front of a shop at the central station in Zurich February 4, 2013. ― Reuters pic

GENEVA, Jan 30 — Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group said today profits dwindled last year as sales in one of its biggest markets Hong Kong took a beating amid months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

Swatch, which is best known for its brightly coloured plastic-cased watches but also owns several luxury brands including Breguet and Omega, posted a 2019 net profit of 748 million Swiss francs (RM3.1 billion), marking a decline of 13.7 per cent from 2018.

The company’s global sales meanwhile shrank 2.7 per cent year-on-year to 8.2 billion Swiss francs, it said in a statement.

While sales were in line with expectations, the net profit figure was well below the 801 million francs analysts polled by Swiss financial news agency AWP had anticipated.

Swatch said results had been hit by a range of “political uncertainties”, while a “negative currency situation” in which the Swiss franc strengthened against a range of currencies had made a 76-million-franc dent in its sales.

But it was especially the situation in Hong Kong that had taken a toll, the company said.

The drop in sales in the former British colony, where Swatch operates more than 90 retail stores, amounted to around 200 million francs in the second half of 2019 alone, it said.

Excluding Hong Kong, the company said its overall sales figure actually grew by five per cent during the second half of the year.

Looking forward, Swatch said it expected to see healthy growth across all markets, except Hong Kong.

The company meanwhile did not mention the situation in China, one of its biggest markets, which is currently paralysed by the outbreak of the deadly novel coronavirus.

Following publication of the results, Swatch saw its share price tumble 3.86 per cent to 244.10 Swiss francs a piece in late morning trading, as the Swiss stock exchange’s main SMI index slipped 0.52 per cent.

Swatch was not the only Swiss watchmaker hit by the situation in Hong Kong last year.

On Tuesday, the Swiss watch industry federation said Swiss watch exports overall to Hong Kong had fallen 11.4 per cent in 2019. — AFP

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