Luxury in China loses luster as wealthy flee

Thu Jan 16, 2014 6:20am EST
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By Clare Baldwin

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Wealthy Chinese are likely to buy fewer luxury goods again this year after the steepest cut-back on spending in at least five years, changing the game for high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton which have staked their growth on China.

Overall spending by wealthy Chinese fell by 15 percent in 2013, the third consecutive year of decline, according to a survey by the Hurun Report. Spending on gifts in particular also declined by a quarter.

The drop coincides with a government crackdown on corruption and gifting, as well as an a growing penchant for travelling and shopping overseas to circumvent Chinese consumption taxes on luxury goods as high as 40 percent.

The shrinking ranks of wealthy residents in China has also reduced luxury spending. One in three so-called high net worth individuals have already left, or are planning to leave, the country, the report showed, mostly to seek better opportunities for their children's education.

Chinese are the top consumers of luxury goods globally. A slowdown in their spending, or a change in shopping habits, would hurt high-end retailers already struggling with a weaker Chinese economy and a more sophisticated clientele that has moved away from logo-branded goods.

Luxury group Richemont, the maker of high-end IWC watches and Cartier jewellery, reported this week slower-than-expected sales growth in the third quarter, largely due to weaker Asian demand.

LVMH, the world's biggest luxury goods group, has also seen sales growth slow last year as Chinese demand cooled, prompting the company, and brands from rival Kering SA to offer goods with more discreet logos and in expensive materials.

"In terms of traditional luxury - leathers, accessories, watches - this year is going to be flat if not a little bit down," Hurun Report founder and chief researcher Rupert Hoogewerf told Reuters.   Continued...

A woman shops in a Louis Vuitton store during Vogue's 4th Fashion's Night Out: Shopping Night with Celebrities in downtown Shanghai in this September 7, 2012 file photograph. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Files