Luxury goods in China
Life is getting harder for purveyors of luxury in China, but the growth prospects are still fabulous Jun 8th 2013 | SHANGHAI |From the print edition
“IT WAS an amazing golden age,” reflects Guillaume Brochard of Qeelin, a Chinese jeweller. From 2007 to 2011 many luxury-goods firms enjoyed double-digit annual growth in China, which became their most important market. The first blows came last year, with an economic slowdown and jitters about the political transition. Now, a crackdown on corrupt gift-giving and a populist backlash against ostentation have added to the woes.
The outlook for luxury-goods firms appears to have dimmed. Internet users have posted incriminating pictures, for example of poorly paid bureaucrats wearing suspiciously pricey watches, which have caused heads to roll. Mobs have also disrupted banquets deemed to be too lavish, on occasions forcing officials to their knees to beg for forgiveness.
This has traumatised some purveyors of conspicuous consumption. Beijing Xiangeqing, an upmarket catering outfit that is usually highly profitable, plunged into the red last quarter. Sales of shark fin, the key ingredient of a soup served at fancy dinners, are down by around 70% year-on-year. Imports of bottles of Bordeaux costing more than $800 have collapsed.
But look beyond the lavish public banquets and a more complicated picture emerges—and not just because devious officials are now throwing their extravagant parties in private. It is true that some luxury-goods firms are grappling with slowing demand in China: imports of Swiss watches, for example, fell 24% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2013. But Andrew Keith of Lane Crawford, a high-end department store that first opened in Hong Kong in 1850, reports no slowdown at his stores there or in Beijing. Burberry, a British fashion brand, enjoyed sales growth in China of about 20% in the year to March. Sales of private jets in China are still...
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