【英语中国】中国反腐对瑞士表影响多大?

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所属分类:双语中国

2013-5-7 09:32

小艾摘要: Before accompanying the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, on a visit to a neighbourhood ravaged by the earthquake in Sichuan two weeks ago, Fan Jiyue, a county party chief, took an important precaution: he ...
Before accompanying the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang, on a visit to a neighbourhood ravaged by the earthquake in Sichuan two weeks ago, Fan Jiyue, a county party chief, took an important precaution: he removed his wristwatch.

His concern was understandable. China’s new leadership is cracking down hard on ostentatious displays of wealth by party officials and corruption. As a result, expensive watches – a popular gift given by those seeking to win favour with Chinese businessmen and politicians – have become a source of unwanted attention.

Unfortunately for Mr Fan, unwanted attention is precisely what his move brought him: the watch-shaped tan lines on his wrist were spotted by China’s eagle-eyed netizens, and pictures of the local official’s unadorned arm went viral on the Chinese internet. With predictable alacrity, the country’s censors had soon blocked searches for Mr Fan.

This sudden hostility to extravagance, which set in last autumn after Xi Jinping took over as Chinese president, has led to a big slowdown in Swiss watch exports to China – which over the past 10 years has been the fastest growing market for the Alpine nation’s timepieces.

In 2002, China’s Swiss watch imports were worth just SFr94.2m. By 2012 that figure had surged to SFr1.65bn ($1.77bn), and China had become the world’s third-biggest buyer of Swiss watches.

Just as significantly, over the same period the value of Swiss watch exports to Hong Kong – where many mainland Chinese buy watches to take advantage of favourable tax rates – has almost tripled to SFr4.4bn, making it by far the world’s largest Swiss watch market.

However in recent months, the trend has gone into reverse. In the first three months of this year, the value of Swiss watch exports to China is down 26 per cent compared with the same period a year ago. Exports to Hong Kong are 9 per cent lower.

March was particularly disappointing, with sales to China down 31 per cent and Hong Kong down 8 per cent. “This is one of the worst monthly performances in Greater China for over three years,” wrote Thomas Chauvet, an analyst at Citi, in a note to clients.

At the glitzy annual Baselworld watch and jewellery fair this week in Switzerland, however, watch executives were putting on a brave face.

“Of course business in China is slowing down. The whole luxury business is slowing down,” says Jean-Frédéric Dufour, chief executive of Zenith, one of LVMH’s stable of brands.

“But it will start up again. China is moving forward.”

Fran?ois Thiébaud, head of the Swiss exhibitors’ committee at Baselworld, and also president of Tissot, one of the many marques owned by the Swatch Group, takes a similar line.

“In the US you have a slowdown every four years because of the [presidential] elections. But then things pick up again,” he says. “It is the same in China. They have had a change of leadership and spending has slowed down because people are uncertain. When they are more certain, they will spend again. We have already seen more Chinese at Basel this year.”

Just how soon the recovery will come, though, is moot. “I suspect [the crackdown] will last through most of the year if not longer,” says Jon Cox, head of Swiss research at Kepler Capital Markets.

However, not all watchmakers have been equally affected by Mr Xi’s war on extravagance. Mr Thiébaud says Tissot has been spared, suggesting that its watches – the bulk of which sell for between SFr300 and SFr1000 – are not in the expensive segment preferred by those seeking to win favours from Chinese officials and businessmen.

Analysts agree. “[The crackdown] will mainly impact the high end – watches retailing for $10,000,” says Mr Cox.

Yet even within the high end, some watchmakers have managed to dodge the slowdown. Thierry Stern, head of Patek Philippe, one of the most exclusive watch brands, says that his company’s strategy of limiting production to a maximum of 53,000 pieces per year, even in the face of much higher demand, means that a fall in Chinese buying is not a problem.

One big reason why the executives milling around the watch stalls in Basel are relatively optimistic is that although the Chinese may now think twice about buying at home, they are still buying abroad, particularly in Europe. “At the high end, people often want to buy an object in the place it was made,” says Mr Thiébaud.

A further reason for watchmakers’ equanimity is that previous anti-corruption initiatives in China have been more notable for their initial severity than their durability.

Yet even if Mr Xi’s crackdown proves more enduring than those of his predecessors, China’s economic growth and the emergence of its middle class will eventually offset its chilling effect on illegitimate gift-giving, says Mr Cox.

两周前,在陪同中国总理李克强探访四川地震灾区之前,芦山县委书记范继跃谨慎地做了一件重要的事:他取下了自己的手表。

范继跃的担心是可以理解的。中国新领导层正在严厉打击党内干部炫富行为,并遏制腐败。因此,官员们不希望昂贵的手表为自己引来注意。而在中国,名贵手表正是人们经常用来讨好商人和官员的礼物。

但倒霉的是,范继跃的举动恰恰引来了注意:眼尖的中国网民发现,他手腕上戴表的位置留下了一个明显的手表印,他手腕上空空如也的照片也在中国互联网上疯狂传播。不出意外地,中国的互联网审查者迅速屏蔽了范继跃的相关搜索。

这场去年秋天习近平上台后突然刮起的反奢侈之风,已导致瑞士对华手表出口大大放缓。过去十年来,中国是瑞士手表增长最快的市场。

2002年,中国内地的瑞士手表进口总值仅9420万瑞郎。到2012年,这一数字跃升至16.5亿瑞郎(合17.7亿美元),而中国内地也已成为瑞士手表的世界第三大买家。

同样令人瞩目的是,同期瑞士对香港的手表出口总值增长了近两倍,至44亿瑞郎。目前香港是瑞士手表的最大市场。中国许多内地人会到香港买手表,因为香港税率低。

但近几个月以来,这一趋势发生了逆转。今年第一季度,瑞士对中国内地出口手表总额同比下降了26%,对香港的出口额同比下降了9%。

其中3月的情况格外糟糕。当月瑞士手表对中国内地的出口额下降31%,对香港出口额下降8%。花旗(Citi)分析师托马?肖伟(Thomas Chauvet)在给客户的简报中写道:“这是大中华区三年来最糟的单月表现之一。”

一年一度的“巴塞尔世界钟表珠宝展”(Baselworld)本周在瑞士盛大开幕。但出人意料的是,手表业高管们似乎气定神闲。

路威酩轩(LVMH)旗下品牌真力时(Zenith)的首席执行官让-弗雷德里克?迪富尔(Jean-Frédéric Dufour)说:“在华业务的确在放缓。整个奢侈品行业都在放缓。

“但增长会重启的。中国在向前发展。”

巴塞尔世界钟表展瑞士参展商委员会主席、天梭(Tissot)总裁弗朗索瓦?蒂埃博(Fran?ois Thiébaud)也持类似意见。天梭是斯沃琪(Swatch)旗下众多品牌之一。

蒂埃博说:“在美国,因为(总统)选举的原因,每四年就会有一轮放缓。但之后增长每次都会重启。中国也是同样。中国刚完成领导层换届,因为人们心里没底,所以开支放缓。当这种感觉减弱,人们又会开始花钱了。今年来巴塞尔展的中国人就比往年多。”

然而,增长重启多久会到来还是个未知数。开普勒资本市场(Kepler Capital Markets)瑞士研究主管乔恩?柯克斯(Jon Cox)表示:“我觉得(反腐)至少会持续到今年年底,可能还会更久。”

不过,并不是所有手表制造商都同等程度地受到了习近平发起的反铺张浪费行动的影响。蒂埃博表示,天梭是个例外。他认为,天梭表的售价大多在300瑞郎至1000瑞郎之间,不算太昂贵,不是想要讨好官员和商人的送礼者青睐的品牌。

分析师们同意这个观点。柯克斯表示:“(反腐)将主要影响高端品牌,也就是价位在1万美元以上的手表。”

然而,即便在高端品牌中,也有一些躲过了放缓的命运。最高档的品牌之一百达翡丽(Patek Philippe)总裁泰瑞?斯登(Thierry Stern)表示,百达翡丽奉行限量生产策略,需求量再高,每年最多也只生产5.3万块,所以中国的购买量减少不是什么问题。

在巴塞尔展会手表展台附近转悠的那些首席执行官之所以相对乐观,一大原因在于,尽管如今中国人在国内购买名表时可能不再那么爽快,但他们在海外的购买活动仍在继续,特别是在欧洲。蒂埃博表示:“对于高端品牌,人们往往想要在一样东西的制造地购买它。”

手表制造商们之所以能够保持平静,还有一个深层次原因在于,中国过去的反腐行动往往虎头蛇尾,最终落个不了了之。

柯克斯说,即便习近平发起的反腐行动比以往更为持久,中国经济增长和中产阶层的兴起最终也会抵消反腐行动对非法送礼行为的影响。

译者/何黎

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