Swiss watch exports to Asia down sharply in February

ZURICH, March 19 (Reuters) - Swiss watch exports to important Asian markets like Hong Kong and mainland China plunged in February as the coronavirus epidemic took its toll.

Shipments of Swiss timepieces fell 9.2% to 1.6 billion Swiss francs ($1.65 billion) in February, with Hong Kong down 42.0% and mainland China 51.5% lower, the Swiss watch federation (FH)said in a statement on Thursday.

Swiss watchmakers are very dependent on Chinese shoppers so the coronavirus outbreak in China severely hit their business already in February before the virus spread to Europe and the U.S.

More-affordable watches with an export price of 200 to 500 francs fell by more than half, while watches priced over 3,000 francs were only down slightly versus the year-ago month, the FH said.

Some watchmakers, including LVMH's Hublot and - according to media reports - industry heavyweigh Rolex, have temporarily shut down production.

Bernstein analyst Luca Solca said in a report this week Chinese demand, which accounts for 35% of global luxury goods demand, was expected to decline by 30-50% in the first half of 2020.

Swatch Group, the world's biggest watchmaker by sales, will hold a press conference on its full-year results later on Thursday. In January, it posted a 14% drop in net profit and a 2.7% decline in sales for 2019. ($1 = 0.9694 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz)