Fortune smiles on Hong Kong brands as retail sales recover

A dog-shaped gold figurine at Chow Tai Fook Jewellery store ahead of the Lunar Year of the Dog in Hong Kong. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 February 2018
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Fortune smiles on Hong Kong brands as retail sales recover

HONG KONG: Retailers in Hong Kong such as Chow Tai Fook, the world’s No. 2 jeweler after Tiffany’s by market capitalization, are expanding again in a sign of confidence for a sector critical to the economy.
A pick-up in visitor arrivals from mainland China and strong local demand buoyed by robust stock and property markets have boosted consumer confidence, which translated into retail sales rising 2.2 percent in 2017, the first increase in three years.
Consultant PwC expects retail sales growth to quicken to 4-6 percent this year and to remain firm for several years after that. The volume of retail sales last year rose 1.9 percent after two straight years of decline.
Retail sales are critical for the economy. When 2017 GDP figures are published, analysts expect them to show that retail sales produced 17 percent of the economy’s growth and about a 10th of its jobs.
Like many other brands, Hong Kong-listed Chow Tai Fook had closed stores in recent years. It said it opened three new shops in Hong Kong between October and December 2017 and plans further openings, including in neighboring Macau. Including mainland China, the brand increased its stores to 2,565 in 2017 from 2,377 in 2016.
“The outlook for the jewelry sector in Hong Kong this year is positive against the backdrop of a recovering economy in mainland China ... and the booming stock and property markets that create a positive wealth effect,” the company said in a statement.
Other stores will follow Chow Tai Fook’s suit, figures from real estate services company Colliers International suggest. It predicts that 1.38 million square feet of new retail space will come onto the market in the core shopping districts of Hong Kong in 2018, a sharp increase from 327,000 square feet in 2017.
Chow Tai Fook’s smaller rival Luk Fook Holdings added two stores in Hong Kong in the final quarter of 2017 and jeweler Chow Sang Sang said it might open more shops in Hong Kong.
Skincare and cosmetics brand L’Occitane International increased its stores in Hong Kong to 36 in 2017 from 34 in 2016 and rival Sa Sa International added four to take its total to 119 in 2017.
Visitors to Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland are rising again, which has helped boost retail sales. Their numbers increased 3.9 percent in 2017 after falling 6.7 percent in 2016. Total visitors also increased in 2017 after declining in 2015 and 2016.
One attraction for Chinese mainland visitors to Hong Kong is that imported goods are often cheaper than in China due to lower tariffs.
A Hong Kong jobless rate of less than 3 percent — the lowest in nearly 20 years — is also boosting confidence and analysts said there is little pressure on retailers to pay higher rents, allowing them to keep costs under control.
“There are still many empty shops on the streets, absolutely it is not a time for raising rents,” said Joe Lin, executive director, advisory and transaction services, retail at property services group CBRE in Hong Kong.
“I don’t believe we will see a significant rebound in retail rent in the next 12 months,” he said.
Colliers said favorable rents on first-tier high streets were driving demand for shops in prime locations although brands, including Major League Baseball (MLB), Swedish watch brand Daniel Wellington and Swiss luxury watch maker Carl F. Bucherer, were opting for smaller stores of around 1,000-5,000 square feet rather than bigger ones.
“International mid-market fashion and lifestyle brands are thriving, new F&B (food and beverage) concepts continue expansion,
luxury watches and jewelry demand continue a slow recovery,” it said.


‘There is no free lunch’, Macron tells tech giant CEOs

Updated 24 May 2018
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‘There is no free lunch’, Macron tells tech giant CEOs

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron told executives from the world’s biggest technology firms on Wednesday that he wanted innovation to be a driving force for the French economy, but also that they needed to contribute more to society.
The French leader paints himself as a champion of France’s plugged-in youth and wants to transform France into a “startup nation” that draws higher investments into technology and artificial intelligence. He is also spearheading efforts in Europe to have digital companies pay more tax at source.
Macron’s guest-list included Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, IBM’s Virginia Rometty, Intel Corp’s Brian Krzanich, Microsoft Corp’s Satya Nadella and a raft of other big hitters in the corporate world.
“There is no free lunch,” he quipped in English to the executives lined up on the steps of the Elysee Palace for a photo call at a lunch meeting. “So I want from you some commitments.”
As Macron spoke, IBM announced it would hire about 1,400 people in France over the next two years in the fields of blockchain and cloud computing.
Ride-hailing app Uber also said it planned to offer all its European drivers an upgraded version of the health insurance it already provides in France in a drive to attract independent workers and fend off criticism over their treatment.
Macron will hold one-on-one talks with Mark Zuckerberg on tax and data privacy on the sidelines of the Tech For Good summit — a day after the Facebook chief executive faced questions from European Union lawmakers.
Those talks will be frank, an Elysee official said ahead of the meeting. While Macron will be pitching France Inc, he will also push his case for a European Union tax on digital turnover and a tougher fight against both data piracy and fake news.
Zuckerberg on Tuesday sailed through a grilling from EU lawmakers about the social network’s data policies, apologizing to leaders of the European Parliament for a massive data leak but dodging numerous questions.
Macron told the executives that business needed to do more in tackling issues such as inequality and climate change.
“It is not possible just to have free riding on one side, when you make a good business,” the French president said.