Swatch buyers in China hesitate over higher prices, CEO says

ZURICH (Reuters) – The Chinese market is likely to be difficult until the end of the year with consumers hesitating over higher prices, the chief executive of Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview.

Swatch CEO Nick Hayek told the Neue Zuercher Zeitung that China still has great potential, but consumers are waiting a long time before making purchases.

“They have also become more price sensitive, because in many areas there have been excessive price increases. I expect the Chinese market to remain difficult until the year’s end,” Hayek said in the interview published at the weekend.

Swatch makes high-end Omega, Tissot and Longines watches as well the eponymous mass-market plastic models. Hayek, whose family controls 43% of Swatch’s voting shares, was asked whether he would like to delist the firm.

“That would surely be best for the long-term development of the company. But unfortunately, going private isn’t possible without getting massively into debt,” said Hayek, whose sister Nayla is chair of Swatch. “And we don’t like debts at all.”

The paper also asked the CEO whether his nephew, Marc Hayek, who is due to be voted on to the company’s board in May, would eventually replace him as chief executive.

“We know Marc is committed to the company, is passionate, does very good work and represents our corporate culture. But whether he really wants to run this company at some point or has other priorities is another question.

“My sister and I won’t order him to take over at any rate,” he said. “That’s his decision.”

(Writing by Dave Graham; Editing by Nick Macfie)