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Long Luxury Boom Slows in China

Thursday, 6 Sep 2012 | 3:37 PM ET
Two women look at a jewelry display in a luxury shopping mall in Shanghai. Following in the footsteps of Japan, China has become the world's second-largest consumer of high-end fashion, accessories and luxury goods.
Phillipe Lopez | AFP | Getty Images
Two women look at a jewelry display in a luxury shopping mall in Shanghai. Following in the footsteps of Japan, China has become the world's second-largest consumer of high-end fashion, accessories and luxury goods.

For years, luxury prices in China have been soaring.

According to Julius Baer’s Lifestyle Index, the cost of living the luxury life in Asia jumped 12 percent in 2011. That was twice the inflation rate for the broader Asian economy. The Baer index is a basket of goods that includes all of the necessities of the good life, like Oyster Rolex watches, Armani suits and face lifts.

Now, however, the cost of living large in China is slowing – possibly a sign of the broader slowdown in China and slowing spending of the Chinese rich.

The Hurun Report’s Luxury CPI (yet another measure of luxury prices) grew 4.9 percent – the slowest rate of growth since 2009.

The price weakness was led by luxury real estate, which fell 2.4 percent year-over-year. Private jets and yachts were also weak, rising less than the broader rate of inflation in China. (Read more: China's Art Bubble May Be Popping)

Prices for luxury travel held up the best, rising 12 percent over the past year. Pricey drinks were also still pricey, rising 8 percent. In fact, the one item that the Hurun report said increased the most in price wasa bottle of Shuijingfang Classical Collection, which is a baijiu (or “white liquor”). That price jumped 59 percent.

Hurun, which is in the business of highlighting the Chinese rich and their growth, attributed the slowdown to currency appreciation. But the yuan has been depreciating recently, which would make those imported goods more expensive (this may be an issue of time periods, since the yuan’s strength is more recent).

Rupert Hoogewerf, chairman and chief Researcher of Hurun Report, said, “The slowdown in the economy has knocked the confidence of the Chinese luxury consumer.”

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To put it mildly. We're seeing a barrage of new data that shows the Chinese luxury and collectibles boom may be stalling – from weak wine sales to slower sales of jewelry and handbags. Richemont said sales growth has slowed significantly in Asia. Wine auction sales fell by 25 percent in the first six months of 2012. (Read more: Christie's Takes Wine Sales Online)

Some of life’s luxury necessities, however, never go down in price in China. A Diamond Membership at the tony Shenzhen Mission Hills Golf Club grew 5 percent, to RMB 1.98 million (around $312,000), or an increase of 5.32 percent year-over-year.



-By CNBC's Robert Frank
Follow Robert Frank on Twitter:
@robtfrank

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  • A reporter and editor, Robert Frank is a leading authority on the American wealthy for CNBC.