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Brazil, Russia currency weakness claims an unlikely victim

The washing machine department of an M Video OJSC consumer electronics and home appliances retail store in Moscow
Andrey Rudakov | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The washing machine department of an M Video OJSC consumer electronics and home appliances retail store in Moscow

The sharp drop in currencies in Brazil and Russia appears set to claim an unlikely victim: appliance sales.

Market researcher Euromonitor expects this year's consumer appliance sales globally will grow only around 2 percent in retail volume terms, largely driven by sharp slumps in Brazil and Russia. That's down from 3.8 percent growth in 2014 and would mark the lowest level since 2009, during the Global Financial Crisis.

Major appliance sales in Russia and Brazil are expected to drop 28 percent and 6 percent respectively this year, Euromonitor said.

Those two countries have seen their currencies drop sharply over the past year, hurt by declining prices for their commodity exports and fund outflows from most emerging markets amid expectations the U.S. Federal Reserve will soon hike interest rates for the first time in nine years.

Russia has also been hit by international sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and its role in the pro-Russian uprising in Ukraine. The dollar has gained 18 percent against the ruble and soared 43.4 percent against the real so far this year.

"It's really affecting the sales," Jamie Ko, head of consumer appliances at Euromonitor, said in a phone interview Thursday. "Imported goods prices go up, (but) it doesn't mean gross domestic product and income go up. The willingness to purchase for customers won't remain the same."

She expects consumers may still buy appliances such as refrigerators, viewing them as necessities, but plans to purchase other appliances may fall by the wayside.

A lack of demand in emerging markets, where many of the appliances sold globally are manufactured, is certainly showing up in trade figures. Capital Economics expects emerging market export revenues will fall by $1 trillion -- or around 3.5 percent of emerging markets' gross domestic product (GDP) -- this year.

Russia's economy is expected to shrink nearly 4 percent in 2015, while Brazil's economy is also expected to contract around 3 percent this year, according to IMF forecasts. Brazil's central bank has set interest rates at 14.25 percent, a nine-year high, to tamp down inflation.

"There is a strong culture among Brazilian consumers of acquiring durable goods in installments, and due to inflationary controls, credit offerings have been adversely impacted by higher interest rates," Ko said in a research note.

But it's not all doom and gloom for the appliance sector, although the bright spots can be counterintuitive.

Within Brazil, the weak real isn't expected to keep consumers from buying light fryers, which fries food with much less oil than a deep fryer, Euromonitor said, noting that 28 percent of all purchases of those appliances will be in the country, second only to China's 45 percent.

"In Brazil, rising obesity has become a national issue that is widely covered in mass media," Ko said in a note.

Another bright spot: sales of dishwashers in Asia, particularly in China, Vietnam, India and Thailand, are expected to show solid growth.

That's unusual because it's very common for the middle class and wealthy in those countries to have live-in domestic helpers, meaning washing dishes isn't necessarily seen as a household chore. In Vietnam alone, dishwasher sales are expected to grow at a 7 percent compound annual growth rate over the next five years.

"It's considered a premium product," Ko said. "That consumer segment is still aiming to have those premium products."

There's another appliance segment set to post a banner year: electric facial cleansers. Euromonitor expects that segment will post the highest volume growth among small appliances this year and over the next five years, forecasting a 12 percent compound annual growth rate.

"This is going with beauty trends. There's more concern about skin care," Ko said, noting the appliance plays on the desire for a "home spa."

—By CNBC.Com's Leslie Shaffer; Follow her on Twitter @LeslieShaffer1