Rolex braces for weaker demand in 2009

ZURICH Fri Jan 16, 2009 4:56am EST

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ZURICH Jan 16 (Reuters) - Independent Swiss watchmaker Rolex expects demand for its timepieces to fall in 2009, its chief executive was quoted as saying on Friday, as consumers' appetite for luxury items wanes.

"Last year was an absolute record. We expect a decline this year and in 2010," Chief Executive Bruno Meier said in an interview with Swiss newspaper Le Temps.

"As watch export data shows, we all suffered a decline in sales in the last two months."

Demand for Swiss timepieces slowed sharply in October and November as consumers cut back on spending due to growing worries about the prospect of recession and widespread job losses.

Meier is optimistic about emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil, where demand was likely to be solid, but Rolex will sell less in the United States and Europe, he said.

Analysts have predicted that Swiss watchmakers would suffer their first significant slowdown in five years in 2008 and have painted a bleak outlook for 2009.

Shares in Swatch Group (UHR.VX), which owns high-end brands such as Blancpain, Omega and Breguet, and in Richemont (CFR.VX) -- seller of Lange & Soehne and Jaeger-LeCoultre -- lost around half their value in 2008.

"The well-known brands will suffer a bit but will survive the turbulences. The ones who are in debt will have difficulties and some of them will disappear," Meier said. (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Katie Reid; editing by John Stonestreet)

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