UPDATE 1-Richemont says China demand weak as overall sales rise
* 9 pct sales growth just shy of forecasts
* Driven by strong Americas and Japan
* Says Europe and Middle East helped by tourists (Adds detail, background)
GENEVA, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Luxury goods group Richemont's five-month sales rose 9 percent, while the company reported weak demand for its high-end watches in mainland China.
"Asia-Pacific was led by good growth in Hong Kong and Macau, offset by lower sales in mainland China," the maker of Cartier jewellery and Piaget watches said in a statement on Thursday.
Analysts in a Reuters poll had forecast sales growth of 9.3 percent at constant exchange rates.
Luxury goods groups have grappled with weak demand in their most important growth market, China, but recently there have been signs that demand may be recovering.
Tiffany, Prada and Coach have reported good sales growth in China, while Kering still noted weak Chinese demand and Hermes said its timepieces in China were suffering from a crackdown on expensive gifts for favours. [ID:nL6N0FO0AD
Sales in Europe and the Middle East were up 10 percent, down from 19 percent a year ago, helped by tourist shoppers, while sales growth in the Asia-Pacific region slowed to 4 percent, from 12 percent a year ago, hit by lower sales in mainland China, Richemont said.
Exports of Swiss watches to China fell 17.5 percent from January to July. They were also down 9.6 percent to Hong Kong, the biggest market for Swiss watches, but the slowdown was less marked in July than in the first half of the year.
Japan and the Americas both had strong growth rates of 17 percent, with the first seeing strong domestic consumption and the latter sustained momentum of jewellery sales, Richemont said.
The world's second biggest luxury goods group will hold its annual shareholder meeting in Geneva later on Thursday. It will be the last public appearance of Chairman Johann Rupert before he heads off for a one-year sabbatical.
Richemont, whose shares have gained 31 percent so far this year, is trading at 17.4 times forward earnings, at a premium to Swatch Group on 16 times, but at a small discount to LVMH on 17.6 times. (Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz and Alice Baghdjian. Editing by Jane Merriman)
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