* Helped by sales to China, which are up 87 percent
* Strong demand also in Hong Kong, Singapore
* Industry also helped by favourable comparison base
* Shares in Swatch Group, Richemont rise
By Katie Reid
ZURICH, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Roaring demand in China helped Swiss watch exports post their first year-on-year rise since 2008, the latest sign the beleaguered sector is recovering, data showed.
Exports ticked up 2.7 percent in January to 976 million Swiss francs ($903 million), after falling 7.2 percent in the previous month, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said on Thursday.
“Growth was back in the frame for Swiss watch exports in January 2010 after 14 months in the doldrums,” the federation said in a statement.
The Swiss industry -- home to Swatch Group UHR.VX, the world’s largest watchmaker, and rival Richemont CFR.VX -- faced its steepest slump in demand in over two decades during the global financial crisis as customers cut back on luxury treats and retailers tried to run down high stock levels.
But a flurry of upbeat comments from industry leaders since the start of the year have fuelled hopes that the sector will improve in 2010. [ID:nLDE60I1DB]
“The watch exports have finally gone positive, reflecting what has been happening at the retail level for the last couple of months,” said Kepler Capital Markets analyst Jon Cox.
“Hong Kong and China are the biggest drivers and now account for almost a third of exports and we expect this trend to continue through the rest of the year,” he said.
Exports to China rose 87 percent, while exports to Singapore more than doubled and demand in Hong Kong rose 26 percent, offsetting a 34 percent drop in exports to the United States.
Swatch Group said last week it was aiming for its best ever year in 2010 after seeing a strong pick up in sales in January and February. [ID:nLDE617128]
At 0842 GMT, shares in Swatch Group were trading 0.74 percent higher, while Richemont shares were 0.64 percent firmer and the DJ Stoxx European personal and household goods index .SXQP was up 0.48 percent. (Editing by Sharon Lindores) ($1=1.081 Swiss Franc)