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China passes U.S. as top luxury goods consumer

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 20 2013 6:34 a.m. MST

China is now the top consumer of luxury items, including handbags, according to a new study by Bain & Company.

L Benedict via Flickr

Chinese consumers spend more on luxury goods than consumers in any other country, according to a 2012 study by Bain & Company released in December — a finding that may have helped prompt a reaction from the Chinese government. The Chinese comprise 25 percent of the luxury goods market while U.S. shoppers make up 20 percent — good for second in the world.

Luxury spending in Greater China (China and Taiwan) reached $34.6 billion in 2012, or $25 per capita. The most popular brands among Chinese consumers are Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.

Sixty percent of the total luxury spending by Chinese citizens took place outside of China.

“The Chinese consumer has increasingly become a global consumer for luxury brands,” said Bruno Lannes in a statement. Lannes is a Bain partner in Greater China and lead author of the Chinese edition of the study.

“Changes in what Chinese shoppers want are now a central issue for the global luxury sector’s largest brands.”

McKinsey & Company predicts that by 2015 one of every three dollars spent on high-end handbags, apparel, watches, jewelry and other luxury items will come from Chinese consumers.

As reported by CNN earlier this month, China recently outlawed advertizing luxury products on state-run radio and TV stations. The share prices of Burberry, LVMH and Richemont all fell following the announcement.

Government officials said that widening economic disparity prompted the decision. The wealthiest 10 percent of Chinese households possess as much as 57 percent of the country’s disposable income, according to Caixin, a Chinese financial media outlet.

In the U.S., the top 10 percent hold about half of all income, according to the New York Times.

Sales of luxury items, such as watches, are tracked by some investors, who view them as an indicator of broader economic conditions.

Watch watchers may be interested in knowing that tennis star Rafael Nadal is now sporting an upgraded Richard Mille timepiece, per a recent Forbes report. Nadal made waves in 2010 for wearing the horologist’s RM027 model during competition. The new version — the RM27-01 — will be available to the public in a limited quantity for $690,000 each.

dward@desnews.com

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