In Case of Brexit Emergency: A Stockpile of Luxury Swiss Watches

(Bloomberg) -- Britons aren’t just stocking up on essential medicines and toilet paper in case Brexit cuts off supplies from the rest of the world. Retailers are hoarding Swiss watches, too.

The 58 percent surge in shipments to the U.K. in February accounted for four-fifths of the worldwide growth for the industry, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said Tuesday. In the first two months of the year, the U.K. imported 242 million Swiss francs ($242 million) of timepieces from Switzerland.

The luxury industry is joining scores of sectors ranging from pharmaceuticals to food in stockpiling to protect against possible disruption to imports caused by Brexit, such as border delays and slowing trade. The U.K. is due to leave the EU on March 29, though Prime Minister Theresa May has been seeking an extension after parliament rejected the deal she negotiated.

While the good news is that the watch industry won’t have to worry as much about supply to the U.K., the numbers cast some doubt on the strength of exports overall, which rose 3.4 percent. Shipments to Hong Kong and the U.S., the two biggest markets, declined, while China rebounded from a two-month drop.

“As originally Brexit was planned for end of March, it looks like a lot of brands have already sent some watches over to the U.K. and this can be seen as an extraordinary impact,” said Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel AG. Excluding the U.K., growth would have amounted to just 0.7 percent, in line with the trend of the previous month, he added.

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