Asia Briefing: Big brands capitalise on Christmas cheer

 

In China, attention is turning to the main holiday of the year the lunar new year, which this year in Chinese zodiac terms is the Year of the Horse, and analysts are expecting to see various reforms trotted out for this auspicious year.

However, one of the surprising developments over the holiday period was observing how the rise of the middle class in China has translated into a noticeable curiosity about Christmas: yule trees, tinsel and promotions in shops, hotels and restaurants were everywhere.

Most of them have been left up to double up as Chinese new year decorations, and there is only the briefest of pauses now before the start of the lunar new year shopping spree.

Retailers used the Western holiday to shift luxury goods – and Chinese people, especially the younger ones, really got into the Christmas spirit and spent money.

Luxury goods
China recently overtook Japan as the world’s top consumer of luxury goods, according to a report by the consultancy McKinsey, and much of that is coming from the country’s second- and third-tier cities.

You could see it in Changsha, capital of Hunan province in the south, where the Chinese hotel had Christmas promotions and a special lunch offer, and there were a range of stuffed Santas and reindeers on offer.

Our local mall, the luxurious Parkview Green at Fangcaodi, which uses building technology by Dublin-based Cylon Controls, had an enormous Christmas tree at its heart and a grotto.

The big luxury brands went to extraordinary lengths to capitalise on the newfound interest in Christmas and in the growing luxury market generally. At Parkview Green, 12 major brands including Alfred Dunhill, Japanese-American designer Tadashi Shoji, watchmakers IWC and Roger Dubuis created 12 tailor-made fashion items available only at the mall.

“This year in particular has seen a strong Christmas atmosphere in China,” Hao Litong, a sales manager at King Tree Handicrafts Company, told the Women in China website.

The company’s sales of Christmas products on the Chinese market increased 30 per cent year-on-year to about 2 million yuan (€240,000) in 2012.

“In previous years, they were only buying Christmas trees. But now you see that they buy more decorations for the trees. Christmas products are gradually being accepted by Chinese people,” she said.

Freewheeling capitalism
As a former British colony, Hong Kong has form when it comes to celebrating Christmas and as a bastion of freewheeling capitalism its malls can be pretty overwhelming during the holiday season.

The K11 Art Mall in Tsim Sha Tsui spent about HK$4 million (€378,343) on decorations for Christmas, the South China Morning Post reported, including a 6.5m steel polar bear made of UV lighting, designed by an ultra-hip Beijing design duo, Fake Studio.

At Times Square in Causeway Bay, Argentinian illustrator Javier Gonzalez Burgos designed a Christmas exhibition of moving fantastical animals, while Pacific Place in Admiralty featured a robot Santa and a team of robot elves.

The backdrop to the growing Christmas market is rising business confidence in China, which has risen to its highest level for two years, buoyed by the recently-announced reform agenda, according to the MNI Indicators’ monthly poll of Chinese business executives at companies listed on either the Shanghai or Shenzhen stock exchanges.

The MNI China Business Indicator rose to 58.4 in December from 53.3 in November, fuelled by a large jump in the number of firms who said their current business conditions were better than a month earlier. The survey shows that many firms believe the reform agenda will lead to increased access to credit following further liberalisation of interest rates.

Accordingly, expectations for credit availability over the next three months have reached their highest level since February 2010.

“While much attention has focused on the central bank’s efforts to cut back on credit, companies in our panel expect that liberalisation of interest rates will help to boost the availability of credit,” said Philip Uglow, chief economist at MNI Indicators. “Recovery in the global economy in 2014 should help to underpin growth as the authorities gradually roll out their reform plans.”

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