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Cost of the good life rises slowly

By Shi Jing and Yu Ran in Shangha (China Daily)

11:25, July 19, 2013

The Luxury Consumer Price Index was up 1.52 percent last year, the smallest gain in seven years, as China's economic growth slowed and the government cracked down on corruption, according to the leading luxury Hurun Report, released on Thursday.

"Driven by high demand, prices of luxury products soared in the past few years. But growth was almost suspended last year, mainly due to the slower economic growth rate and the central government's crackdown on extravagance and corruption," said Rupert Hoogewerf, founder and chief researcher of the report.

Among nine major categories including luxury property, vehicles, watches and jewels, tobacco and alcohol, education and tourism, prices of high-end tobacco and alcohol slumped the most in 2012, falling by 1.85 percent after having risen 7.84 percent in 2011.

The price of 30-year Moutai, the well-known Chinese baijiu (liquor), dropped from a high of 20,000 yuan ($3,256) a bottle to the current 17,000 yuan.

Yang Chengping, chief adviser of the Jiangxi Association for Liquor and Spirits, said that the recent price changes for such liquors made sense.

"The Chinese baijiu industry is reshuffling its structure to make it more balanced. And the adjustment of prices reflects the companies' shifting focus on the quality of liquor. " said Yang.

Hurun surveyed 77 products for the report, with 13 prices dropping in 2012, another 28 rising and the rest unchanged. The price of a carton of 12 750-ml Lafite wines dropped 17.86 percent to 307,890 yuan, the greatest slump of all.

After five years of consecutive gains, prices of watches and jewels dropped in 2012, by 0.85 percent. But that doesn't necessarily mean consumers' interest has waned.

"Branded luxury jewels have turned out to be quite hot items among wealthy people, who always need accessories made of diamonds, jade and amber to match their expensive clothes and luxurious bags," said Chen Tingqian, a 50-year-old businesswoman from Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.

She has so far spent more than 2 million yuan on diamonds and jade and two Chopard watches this year.

Chen added that jewels and watches hold their value better than bags or other luxury items and also can be used more often in daily life

"Many international luxury brands slowed their expansion pace in China. According to my 15-plus years of experience in the luxury industry, some leading luxury brands will lower their prices during recessions.

"Therefore, it is the less-known smaller brands that will be faced with more competition. Therefore, some brands are eliminated every time there is a recession," said a director of a Shanghai travel retail duty-free operator who declined to give his name due to company regulations.

Luxury travel costs were up 6.23 percent last year, the biggest increase among all surveyed categories. For example, one night at a suite at The Peninsula Hong Kong cost as much as 110,000 yuan, up 27.43 percent.

"Although the costs of luxury travel keep rising, I still prefer to spend on trips around the world with family and friends from time to time as a way to relax," said Li Zijian, a wealthy 37-year-old property developer in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province.

Li plans to spend at least 1 million yuan every year on traveling around the world to enjoy the sunshine and scenery.

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