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Asia Wants Your High-End Retail Right Now

SAN DIEGO ( TheStreet) -- Buck Pei spends about six months of every year in China, and in the past five years he's noticed the changes:

A boom in the number of glitzy stores, high-end malls and expensive shopping centers opening to sell luxury goods, making even cities in the country's interior almost unrecognizable in some cases.

"In every tier-one and tier-two city there are very luxurious brands opening up stores. Not only in terms of luxury clothing, and women's fashion, but also in terms of automobiles, high-end watches and jewelry," says Pei, who teaches at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.

According to Rich Pickings -- The Outlook for Luxury Goods in Asia, a report issued this month by the Economist Intelligence Unit, after years of growth the region's luxury goods market is actually beginning to show signs of a slowdown, from Japan to China to Hong Kong.

But there remain huge long-term opportunities in the region. Asia could account for more than one-half of luxury revenue globally within a decade, compared with one-third today.

Those sales will be driven primarily by the expanding middle class, the report says. By 2030 there will be more than 270 million Asian households with income exceeding $50,000, a six-fold increase from today. The number of households with annual income of more than $150,000 will rise from the current 2.5 million to around 27 million by 2030, and China alone will have 12.7 million such households.

Those numbers translate into luxury buyers at many levels. In many ways, it's a story of optimism, even among those with far less disposable income, says James Roy, a senior analyst with the China Market Research Group.

"Over the last 20 years, there's been really rapid economic growth, which has created a generation of optimistic young people who feel good about the future and who haven't really seen hard times. They've seen double-digit wage growth every year," Roy explains.

That means even a secretary earning about $1,000 a month is saving up to buy that luxury bag or other luxury items, such as apparel or watches, Roy says.

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