LONDON, United Kingdom — As the luxury and fashion sector enters the critical holiday shopping period on the back of strong results for the first half of the year, there are growing signs that executives are worried about what the future holds for the luxury market in 2012.
• This has been another month of record results for the luxury sector, with Hermès, Richemont, Ferragamo, Burberry, Tiffany, Prada and Ports all posting outstanding numbers for their first half or third quarter period. Buoyant growth in Asia continued to lift sales; Richemont in particular shone with revenues in the region soaring by 60 percent in its first half report. Growth was also present in mature markets, notably in the USA where Burberry’s first half sales and Tiffany’s third quarter revenues rose by 25 percent and 17 percent respectively. This was confirmed by recent news of a very strong Thanksgiving weekend, with US retail sales estimated at a record $52.4 billion.
• Yet worries are growing over 2012. The global markets rebound which took place towards the end of November following news of concerted action to solve the eurozone debt crisis did not happen for the luxury sector, with our Savigny Luxury Index resuming its downward slide. Some market participants have issued thinly veiled warnings over next year, notably Richemont and Tiffany (see below). Retailers are keeping inventories low into the end-of-year season; we have heard reports of some of them asking leading fashion brands not to deliver too early, a shocking role-reversal mode. Industry CEOs are hoping for the best but quietly making contingency plans. Overall, the SLI has lost 4.9 percent over the month of November, compared to an increase of 1.8 percent in the MSCI general index.
• The long-rumoured acquisition of Italian tailor Brioni by PPR finally crystallised, evidencing the importance of the menswear segment for the sector’s growth expectations, especially in China.
• Luxottica’s share price is the only one to have risen during November, attributable to recent M&A activity. The world’s leading eyewear group continues to expand geographically its successful vertical integration model to emerging markets, namely Latin America.
• Tiffany’s candid statement that trading was starting to be difficult in Europe and on the East Coast in the US caused its share price to tumble, taking US luxury peer Ralph Lauren down with it.
• At nearly 12 percent down, Ferragamo’s share price performance for the month ranks near the bottom of the sector, despite strong third quarter results and sales momentum. Investors’ concerns seem to centre around the Italian’s group relative lack of scale compared to most of its peers and on Ferragamo’s already large Chinese presence, potentially signalling a lesser upside.
What to watch
• Investors are hanging on to every piece of news in anticipation of the Christmas results. Sector outlook has rarely been so uncertain.
Pierre Mallevays is a contributing editor at The Business of Fashion and founder and managing partner of Savigny Partners, a corporate advisory firm focusing on the retail and luxury goods industry