Luxury goods and EM: Bruised but not beaten
Luxury goods producers are coming under increasing pressure in emerging markets, but while some are ringing the alarm bell, others appear relaxed.
Emerging markets are widely regarded as key expansion territories as more and more affluent consumers develop a taste for luxury western brands. In 2013, however, those economies experienced massive market volatility and capital outflows after the U.S. Federal Reserve announced it was to reduce its monetary stimulus program. And the sell-off continued in January.
Last week, shares of luxury fashion group Mulberry plunged 26 percent after the group warned of substantially lower profit. It cited falling consumption in South Korea as one of the reasons for the profit warning. The group said it now expected wholesale sales for the year to be down approximately 10 percent compared to last year.
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Luxury goods group LVMH – which includes iconic brands like Louis Vuitton and Hennessey cognac – sounded a very different note. It conceded that demand had slowed in China, particularly in wines and spirits, with cognac sales negatively affected. But the group said it was confident that cognac sales in China would rebound in the first quarter of 2014. It would continue to focus on "fast-growing markets".
Like-for-like sales in the fashion and leather good unit were up 7 percent in the fourth quarter, versus 3 percent in the previous quarter.
Although the earnings outlook for the luxury goods sector was "a real mixed bag" at the moment, Allegra Perry, managing director of Luxury Goods Research at Cantor Fitzgerald, believes the longer-term outlook for luxury goods producers is still bright.
"There's still a low penetration rate in many emerging markets," she told CNBC on Friday.
But in the near-term, the slowdown in growth and a Chinese government clampdown on expensive gifts had affected these companies, she added.
(Read more: Don't bet on China's luxury spenders: Goldman)
China has been particularly tough for retailers; the government instigated its anti-corruption clampdown on expensive gift-giving and opulence a year ago and cognac sales fell sharply on the back of a government crackdown. Some of the bigger players are now re-assessing their game plan, thinking twice about where to open stores in order to appeal to an evolving consumer base.
Shares of Mulberry have declined 44.91 percent over the past 12 months, LVMH has fallen 11.78 percent. Other luxury brands in emerging markets have also suffered. Paris-based luxury goods house Hermès has seen its share price decline 5.24 percent over the year and shares of French high-end drinks maker Remy Cointreau are down 41 percent in the same period.
But Perry said it was important to separate the Chinese market from the Chinese consumer, who was increasingly traveling and buying luxury brands overseas to take advantage of a weaker dollar.
Erwan Rambourg, head of consumer and retail equity research at HSBC, agreed one had to think of "emerging clienteles" rather than just emerging markets when considering the outlook for the luxury goods sector.
"We're quite optimistic on Chinese consumption, not China consumption," he said on Friday. "We think of luxury sales not in terms of emerging markets but rather the sales by nationalities who buy them."
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He also told CNBC that the outlook for the luxury goods market in 2014 was slightly brighter than 2013. "Generally speaking, we're positive in terms of growth in the luxury goods industry in 2014. We see 9 percent organic sales growth in 2014, just up fromthe 8 percent seen in 2013."
An easing of restrictions on Chinese travel also meant that more Chinese consumers were buying luxury goods abroad causing more of a negative impact on local demand.
One danger that the luxury goods sector could face is a backlash against brands consumers view as not niche enough.
"With the increase in travel leading to an 'education process' of consumers becoming ever more discriminating, ubiquity – or the perception of consumers that they are seeing the same brands and the same products everywhere – became the enemy [for the luxury sector]. This is by no means a new theme in the sector but it is however as valid as ever."
- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt.