Good Cheer Buoys Estée Lauder Stockholder Meeting

The company sales in fiscal 2012 gained 10.3 percent to $9.71 billion, growing twice the rate of global prestige beauty.

At the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. annual shareholders meeting on Thursday the mood was as buoyant as the strong business results.

The company sales in fiscal 2012 gained 10.3 percent to $9.71 billion, growing twice the rate of global prestige beauty. The company also touted several other highlights during the year: Lauder’s net sales in Asia Pacific topped $2 billion, its travel retail business surpassed $1 billion and China emerged as the company’s largest market in Asia and Lauder’s third biggest market globally.

“Our business model works,” Fabrizio Freda, president and chief executive officer, told shareholders. The worry, he acknowledged is challenges in the global economy, particularly in Western Europe where both the economy and market are weak. The market in China is also softening. “China’s economy overall has been slowing down,” said Freda, but he added it is still strong and there’s ample room to grow. Freda said Lauder has brands in 64 of China’s major cities and is expanding into an additional 100 cities, which he views as untapped opportunity for pent-up growth. The company plans to open 200 points of sale in China this year.

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Freda told shareholders the company continually tracks the global shopping patterns of customers who live in emerging markets. Lauder has found that for every $1 Chinese shoppers spend in China, they spend $2 in other places, and the trend is more pronounced when it comes to Middle Eastern consumers.

William Lauder, the firm’s executive chairman, said the company has been investing in new geographic opportunities since its inception, and that will continue.

“Today our sales are almost 70 percent outside North America, and 10 years ago it was the opposite,” said Lauder. And percentage will likely increase as the company expands internationally.

“We hope to be in Africa soon in a meaningful way,” Lauder told attendees. He later added that he has his eye on countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, including Kenya and Nigeria, where many of the wealthiest denizens  now head to cities like London, Paris and New York to shop.

During the meeting Lauder and Freda deflected chatter that Procter & Gamble Co. may one day attempt to buy the Lauder company. When asked about the rumor by a shareholder, Lauder said, “I can categorically say to you ‘no.’ Next question.” Without missing a beat, Freda, who was standing to Lauder’s right, said, “Is Estée Lauder taking over Procter & Gamble?” Freda’s quip was followed by a round of applause from the audience and an equally quick “no” from Lauder.

Talk of P&G, Freda’s former employer, surfaced again when a shareholder asked if the ceo if he had a plan that he had saved from his stint at the consumer products giant which he could use to deal with softness in Italy, Spain, Russia and Switzerland. Freda quickly responded, “No. I have no Procter & Gamble plan that applies to Estée Lauder. William and I are using a pure Estée Lauder business model for this company.” In the case of Switzerland, where there is a currency issue, consumers are buying in France and Germany, he noted. “We are still selling to in a different place,” said Freda.