PARIS — China may one day rival Japan as a bonanza for luxury firms, but profits for most brands are at least five years away.
That’s the view of Morgan Stanley luxury analyst Claire Kent, whose team recently visited Hong Kong and China to evaluate prospects for luxury, pronouncing it no catalyst to boosting sales and thus raising her cautious view on the sector.
In a report issued earlier this month, Kent said lower-end producers are better placed to capitalize on newfound wealth in China, whereas luxury players should view current investments as “a brand-building exercise.”
Kent said Hong Kong remains the best short-term bet for luxury players as Chinese consumers with means gravitate toward the lower prices and better selection there.
The Morgan Stanley report arrives at time when many brands — from Giorgio Armani to Prada — are pushing into China. Kent said the prospects for a firm’s success depend not only on entering the market early, but “how direct its involvement is in the market.”
To date, male-focused designer brands, including Hugo Boss, Ermenegildo Zegna and Givenchy, are dominant in ready-to-wear; Louis Vuitton in leather goods; Omega and Rolex in watches, and Cartier in jewelry. Kent characterized Burberry, Richemont and Swatch as taking a more aggressive stance in China than Bulgari, Gucci and Hermès.
Describing Chinese luxury consumers as no different from others around the world, Kent nevertheless noted they favor highly identifiable products over discreet ones. What’s more, women tend to focus on handbags initially, whereas small leather goods and jewelry are less appealing.
However, she noted that challenges for luxury players include widespread counterfeiting of leather goods, watches and casual sportswear, and import duties of up to 35 percent on some products.
As for production, the report noted that most luxury players with a tradition of craftsmanship should resist development there, but it’s an option for more affordable luxury brands such as Burberry.
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