Global Downturn Weighs on Richemont

Sales in October for Compagnie Financière Richemont grew 1.6 percent overall, but dipped 2 percent at constant exchange rates.

LONDON — Luxury goods group Compagnie Financière Richemont felt the first big bite from the credit crunch as sales in October grew 1.6 percent overall, but dipped 2 percent at constant exchange rates. The parent of brands including Cartier, Montblanc, Chloé and Dunhill said the biggest sales declines were in America and Europe.

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“In October, there was a significant change in ambiance compared with the first six months of the year, and the U.S. suffered the most,” said group finance director Richard Lepeu, during a conference call Friday to discuss the company’s six-month results to Sept. 30.

“In Europe, local consumption showed negative growth, although sales to nonresidents were quite strong,” Lepeu added. Emerging markets, however, fared far better during the month, with “very, very strong” sales in China, and solid growth in Russia and the Middle East.

The company said growth in the Americas had already begun slowing at the beginning of August, reflecting the depressed economic climate in the U.S.

In the first six months of the year, net profits rose 5 percent to 864 million euro, or $1.3 billion, from 824 million euro, or $1.2 billion.

Sales grew 10 percent to 2.8 billion euro, or $4.17 billion, from 2.54 billion euro, or $3.78 billion. All figures have been converted at average exchange rates for the period.

For the first six months, sales in the Americas declined by 2 percent. Wholesale sales growth — which includes sales to franchise partners — also began to slow in August, although overall growth was 9 percent during the six-month period.

Lepeu said entry price points were the first to feel the chill winds of the downturn, but the company said no category was immune. “The high-end is growing at a faster rate right now, but that may change as the crisis develops,” he said.

In the statement, Richemont’s executive chairman Johann Rupert warned there were tough times ahead, but added his company was braced to deal with them. He said the loss of the “feel-good factor” that the luxury goods industry relies upon would undoubtedly impact sales.

“Having expected this downturn for some time, Richemont is in a relatively good position to weather the current storm,” he said, adding that it’s in a far better position than it was during the downturn following 9/11.

Rupert pointed to a “broader geographic spread and better financial controls,” and said Richemont was much more reactive to the market than it was seven years ago. The company also has a bigger presence in emerging markets such as China, Russia and other parts of Asia and the Middle East than it did seven years ago.

The company also stressed its positive cash position: Net cash as of Sept. 30 was 927 million euros, or $1.38 billion. “We love cash,” said Lepeu. “It is a great strength to have no leverage, and we are very focused on generating cash flow,” said Lepeu.

He added the company was also aiming to “take market share with organic growth,” rather than via acquisitions.

By region, Asia-Pacific showed the most robust growth in the first half with sales rising 19 percent, thanks to demand in particular from Mainland China and Hong Kong. Europe, which accounted for nearly half of all Richemont sales in the period, saw an increase of 15 percent, reflecting vigorous sales in both established and Middle Eastern markets. Sales in Japan fell by 7 percent, which the company attributed to challenging market conditions.

Retail sales in the period grew 11 percent, and wholesale sales rose 9 percent. The company said sales of its jewelry companies and watchmakers rose 11 and 12 percent, respectively, although the leather and accessories houses posted a 5 percent decline.

Chloé’s sales slowed down “significantly” in the period resulting in a decrease in operating profit. Alan Grieve, Richemont’s director of corporate communications, said during the call the sales decline at Chloé had been both in clothing and accessories. Chloé hired Hannah MacGibbon as creative director earlier this year in a bid to get the company back on track.

Dunhill reported sales growth of 2 percent, with strong sales in Asia-Pacific offset by lower sales in other regions. Lancel’s sales fell by 4 percent.

Looking ahead, Grieve said the company was facing Christmas “with some uncertainty,” but was hoping for the best.