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Luxury Outlook Brightens

New categories forecast to help lift sector sales by 4-5 percent in 2010.

PARIS — Down but not out, the luxury market is looking to new categories – plus female and older consumers – to boost its bottom line in 2010.

That was one of the messages at the “Luxury Beyond The Crisis,” a conference organized by The International Luxury Business Association and held at the Hotel Westin in Paris Tuesday.

New luxury categories – including technology, furniture, travel and spas – will help the sector register a 4 percent revenues increase next year, according to Jean-Marc Bellaïche, partner at Boston Consulting Group in Paris. Minus such categories, a 3 percent dip is projected for the sector, he noted.

While luxury fashion brands are already rallying in Far East, Bellaïche said he is also optimistic about growth prospects in the U.S., where recent surveys suggest the awareness of luxury brands is less pervasive. “The U.S. is a growth market, but we still have to find the key,” he said.

Bellaïche explained that women, whose salaries are closing in on men’s, are buying more luxury goods for themselves. Meanwhile, consumers aged 60-plus offer opportunities for gains.

To weather the storm, Bellaïche advised brands adapt stronger positioning with “less ostentation and more truth about the product.” He also warned against too many product launches. “Consumers want products to keep their value over time; too much fashion kills fashion…there needs to be less acceleration of cycles,” he said.

Other tips included changing assortments to include a wider price range and shifting costly marketing investment toward more “intimate media,” such as in-store events and the Internet.

Meanwhile, a panel comprised of retailer and luxury brand executives, such as Printemps chief executive officer Paolo de Cesare, Harrods’ managing director Michael Ward, Baccarat ceo Hervé Martin and Puig Fashion Group chief brand officer JoséManuel Albesa, said they are already springing into action.

“It’s all about trading up for us,” said Ward, who added that has translated into 11, 13 and 18 percent increases over the last three seasons in average transaction at Harrods.

“I like to sell at full price,” said Printemps’ de Cesare, explaining the store reduced discounts in 2009 compared to in the prior year.

Brands, meanwhile, are putting the focus back on value and brand positioning while reducing the number of product launches.

Although a 15 percent decline in sales is expected at Baccarat by yearend, Martin said he sees growth in new categories, such as lighting and jewelry. “The crisis should not modify your brand positioning; you must pay careful attention to merchandising without trading down,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, speaking at the Milan Fashion Global Summit on Tuesday, Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s head of corporate broking in Italy Paola Durante forecast luxury sales to grow 5 percent next year from an estimated 5 percent decline in 2009.

Durante said high-end accessories were leading the way with revenues expected to gain 5 percent this year, while luxury apparel was suffering the most with revenues set to decline in 2009. Citing a consensus of analyst estimates, she said sales of luxury watches and jewelry would decline 6 percent this year, while perfumes sales would fall 1 percent.

In terms of profitability, Durante said the projected recovery and cost-cutting initiatives undertaken by luxury companies this year would boost their bottom lines in 2010. Sector earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization would likely increase 17 percent next year, from a 5 percent decline this year, while net profits would gain 13 percent in 2010 from a drop of 9 percent in 2009.

Luxury executives who attended the event declined to provide their own estimates, but echoed Durante’s forecast for a sunnier year.

“We all hope for a slightly better year next year,” Ferragamo chief executive officer Michele Norsa said.

“I am quite confident for next year,” agreed Chopard Italy ceo Davide Traxler.

Tod’s SpA ceo Diego Della Valle repeated his bullish outlook, saying that if sales continue through December as they have been so far in the fourth quarter, the group, which owns the Tod’s, Hogan, Fay and Roger Vivier labels, would achieve results that are “more than satisfying” in 2009 and beat full-year forecasts.