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Burberry Bucks Market Trends

It was a case of sink or swim, and the Burberry braved the waves in style. <br><br>The company stuck stubbornly to its plan to go public last summer, despite turbulent market conditions, frozen IPO plans in the luxury goods sector, and a cloudy...

It was a case of sink or swim, and the Burberry braved the waves in style.

This story first appeared in the December 10, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The company stuck stubbornly to its plan to go public last summer, despite turbulent market conditions, frozen IPO plans in the luxury goods sector, and a cloudy outlook for the industry.

Burberry, which has been completely overhauled by chief executive Rose Marie Bravo and her team during the last three years, made a solid debut on the London Stock Exchange during one of the most volatile sessions of the year with the FTSE 100 index slumping 8.5 percent and the luxury share price average down 8 percent. Bravo herself benefited from the Burberry turnaround, being granted a package of stock options and salary that could be worth up to $20 million during the next three years by the company’s parent Great Universal Stores plc.

On its first day of trading — July 12 —the share price closed down 2 percent at $3.38, and analysts praised the company’s courage in taking the market plunge.

“It was a huge achievement for Burberry to make a placement in today’s market, and their decision to go ahead with the flotation can only enhance their image. They will benefit in the long term from this move,” said Sagra Maciera de Rosen, luxury goods analyst at J.P. Morgan Chase.

Burberry also managed to post double-digit sales growth and profits in the first half, thanks mainly to a growing women’s apparel line and accessories. In the period ending Sept. 30, sales rose 15 percent to $432.4 million while profit after taxation — and not including exceptional costs — was $52.6 million, a 34 percent rise over the corresponding period last year.

During the period, Burberry hosted a string of openings from Barcelona to New York, bringing the number of retail stores to 45.

“The main reason Burberry is bucking the trend is that it’s in the midst of a repositioning,” said Claire Kent, luxury goods analyst at Morgan Stanley. “Innovation, new products, store openings and refurbishments are all having a positive impact on sales. If you look at some of the other luxury goods brands, the repositioning is already behind them.”

Kent said she believes that at the time of Burberry’s IPO, some investors didn’t agree with her team that Burberry is a luxury brand. Gradually, there has been some conversion, but the stock has not yet reached her price target of $4.46. On Friday, Burberry closed at $3.64, down 1.5 percent.

Despite the uncertain climate for luxury goods and the future challenges facing Burberry, Bravo remains upbeat. “Every part of the business world has been living with uncertainty since 9/11. It’s the current business condition,” she said on the eve of the Knightsbridge store opening, Burberry’s second flagship in London. “But customers are still interested in buying: People will always give gifts, and there will always be a Christmas. We just have to face the fact that we’re living in different times.”

—S.C.