PARIS — The hour is near for Morgan Stanley to strike back at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
This story first appeared in the May 23, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The investment bank, which on Monday must submit its defense in the $100-million bias suit launched by the French luxury giant, is also expected to file a counter claim at the commercial court here.
It could not immediately be learned how much Morgan Stanley will be seeking for damages done by the proceedings and a spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment.
However, legal sources estimate the amount is likely to match what LVMH is seeking for allegedly biased equity research by luxury analyst Claire Kent and conflict of interest, since Morgan Stanley advises LVMH rival Gucci Group.
The day after the court case kicked off in January, Morgan Stanley described the proceedings as “vexatious, without merit and an abuse of the French court system,” adding that the original suit “should never have been brought.”
The Morgan Stanley spokeswoman also declined all comment this week on its defense. However, it is believed Morgan Stanley will present evidence that Kent is a top-rated equity researcher whose forecasts about LVMH were not only fair and accurate, but prescient. In May 2000, Kent downgraded LVMH stock to “neutral” from “outperform,” which is seen as a turning point in poor relations between the French luxury group and the investment bank.
In the writ filed last fall, LVMH charged that Kent deliberately waged an anti-LVMH, pro-Gucci campaign in the media and in her advice to investors.
Anthony Michael Sabino, an associate professor of law at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, said the Morgan Stanley defense would likely hinge on the argument that Kent’s reports and writings on LVMH were “based on truth, [representing] reasonable analysis of public information, or was otherwise simple opinion.”
But Sabino said Morgan Stanley’s legal team also “needs to show it proceeded without malice or recklessness, diligently researched, and otherwise came up with honest, if even wrong, opinions.”
Meanwhile, the Morgan Stanley counterclaim will require proof of damages, such as harm to reputation or lost clients and business opportunities, Sabino said. “In part, Morgan Stanley is making a counterclaim merely as a device to diminish any damages LVMH might be awarded, as well as a standard litigation tactic to keep the opposition off balance,” he added.
Monday’s hearing is expected to be swift, with the court setting a new date for LVMH to respond. This begins a long process of submissions and rebuttals for a case that could easily drag on for the balance of the year or beyond.
It is clear the combatants are prepared to spar over every letter. Recently, lawyers for the two sides bickered over a Morgan Stanley request to have its opponent clarify certain evidence, which LVMH counsel seized on as a stalling tactic. As reported, a magistrate denied the request, which LVMH claimed as a victory.
Sabino said Morgan Stanley faces an uphill climb in its defense, given Wall Street’s bad image in the wake of the recent settlement in which 10 firms paid $1.4 billion to resolve allegations that their analysts issued biased ratings on stocks in order to lure investment-banking business.
But Sabino added that LVMH is not a “sure winner” either since the luxury group must prove that Morgan Stanley “besmirched them deliberately for financial gain” and may need to roll out a “smoking gun or two” to prove it.