Bernard Arnault

PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton is seeing “fairly robust” signs of recovery in some of its activities in June after widespread shutdowns of its stores and factories in the first half of the year, chairman and chief executive officer Bernard Arnault said on Tuesday.

Speaking at the company’s annual general meeting, which was held online due to ongoing sanitary restrictions in France designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, Arnault said it was impossible to forecast the impact of the pandemic on the group’s annual sales and results since some regions were still in lockdown.

“We do not yet fully know the timetable for the return to normal in the different areas where the group is established and we do not know in particular when the virus will disappear, hopefully completely,” Arnault said.

The second quarter was “particularly affected” especially in Europe and the U.S., LVMH said in an online presentation. The group reported that revenues fell 15 percent in the first quarter, although it saw a sharp acceleration in sales in mainland China in April as consumers flocked back to stores after the COVID-19 lockdown.

“One can only hope for a gradual recovery during the second half of the year, and the signs of recovery in June in a number of our activities are fairly robust,” Arnault added.

With all questions submitted online and answers pre-written, the meeting lacked the crackle of the traditional annual get-together at the Carrousel du Louvre, which provides a forum for Arnault to make incisive remarks about market conditions and his competitors.

Although LVMH enjoyed a record year in 2019, with revenues rising 15 percent to 53.7 billion euros, the company plans to slash its dividend by 20 percent to 4.80 euros as part of its efforts to curb costs.

In response to a question about LVMH’s planned acquisition of U.S. jeweler Tiffany & Co., Antonio Belloni, group managing director of LVMH, reiterated: “We believe that Tiffany is one of the most iconic jewelry brands. As such, it fully has its place in the LVMH portfolio.”

He declined to comment further. LVMH earlier this month confirmed a WWD report that the board of the luxury giant met to review its $16.2 billion offer for Tiffany in light of a deteriorating situation in the U.S. market, Tiffany’s largest.

It squelched speculation that it could take advantage of a sharp drop in Tiffany’s share price to buy shares in the jeweler on the open market.

Belloni added that LVMH retains a positive outlook in the medium-term. “We view the future of luxury with optimism. Consumers’ habits will surely continue to evolve, their priorities, too, especially as the crisis plays the role of accelerator,” he said.

Shareholders overwhelmingly approved Arnault and Belloni’s pay packages. Arnault’s compensation totaled 3.47 million euros in 2019, and he was awarded bonus performance shares worth 4.48 million euros. Belloni earned 5.65 million euros and received bonus performance shares worth 2.02 million euros.

Arnault and each of the other executive board members have decided to forgo their salaries for the months of April and May, in addition to their variable compensation for 2020. As ceo of Christian Dior Group, Sidney Toledano will do likewise.

The AGM also approved the return of Natacha Valla to the board of directors. The economist started her career at the European Central Bank, and has also worked at the Banque de France and Goldman Sachs. She previously sat on the board of LVMH from 2016 to 2018.