PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton got off to a soaring start in 2017, posting its strongest quarterly growth in five years — though it cautioned the momentum could slow as it starts to face tougher comparisons later this year.
The parent of brands including Louis Vuitton, Guerlain, Moët & Chandon and Tag Heuer said revenues rose 15 percent in the first quarter to 9.9 billion euros, or $10.55 billion, significantly beating market expectations.
Organic growth for the three months to March 31 was 13 percent, with all divisions posting double-digit gains. The group achieved positive growth in Asia, Europe and the United States.
“During the first quarter, LVMH benefited from a favorable comparison base, particularly in Europe, where activity was affected last year by the impact of the November 2015 attacks in Paris. The trend currently observed cannot reasonably be extrapolated for the full year,” it said in a statement.
LVMH does not give detailed guidance, but reiterated its commitment to reinforcing its global leadership position in luxury goods this year.
Sales in its key fashion and leather goods division advanced 15 percent to 3.4 billion euros, or $3.63 billion, in the period, and also registered a 15 percent rise in organic terms, largely exceeding a consensus estimate of 9 percent growth.
This compared with 9 percent organic revenue growth in the fourth quarter of last year and with a flat performance in the first quarter of 2016, when activity was affected by the impact of the terrorist attacks in Paris. All dollar rates are calculated at average exchange rates for the period in question.
Louis Vuitton posted a strong start to the year “driven by creative momentum in all of its businesses,” LVMH said. It added that creative director Nicolas Ghesquière’s fall show, held in the Marly courtyard at the Louvre museum in March, was “very well received.”
The group also singled out the “good performance” of Fendi, which last year crossed the symbolic threshold of one billion euros, or $1.11 billion, in revenues. Céline, Kenzo, Loewe and Berluti “showed progress,” while Marc Jacobs pursued its product line changes and restructuring.
Givenchy recently announced the appointment of Clare Waight Keller as artistic director, succeeding Riccardo Tisci, who left the brand after a 12-year tenure. Meanwhile, LVMH in January completed the acquisition of a majority stake in German luggage maker Rimowa, which will be consolidated as of the second quarter.
The watches and jewelry division recorded organic revenue growth of 11 percent in the first quarter, as jeweler Bulgari continued to gain market share and Tag Heuer launched its new Connected Modular 45 watch.
Perfumes and cosmetics posted 12 percent growth, with highlights including the launch of the new women’s fragrance Mon Guerlain, fronted by Angelina Jolie. The group noted the strong growth of makeup brand Kat Von D and last month acquired niche perfumery brand Maison Francis Kurkdjian.
In selective retailing, organic growth was 11 percent in the first quarter, as Sephora continued to gain market share around the world and momentum at DFS in Asia improved.
The wines and spirits business group posted revenue growth of 13 percent, with Champagne volumes up 7 percent in the period. LVMH warned that a significant increase in volume sales of Hennessy cognac could impact the availability of stocks for the rest of the year.
The upbeat figures, published after the market close, confirm signs of a recovery in the luxury sector as the first-quarter earnings season kicks into gear. Burberry is scheduled to publish its quarterly results on April 19, with Kering to follow on April 25 and Hermès on April 27.
“As the sector bellwether, LVMH’s beat should support the luxury space tomorrow but also raise the bar for other stocks reporting in coming weeks,” Rogerio Fujimori, analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said in a research report.
He noted that although this represented LVMH’s strongest quarterly growth in five years, he expected the group to post 6 percent organic growth in 2017 as a whole. Gauging stock availability for Hennessy cognac will be a focus of the company’s conference call with analysts, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
Shares in LVMH closed down 0.9 percent at 207.45 euros, or $219.88 at current exchange, on the Paris Stock Exchange on Monday, before the results were released. Barclays Bank said the figures boded well for the sector in the first quarter. “We expect a very positive reaction to the results tomorrow,” it added.
Although LVMH posted record annual results in 2016, Bernard Arnault, chairman and chief executive officer of the luxury conglomerate, startled analysts by warning that the luxury sector could be headed for its biggest correction since the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.
“I am extremely cautious for 2017,” the luxury titan said at the full-year results press conference in January. “In my opinion, it’s always when things are going well that something unexpected happens, and you have to be a little vigilant.”
Among the risk factors, he cited record-low interest rates; “irrationally exuberant” stock markets, borrowing a phrase coined by former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan; geopolitical uncertainty, with potential conflicts brewing in the areas of trade, customs and currencies; and continued low growth in Europe.
While the first half should be relatively positive, thanks to easy comparisons with the same period last year, the situation could rapidly worsen, he warned.
“Geopolitical and economic events can quickly turn unfavorable, and the fact that the second half of 2016 was buoyant means that in my opinion, we should expect much more difficult conditions in the second half of the year,” he added.
Investors will have an opportunity to gauge whether Arnault has changed his tune or not later this week. The company is scheduled to hold its annual general meeting on April 13.