LONDON — America, once viewed as a land of opportunity and growth as China wobbled, is proving one big disappointment for Europe’s luxury brands.
Indeed, as the big firms post their first-half and third-quarter results, some troublesome trends appear to be persisting: Hong Kong remains a difficult market; the domestic Chinese consumer is spooked, and the U.S. is not delivering as much as brands had hoped.
The U.S. economy may be growing — interest rates could even rise before the end of the year — and fuel prices remain low, but the stronger dollar has clearly been impacting tourists’ appetites and the domestic consumer has become accustomed to buying everything at a discount. Macy’s Inc. on Wednesday added to the gloom when it pointed to lower tourist spending as one reason for its disappointing third-quarter results and lowered outlook for the year, while Nordstrom on Thursday said its third-quarter profits dropped 43 percent in the quarter as a result of “softer sales trends” across the board.
On Thursday, while reporting its third-quarter results, Hermès International highlighted an “uncertain environment” in the U.S., and tough comparisons with the third quarter in 2014. Sales in the Americas logged a 10.3 percent gain in the second quarter of this year.
A few hours later, during a conference call to discuss Burberry’s first-half profit figures, which showed a 14.4 percent leap, the company’s chief financial officer, Carol Fairweather, said the company’s sales performance in America was “very uneven” at the start of the third quarter, although it’s still very early days. Burberry said, worldwide, comparable sales at the start of the third quarter were “volatile,” but had improved relative to the second quarter. In the second quarter, same-store sales declined by 4 percent, compared with analysts’ projections of 5 percent growth.
There was positive growth in China, and Hong Kong improved, but remains challenging. In the latter market, Burberry is taking pains to woo local consumers with special events and services, and has reduced the size of its largest Hong Kong flagship after striking a deal with the landlord.
Compagnie Financière Richemont experienced a similar disappointment in the U.S. in the first half. The Americas region saw “subdued demand” overall, with lower watch sales offset by growing sales in jewelry, clothing and leather goods categories.
“You could argue — but I’m not going to argue it very hard — that while the American consumer was OK, they didn’t buy in America. And, because of the strong dollar, the tourism flow is a bit weaker, and the U.S. is still very tourism-driven,” Gary Saage, Richemont’s chief financial officer, said last week.
Not all brands are feeling pain, however. Salvatore Ferragamo SpA said its North American sales rose 10 percent in the first nine months of the year, although at constant exchange, they were down 1 percent. Michele Norsa, Ferragamo’s chief executive officer, admitted there were fewer tourists in cities like New York and Miami, but greater Chinese tourism was helping counter-balance that.
Still, the general consensus is that brands face more wobbles in the U.S.
Commenting on future macro-economic trends, Luca Solca, managing director at Exane BNP Paribas, said he anticipates that “the slower macro-economic growth we are seeing will have an impact on discretionary and luxury goods spend, as it typically did in past years, too.”
“China and the U.S. are likely to both moderate. I don’t expect these markets will derail, but I do expect them to grow at a more muted rate – in the low to midsingle digits in 2016,” he said.
Outside the U.S., Hermès said “dynamic” sales of ready-to-wear and fashion accessories contributed to a 15.4 percent jump in third-quarter sales. Total revenues for the three months ended Sept. 30 reached 1.14 billion euros, or $1.27 billion, a 7.9 percent gain stripping out the impact of currency fluctuations.
“All in all, a reassuring performance from Hermès against a more difficult backdrop in Asia and Americas,” Rogerio Fujimori, luxury analyst at RBC Europe Ltd., wrote in a research note. “When things get tough, the best business models and most exclusive brands stand out.”
Indeed, the gains outpaced rivals LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which posted a 7 percent improvement in the third quarter; Kering 12 percent, and Burberry, which late last month shocked markets by reporting that same-store sales fell 4 percent in its financial second quarter, although same-store sales began to pick up in the third quarter.
Hermès confirmed its revenue target of 8 percent growth at constant rates for 2015 “despite the economic, geopolitical and monetary uncertainties around the world.” It also reiterated that operating profits would come out lower than 2014 due to the “diluting impact of currency fluctuations.”
The maker of Birkin bags and silk scarves trumpeted sales gains across all regions in the third quarter, with Japan up 16.6 percent at constant exchange; Europe, 14.8 percent; the Americas, 2 percent, and Asia excluding Japan, 1.5 percent. Sales in the Americas logged a 10.3 percent gain in the second quarter of this year.
The opening of the Maison Hermès in Shanghai in September 2014 helped offset “a difficult context in Hong Kong, Macao and to a lesser extent in continental China,” Hermès noted.
By product category, sales in the third quarter were up 8.6 percent for leather goods and saddlery at constant exchange rates because of an increase in production capacity at two new sites in Isère and Charente, Hermès said, also noting that a new workshop in the Franche-Comté region is “up and running and investments on a second site are ongoing.”
Sales rose 11.9 percent for rtw and accessories, and 10.7 percent in perfume. Silk and textiles slipped 0.5 percent, reflecting a “challenging context” in Greater China. Difficulties in that region also dented watch sales, which fell 5.2 percent in the quarter, “penalized by wholesale business on a still-difficult market, particularly in Asia, excluding Japan.”
Consolidated revenues for the nine months totaled 3.44 billion euros, or $3.84 billion, up 18.8 percent in reported terms and 8.5 percent at constant rates.
Hermès noted that currency tailwinds added 298 million euros, or $332.3 million, to revenue tallies at the end of September.
Dollar figures are converted from euros and pounds at average exchange rates for the periods in question.
Profit at Burberry Group climbed to 119.5 million pounds, or $184 million, in the six months to Sept. 30 in a period where overall revenue, as reported, was broadly flat. Adjusted operating profit hit 151.7 million pounds, or $233.6 million. The figure was broadly flat against the previous year and ahead of analysts’ estimates.
In the six months, revenue climbed 0.5 percent to 1.11 billion pounds, or $1.7 billion, on a reported basis. That figure was 5 percent below analysts’ projections.
Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s ceo and chief creative officer, said Thursday that during the six months, “the external environment became more challenging in key markets over the period.”
He added that the brand had entered the second half “mindful of this backdrop, but confident in our strongest-ever festive plans and emphasis on productivity and efficiency.”
The company has tightened its management costs and discretionary spending, and will save about 20 million pounds, or $30.3 million, in the full year and has also slashed top management bonuses for the year — including Bailey’s — adding a further 30 million pounds, or $45.5 million, to the bottom line.
In the full year, net new retail space is expected to contribute low single-digit percentage growth to total retail revenue, while wholesale revenue at constant exchange rates in the six months to March 31 will be broadly flat against last year.
Burberry also said that if exchange rates remain at current levels, there will be no material benefit to full-year profit figures, compared to last year. As of last month, the company had expected to reap about 10 million pounds, or $15.2 million, from currency fluctuations.
On Oct. 15, the brand reported that first-half retail sales grew 3.5 percent to 774 million pounds, or $1.19 billion. Stripping out the boost from exchange rates, they grew by 2 percent, compared with 8 percent in the first quarter.