January 20, 2020

Breakingviews: Richemont’s triple test to add share price sparkle

by Breakingviews.

Richemont faces a triple test to add sparkle to its share price. The $46 billion Cartier owner appears to have weathered a Hong Kong luxury sales slump. Its shares are up 20% in the past year, but an index of top bling groups compiled by Breakingviews is up 50% over the same period. To close the gap, the Swiss group must fend off LVMH-powered Tiffany and deliver on its costly acquisition of online retailer Yoox Net-A-Porter.

Richemont on Friday reported sales of 4.2 billion euros for the final quarter of 2019. Though that’s a 4% year-on-year increase at constant exchange rates, it’s a slower pace of growth than the 6% increase in the six months to September. The Asia Pacific region, the group’s biggest by sales, grew a mere 2% in the quarter, down from 5% in the preceding six months.

The modest numbers were nonetheless a relief. Months of political unrest in Hong Kong scared tourists away from the Asian hub, hitting local sales of expensive watches and jewellery. That’s a particular worry for Richemont, which derived some 11% of its global sales from the city before a wave of protests forced temporary store closures. The group managed to offset the Hong Kong damage by selling more in China and Korea.

The outlook for Hong Kong remains uncertain. Average daily rates for next day reservations at the city’s top hotels were down 29% in December from a year earlier, according to Bernstein analysts. But protests have calmed down and hotel bookings started to recover towards the end of the month.

The company controlled by Johann Rupert faces other challenges, too. Richemont paid 2.8 billion euros to take full control of Yoox Net-A-Porter in 2018, but the company which flogs designer clothing online has yet to turn a profit. Richemont shareholders currently attach little or no value to the business.

A further threat is LVMH’s $16 billion acquisition of U.S. jewellery Tiffany. The French luxury giant is serious about trying to steal Richemont’s crown in the market for high-end trinkets. To pump up Tiffany’s growth, boss Bernard Arnault will need to come after Richemont’s market share.

The Swiss group’s shares rose 5% on Friday morning, reflecting relief that the Hong Kong slump was contained. To achieve a higher valuation, though, Richemont will need to pass its remaining tests.


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