the trouble(s) with the luxury goods industry

For most of the past quarter-century, the publicly traded luxury goods industry, both companies based in the EU and in the US, has been a source of almost continual outperformance.

the old pattern

Its appeal rested (and I do mean the past tense) on two major trends:

–the gradual aging of the working population in the US and EU.  A twenty- or thirty-something in either area typically aspires to own a work wardrobe, a car and a house.  A forty- or fifty-something, in contrast, wants to own jewelry and a vacation house, and to go on a cruise.

So the rising affluence of older workers in the US and Europe has meant increasing demand for luxury goods.

–growth in Japan and the development of capitalism in China, beginning with Deng’s turn away from Mao in the late 1970s.  Again, increasing affluence has sparked higher demand for globally recognized luxury goods.  In addition, in China “gifts” (read: bribes) of luxury goods have long greased the wheels of bureaucratic approval of new projects–until the ongoing anti-corruption crackdown there began a few years ago, that is.

What has been less well understood is that the unit profits from selling a given luxury good in either China or Japan has been much, much higher than elsewhere (double would be my first approximation).  This means that if Japan/China accounted for 25% of a company’s sales (and a sales figure would typically be all a luxury goods firm would announce), they would represent half the company’s profits.

the new

–the rise of Millennials (the suit, car, house people) in the US and EU and the gradual retirement–and loss of income–of Boomers are putting a crimp in demand for luxury goods in these areas.

–luxury goods sales in Japan have hit a brick wall in recent years.  This is partly demographics, partly the immense loss in purchasing power that the Abenomics-induced depreciation of the yen has caused.

–the China case is a little more complicated.  The main reason for the falloff in Western luxury goods sales there is, of course, the anti-corruption campaign.  But even before this, there was a clear trend of high-end consumers in China away from foreign luxury brands and toward domestic ones.   It also seems to me that years of economic stagnation in the EU have further undermined the image of European brands as cultural symbols of power and influence.  So my guess is that even as/when the anti-corruption campaign runs its course, the bounceback of traditional European luxury goods sales will be muted.

my bottom line

Studying stock performance patterns of the past twenty or thirty years suggests that major selloffs of luxury goods stocks are always buying opportunities.  I don’t think this will be the case any longer.   This is not to say the stocks won’t go up in market rallies.  They likely will.  Bur they won’t be leaders.   And the best-known names will lag firms that primarily serve Millennials, as well as companies that tap into growing consumption in China.

the Bain luxury goods worldwide study, winter 2015

I haven’t owned Tiffany (TIF) for a long time, but the ticker is still on my screen.  Watching the stock slide on a weak earnings report yesterday prompted me to look for the latest Bain study of the luxury goods industry, which was published about a month ago.

Although structural change is not the main focus of the report, that’s what really jumps out to me from it.

exiting the twentieth century…

Fifteen years ago, the personal luxury goods market was perhaps 40% European purchasers, 35% American and 25% Asian, most of that being Japan.  Each purchased primarily in his own region.

Although the report doesn’t mention this, the pricing structure for identical items was/is 100 in Europe, 120 in the US and 140 in Asia.  This difference is partly a function of import tariffs outside Europe, partly a judgment about what the market would bear.  Asian sales were unusually lucrative because, in addition to the much higher selling prices, wholesale margins were significantly higher and most profits recognized in Hong Kong, where the corporate tax rate for international concerns is zero.

Virtually all sales were at full price.  European luxury goods makers had few retail stores;  their distribution was primarily wholesale.

…and now

 

Chinese consumers, who represented 1% of the market in 2000, accounted for about a third of all purchases in 2015.  Japanese consumers, who were about a quarter of the market at the turn of the century, now make up about 10%.

Today, sales in Europe and the US each make up about a third of the personal luxury goods market, with Japan and China dividing the rest about equally.  However, more than half the European sales are by extra-regional tourists.  About a third of US sales and 25% of Japanese are also by tourists.  Tourist sales in China are negligible.  I’m not sure why; high prices and counterfeiting are my guesses.

Looked an nationalities a different way, European customers buy 90% of their luxury goods in Europe in 2015.  Americans bought almost exclusively in the US, with a tiny fraction in Europe.  Japanese consumers made 40% of their purchases outside Japan, primarily in non-China Asia, with the US and Europe taking smaller slices.  Chinese consumers bought only 20% of their luxury goods domestically last year.   They made about 30% of their purchases in Europe, another 25% elsewhere in Asia and the rest in the US and Japan.

One of the factors driving the large tourist market is, of course, the much higher domestic prices for Asians.  A second is the significant currency depreciation of the yen and the euro, which have made not only foreign stays but also foreign luxury goods purchases much less expensive.

10% of the global market is now in off-price stores.  That’s double the percentage of three years ago.  Markdown sales, including off-price stores, accounted for about a third of the market last year.

7% of sales are online, most of that in the US.

an inflection point

Bain thinks–correctly, in my view–that much greater awareness of regional price differentials, significant recent currency fluctuations, the rise of markdown sales at a time of steady price increases by luxury goods manufacturers have all conspired to undermine the belief that branded luxury goods have enduring value.

I suspect there’s more at work as well–generational change and the rise of new high-end local brands with greater appeal to younger customers.

TIF

Back to TIF for a moment, the company’s announcement that it expects a 10% fall in earnings for fiscal 2015 and “minimal” earnings growth in 2016 limits its near-term appeal.  At some point, though, it could become attractive again, despite ructions in the overall luxury goods market.  …$50 a share?

 

Bain Luxury Goods Spring update (II) : structural changes in the luxury market

structural changes

Yesterday I wrote about Bain’s analysis of prospects for global luxury goods sales in 2013.  Today, I’m going to take a look at what the consulting company perceives as possible structural changes in the worldwide luxury goods market.

There are two big ones:

Asian tourists remaining closer to home

Japan:  Twenty years + of economic stagnation had finally begun to take a toll on the seemingly insatiable Japanese demand for European luxury goods a few years ago.  Recent sharp devaluation of the yen has depressed this appetite further.  Skeptics (like me) of the ultimate success of Abenomics must believe that this is a permanent change.  Given that, pre-devaluation, the price of luxury goods in Japan has typically been much higher than elsewhere, the negative effect of lower Japanese spending on the profits of luxury goods manufacturers will probably be disproportionately high.

China:  Weakness of the renminbi vs. the euro is a mild negative.  More important, Bain points out that Chinese luxury buyers are beginning to turn away from Europe toward Macau, Hong Kong and Australia as vacation destinations.  On the surface, it shouldn’t make much  difference whether Chinese customers on holiday buy in France or Cotai.  However, the change in vacation travel venue may give a significant opportunity for budding Pacific-based luxury brands to take business away from European rivals.  I think this is already happening.

the Baby Boom passing the baton

Bain characterizes the luxury goods preferences of different age groups as follows:

Baby Boomers (55+)  want:

–a bricks and mortar store

–a one-to-one interaction with a salesperson who represents the brand ans who also knows them well

–high-priced scarce or one-of-a-kind items that they think confer status on them individually as people of unusual taste and means

–a formal buying ritual.

In contrast, Generation Y (20-35) and Generation Z (0-20)–i.e., the children of Baby Boomers–want:

–instant availability 24/7, whether through physical stores or online makes no difference

–to be defined by brand values, but to be able to influence those brand values as well

–unique or novel items, which are not necessarily the most expensive, but which are personalized and which identify them as members of a certain group

–to be entertained.

In a nutshell, this is the difference between buying statement jewelry in a private room and buying a handbag in an online flash sale.  The branding, selling and infrastructure skills differ greatly from the first transaction to the second.

This difference in outlook is increasingly important, because the Baby Boom is retiring and its children are emerging as a new generation of luxury buyers.  One might even argue–with how much validity I’m not sure–that the sudden drying up of demand for traditional high-end European luxury goods in Japan is mostly a function of an aging population and a shrinking workforce.  If so, we may begin to see the same phenomenon in Continental Europe before this decade is out.  Again if so, luxury goods companies that don’t refocus themselves to cater to the preferences of a younger generation of consumers will find themselves struggling to retain relevance.

luxury goods companies, including Apple: changes in the wind

background

Luxury goods customers fall into two camps:  the truly wealthy, and aspirational buyers.

The difference is this:

For the truly wealthy, price isn’t a determinant of what they buy.  The truly wealthy choose, say, a Bentley rather than a Hyundai because they like the way the motor sounds or because the seats are comfortable, or because it’s what they’ve always bought.  The fact that the Bentley costs 5x+ what the most expensive Hyundai sells for makes no difference.  Why?  It’s because the amount of money involved is–for them–insignificant.  It’s the same as the choice  between buying a so-so $5 t-shirt vs. a cooler $15 one as a travel souvenir might be for most of us.

Aspirational buyers, in contrast, are conscious of the price they’re paying.  And it may well be more than they can really afford.  But they buy the luxury brand anyway, as a way of announcing to the world that they have the wealth, or good taste or high social standing they aspire to.

For luxury goods companies, the wealthy remain steady customers through thick and thin.  Aspirational purchases ebb and flow with the economic cycle.

what’s happening today

By the way, Chinese customers, who have been avid buyers of most American and European luxury goods are beginning to turn to their own domestic brands.  I’m not sure how to make money from this, so for now it’s only an (interesting, I think) observation.

In the US, even as the economy continues to plod ahead–and evidence is accumulating that it may be shifting into a higher gear–aspirational buyers appear to be spending less on luxury goods rather than more.  Not so good for luxury goods companies, as we’ve seen in recent earnings reports from TIF, COH and AAPL.

But the more important investment question is:

–given that the aspirational buyer will have more money this year than last, and

–given that his largest source of wealth, his house, is starting to rise in value after five years in the doldrums,

where is he now spending his discretionary income?

I don’t know for sure.  If you have any ideas, please post a comment.

My preliminary guess is that aspirational buyers are doing home renovations and buying furniture.  This is what usually happens at the very start of an economic upturn, where Americans typically buy a house in year one and divert a lot of their income to fixing it up in year two.

Vacations?

At any rate, recent earnings reports from luxury goods companies seem to me to be another sign that the market pattern of focusing on companies that cater to the wealthy as hotspots of growth is over.

 

 

 

11th Annual Bain Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study, October 2012 (i): short-term performance

the study

Bain and Company published its 11th annual study of the global luxury goods industry in Milan last month.  The study is authored, as usual, by Claudia D’Arpizio, the head of Bain’s luxury goods practice.  It’s developed in cooperation with Altagamma, the Italian luxury goods trade association.  (Thanks to Bain for giving me access to the study, a summary of which can be found on the Bain website.)

three posts

I’m going to write about this year’s study in three posts.

Today I’ll cover Bain’s assessment of the personal luxury goods industry’s prospects for the upcoming holiday season and for full-year 2012, as well as what’s likely to be in store for 2013 and beyond.

Tomorrow I’ll write about the longer-term trends developing in the luxury goods market.

On Wednesday, I’ll add Bain’s view of the geographical structure of the luxury goods market, in addition to–something new this year–the consultant’s sense of where the €212 billion in annual sales of luxury goods stands in the context of the overall €750 billion “market of markets” of all worldwide luxury expenditure.

€ vs. constant currency

The Bain study is framed in euros.  This makes sense, since a majority of the important luxury brands are European and the largest single bloc of affluent customers still remains the EU.  Also, historically the € has been relatively stable.  However, the currency has been uncharacteristically volatile over the past several years, as the Great Recession has brought long-simmering economic, political and demographic issues in the EU to a head.

From an equity investment point of view, it’s no bad thing in an area under economic strain to hold stock in companies with strong global brand names and lots of overseas sales.  So luxury goods firms will find support from local investors.

We’re not all €-based buyers, however.   Also, almost 2/3 of luxury goods sales, and the lion’s share of the growth, lie outside the EU.  For both these reasons, it’s important to separate underlying expansion in demand from fluctuations in currency.

2012

the recent past

The personal luxury goods market hit what was then an all-time peak of €170 billion in 2007.  The market fell by 10% over the following two years to €153 billion in 2009, before rebounding to hit new highs of €173 billion (+13%) in 2010 and €192 billion (+11%) in 2011.

Bain predicts another new record of €212 billion in personal luxury goods sales (+10%) for 2012.

2012 to date

The first two quarters of 2012 are already in the books, showing +14% growth.

Although publicly traded companies have by and large not yet reported 3Q12 earnings (many have fiscal periods ending in October), monthly sales announcements, industry data and anecdotal evidence give us a good sense of how the quarter will play out.  Year on year deceleration is the operative word.  Bain has pencilled in a 7% yoy revenue advance.

two forecasts for the holidays

For the upcoming holiday season, Bain has two forecasts.  Its base case is that 4Q12 will show the same yoy gain as 3Q12, up 7%.  It’s optimistic case is that the holidays will show the same yoy growth they did in 2011, +12%-+13%.  (For what it’s worth–personally, I’m not familiar enough with Ms. Arpizio’s work to have an opinion–both Bain’s base case for 4Q11 (+8%) and is optimistic case (+10%) were conservative.)

Bain continues to project annual +4% to +6% growth in personal luxury goods growth in constant currency over the next several years.  This will be driven by Asian consumers, tourism, deeper penetration of emerging markets and of second-tier cities in developed markets, and rapidly expanding online and outlet channels.  I think this figure may prove to be too low.

Accessories–leather goods and shoes–will likely be the best categories.

weaker than it looks in 2012

2010 industry growth of +13% breaks out into +8% in constant currency and +5% from € weakness

2011 growth of +11% breaks out into +13% in constant currency and -2% from € strength

2012 growth of 10% breaks out into +5% in constant currency and +5% from € weakness.

The Bain study, then, is projecting a continuation of the current environment of slower growth through 2015.

my take

There’s an increasingly large separation between the nationality of the buyers of luxury goods and the places where the purchasing takes place (more about this tomorrow).  If we look at the economies where the large groups of buyers reside,

–China (25% of the market) is, I think, at a cyclical low point from which growth will accelerate next year.  Luxury purchases should be a high-beta function of this rebound.  +20% in 2013?

–Europe (24%) is a continuing mess, from which I’m expecting no better than flat

–the US (20%) is an enigma.  Layoffs of high paid bankers will continue to dampen growth in luxury goods purchases.  But the current slowdown in luxury goods sales is more widespread.  Who knows why?  My guess is that this isn’t the affluent anticipating higher personal income taxes.  Rather it’s the worry, symbolized by the “fiscal cliff,” that gridlock in Washington will undermine economic growth.  Legislators on both sides of the aisle appear refreshingly open to compromise in their post-election statements.  The administration doesn’t sound so willing.  Negotiating stance?…tin ear?  We’ll know more in the coming few weeks.

If I’m correct about Chinese growth in 2013, that country alone will provide Bain’s 5% constant currency growth.  The big imponderable for me is how much the US will add to that number.

At this point, therefore, to me the safest bet–maybe the only safe one–seems to be on accessories sold to Chinese luxury consumers.

TIF’s 4Q11: supply your own adjective

the results

Just before the open on Tuesday March 18th, TIF reported earnings results for fiscal 4Q11 (TIF’s accounting year ends in January of the following calendar year). Sales came in at $1.19 billion, up 8% year on year. Profits were $178 million, or $1.39 per share, a drop of 2% from 2010.

For the full year, sales were $3.64 billion, a yoy advance of 18%. Eps were $3.60, or + 23% yoy.

In a lackluster market, the stock was up more than 6% on the news.

details

Sales for 4Q in the Americas were up 5% yoy; in Asia-Pacific they were up 19%, up 13% in Japan and 3% in Europe.

In early January, TIF had warned that its business had slowed significantly from the torrid pace of the first three quarters of 2011 (see my post). Overall, the results TIF actually reported were slightly better than it signaled at that time. Thanks to a small rebound in January, sales in the Americas were 1 percentage point higher than TIF was figuring, and Europe—of all places—was 2% better.  No change in trend elsewhere.

It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but 4Q11 eps would probably have been at least flat with 4Q10 and maybe up a penny, were it not for a year-end upward adjustment of the company’s tax rate. Without going into all the details,  a greater proportion of TIF’s sales than anticipated came from high-tax areas like the US and EU. Put another way, the tax rate adjustment is a consequence of the fact that sales in Asia-Pacific fell off more in 4Q11 than the rest of the world did.

TIF also gave its initial guidance for fiscal 2012—sales growth of 10%, earnings per share growth of 10%-13%–resulting in eps of about $4 for the year. The company thinks the bulk of the advance will come in 4Q12.

During the first half of 1Q12, results are tracking in line with TIF’s expectations.

During the quarter TIF spent $35 million buying back stock, at an average price of $67.26. That’s about 30% less than TIF averaged over the first nine months of the year. To me, it looks like all the buying came before the company’s profit warning. If so, I certainly can’t be too critical since I had no enthusiasm for buying, either.

Arguably, continuing to buy below $60 at the same time the company knew its sales shortfall would mean a lot of money tied up in unsold inventory would be too risky. But it certainly implies to me that TIF is not shrugging off the current sales slowdown as something that will soon be behind it.

my thoughts

TIF’s 4Q11 has played out pretty much as I thought it would in January. The only new news from the company announcement is that the situation appears to be stabilizing at the lower rate of sales growth TIF experienced in 4Q11. All in all, I don’t get the market reaction of aggressively bidding up the stock on this information.

Contrary to what I would have expected, TIF shares have also recovered all they had lost vs.the S&P after their January swoon.  And that’s before this week’s earnings report.

The stock now trades at around 18x this year’s earnings. That’s not wildly expensive for a company like TIF. But it’s not cheap, either, especially with perhaps three quarters of lackluster earnings comparisons in prospect.

There’s certainly a risk that my incorrectly lukewarm attitude to the stock at $59 will color my opinion now. Nonetheless, I’m happier on the sidelines now than buying. And I’ve got to at least consider the idea of selling some of what I own into any strength.

Tiffany(TIF): strong 3Q11 + weak guidance = 8.7% stock drop

the results

TIF reported its 3Q11 (ended October 31st) earnings results before the start of New York trading yesterday morning.  For the three months, the company took in revenue of $821.8 million.  It earned $89.7 million, or $.70 per share.  This represents a 52% increase over the $.46 a share the company earned in 3Q10.  The 3Q11 figure handily beat the Wall Street consensus of $.60 a share, even exceeding the most optimistic estimate, which was $.67.

TIF also continues to buy back stock at around the $65-$66 level.

the guidance

TIF says it expects 4Q11 earnings to come in between $1.48-$1.58 per share.  This represents a (mere) 6.3% increase over the $1.44 per share the company posted for 4Q10.  This guidance falls near the bottom of the 4Q Wall Street analysts’ estimate range of $1.51 – $1.69.  The median estimate, which  may be revised down, has been $1.64.

Just for reference, a year ago TIF guided to eps of $1.29 and reported $1.44.  If we adjust management guidance for possible lowballing of the same magnitude, we arrive at a figure around $1.65.  That would be a year on year gain of 15% or so.

the details

3Q11 business was stellar.  By areas:

–the Americas, 47.9% of TIF’s sales (49.7% a year ago), rose by 17% yoy.

–Asia Pacific, 22.6% (19.6%), was up by 44%

–Japan, 18.1% (19.1), rose by 12%

–Europe, 11.4% (11.6%), was up by 19%.

Strength was in high-end merchandise.

Where’s the problem?

In its guidance, TIF alluded to “recent sales weaknesses” it has noticed in Europe (no surprise there–and it’s still a tiny part of TIF’s overall business) and in the eastern US.  In its conference call, the company said the western US remains strong and buying by foreign tourists continues to be a significant positive.  But it has noticed a slowdown in purchases by domestic customers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.  That’s the reason for its relative caution.

my thoughts

On the surface, the Boston-Washington corridor slowdown seems odd.  The just-released National Retail Federation survey (see my post) highlights the Northeast as an area where holiday spending is surging.  However, I’d already heard the same story as TIF’s from another (privately held) luxury retailer doing business along the East Coast.  I’d attributed that to company-specific problems, but it’s sounding like I’m wrong.

What could be the cause?  …pent-up demand from the recession being satisfied over the past year?  …lower bonuses on Wall Street?  …Newt Gingrich taking a lower spending profile (a joke)?

TIF is still projecting sales in the Americas to be up by 15%-20% yoy in 4Q11, but is now expecting the lion’s share of the sales growth to come from buying by foreign tourists.  This contrasts with the 50-50 split the company has seen in sales growth  between locals and foreigners during recent quarters.

TIF is currently earning at a $4 per share annual rate.  This means it’s now trading at a bit over 15x earnings.  That’s an unusually low multiple by historic standards.  It’s also where the TIF management sees considerable value, as evidenced by its stock buybacks.  In addition, Asia Pacific sales probably amount to about a third of revenues, if we factor in sales to tourists in the US and Europe.  Those sales alone seem to me to be enough to grow the entire company’s profits by at least 10% per year.

On the other hand, if US sales of luxury goods to domestic buyers are beginning to flatten out after an extraordinary burst of buying over the past year–and continue flat for a while–then earnings comparisons for TIF over the next few quarters will likely be lackluster.  Any potential bids from European luxury goods firms (I’ve regarded this possibility as very small, in any event) will likely stay on the shelf until the EU’s economic future is less cloudy.

All in all, I’m content myself to wait before adding to my holding.  If I owned no TIF at all, however, I’d be tempted to buy a small amount now and await further developments.