LVMH sees sparkling prospects for Tiffany
"LVMH displayed remarkable resilience during the year of the pandemic." It was with these words that Bernard Arnault, CEO of the world's largest luxury company, opened its annual general meeting on Thursday, highlighting that the group is "in an excellent position to strengthen its progress on the global market." These statements are confirmed by the company's record quarterly results, which were published on Tuesday and notably revealed that sales in its watch and jewelry division have more than doubled thanks to the addition of Tiffany & Co..
Due to health restrictions, the AGM was held online for the second year in a row. The items on the agenda were dealt with rapidly, especially those related to shareholder questions. Concerning the reopening of the La Samaritaine department store, managing director Antonio Belloni stated that it would be carried out "gradually, starting this summer, if the health situation permits." A proposal to pay a dividend of 6 euros for fiscal 2020 was also confirmed.
The Tiffany transaction was referred to on several occasions during the meeting. Acquired for $15.8 billion, the American jewelry brand was integrated into the group at the beginning of this year. During its first quarter at LVMH (which differs from its first quarter of 2019, in that it started at the end of January under its previous accounting conventions), the label posted revenue growth of 8-9%. This progress led LVMH's watch and jewelry division to achieve a 132% jump in its sales, which totaled 1.78 billion euros in the first three months of 2021.
"It's one of the most iconic jewelry brands in a sector where there are very few globally famous brands," explained Belloni. "It's an icon. The brand that symbolizes love. We will make it shine even more and make it the most desirable jewelry brand," added Arnault.
"The brand's potential is enormous and integrating it is very important for us. It really is our number one priority. It's a challenge and we think we will have to dedicate all of our resources to it," said chief financial officer Jean-Jacques Guiony on Tuesday, during a teleconference with financial analysts. He therefore excluded the possibility of any new acquisitions for LVMH in the short term, "so as not to dilute these resources."
The company's management has not given details concerning the plan they intend to implement in order to relaunch Tiffany, but they have made it clear that the process will take time. "Fundamentally, we're talking about years and not quarters," said Guiony. The problem up until now has been the pace previously imposed on the brand by the stock market, a rhythm which the CFO believes "was not appropriate, as it did not leave time for it to develop the strategy necessary for growth."
"It will take years for us to do what we want to with this brand in terms of distribution, merchandising and marketing. There's a lot to do, even if we don't know how much time it will take. We have committed to undertaking a lot of work. We are hopeful that, with the brand's strength, we will be able to achieve our objectives, which we will report on over the course of their implementation," added the executive, citing the example of Bulgari. Purchased by LVMH in 2011, the Italian jeweler has doubled its revenues in the last decade.
According to sources quoted in a recent report from Reuters, LVMH is planning to overhaul Tiffany's vast product range in order to concentrate on gold and precious stones, while also making its famous silver bangles more high-end and strengthening its watch segment.
As recalled by the CFO during the AGM, the group's balance sheet is strong. Indeed, at 6 billion euros, cash flow for 2020 was at the same level as in 2019, thanks to reduced investments and variations in working capital, "which is an altogether remarkable performance," according to the executive. The company was therefore able to reduce its debt last year, from 6 billion euros in 2019 to 4.2 billion euros a year later.
These figures do not take into account the acquisition of Tiffany & Co., which was finalized in January 2021. They are, however, a testament to the strength of the group, which has the necessary time and resources to drive the growth of the American brand, the management of which was confided to Anthony Ledru, the former executive vice president for Louis Vuitton's global commercial activities, while Alexandre Arnault, one of Bernard Arnault's four children, became executive vice president of product and communications.
During the AGM, Guiony returned to the company's 2020 results, pointing out that the first half of the year, which saw a sharp decline, was "extraordinarily dissimilar" to the second half, which pulled off a clear recovery. He further emphasized the "large difference between regions" and celebrated the strong results of the fashion and leather goods division, which was the "only one to finish the second half with revenue growth." He also highlighted the notable progress of LVMH's share price, which rose 37% in 2020, while the CAC 40 increased 1% in the same year.
"Crises make us stronger. We take lessons from them each time and they are a strong growth driver in the years that follow. We are gaining market share. Our advantage is the long-term desirability of our brands and houses," concluded Bernard Arnault, adding that he was "reasonably optimistic," in light of the hope brought by Covid vaccines.
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