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Luxury sector undaunted by COVID, soaring inflation

PARIS (AFP) – The pandemic and soaring inflation have done nothing to take the shine off luxury brands, from Louis Vuitton to Gucci and Cartier, as the sector hiked prices to notch up stellar profits.

The world economy began to recover from the pandemic last year but the rebound has been accompanied by rising inflation, with prices for raw materials and energy soaring.

But luxury good makers can respond by hiking their prices and actually look more desirable to their customers.

“Our advantage over many other companies and groups is a certain price flexibility, that is, we have the means to react to inflation,” LVMH Chief Executive Bernard Arnault told reporters.

UBS analysts estimate that top brands such as Louis Vuitton, which is owned by industry leader LVMH, have raised their prices two-and-a-half times higher than the inflation rate over the past 20 years.

Indeed, “pricing power remains one of the key characteristics of the luxury goods industry”, UBS analysts wrote in a research note.

LVMH bagged a record EUR64 billion in sales and EUR12 billion in net profit last year, both exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

The French company also owns a broad range of spirits, perfume, jewellery and cosmetics products.

Kering – which owns Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent – also beat its pre-Covid levels to book a net profit of EUR3.2 billion on sales of EUR17.6 billion, the group reported on Thursday.

Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault acknowledged that “for every new season, we create a new collection and we review all the price matrices”.

Hermes chalked up profits of EUR2.4 billion on sales of EUR9 billion.

Hermes chief Axel Dumas said his brand, which is enjoying “very strong demand”, raises its prices once a year.

“Our products have the same margins. We don’t play with our prices. They’re linked to manufacturing costs and not to desirability.”

He argued that the craftsmanship that goes into making Hermes bags means that they are “perhaps less susceptible to rising energy and raw materials prices than others”.

Swiss group Richemont, which owns Cartier and runs its business year from April to March, said it booked sales of EUR5.6 billion in the third quarter alone, an increase of 38 per cent over the corresponding period of 2019.

“In certain cases demand exceeds supply and that means consumers will both trade up and likely accept paying higher prices, which again will cushion the margin,” said analysts
at HSBC.

Rolex, for example, had largely refrained from increasing prices during the last two years.

But at the start of 2022, it raised prices by over three per cent on average “and for some models they soared as high as 12 per cent”.

Chanel “has also been in the news for its aggressive price hikes of iconic bags during the pandemic and more so recently”, the analysts said.

“While not every luxury brand can pull off this double-edged sword, we believe Chanel’s pricing actions have probably created a good space for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Gucci to raise their price points further.”

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