PARIS: Booming sales at LVMH's fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, particularly in China, helped to cushion the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has crimped revenues at the French luxury group.
LVMH, which closed a US$15.8 billion acquisition of US jeweller Tiffany in the middle of the pandemic, has like rivals taken a hit as governments the world over forced retailers to close shops during lockdowns.
Declining international travel has also deprived luxury goods companies of tourist revenues.
But an improving backdrop in China, one of the world's biggest markets for luxury fashions and which had eased COVID-19 measures by the second half of 2020, has helped some companies to rebound.
LVMH's fashion and leather goods business, home to Vuitton handbags and other brands like Christian Dior, performed better than analysts expected in the fourth quarter, with sales rising 18 per cent year-on-year on a comparable basis. Louis Vuitton is the group's biggest revenue driver.
That was an improvement on the third quarter, when like-for-like sales, which strips out acquisitions and currency effects, were already up 12 per cent.
"The strong beat should get LVMH's share price home and dry," Berstein analyst Luca Solca said in a note.
LVMH Financial Chief Jean-Jacques Guiony told a conference call that new product launches planned before the pandemic - like a Vuitton handbag named after the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris - had helped the brand.
LVMH - which is setting the tone for luxury rivals such as Gucci-owned Kering with its earnings - has also kept up with marketing spending while some smaller peers have cut back, and holding catwalk shows in cities such as Shanghai despite the crisis had helped, Guiony said.
"Louis Vuitton and Dior were taking the bulk of customers' attention when nobody was talking," he added.
LVMH's billionaire boss Bernard Arnault said in a statement that the group was well placed to build on a market recovery.
Guiony said the company had no visibility, however, on the outlook for China, at a time when new restrictions to fight a resurgence of COVID-19 cases risk overshadowing Chinese New Year festivities in mid-February, usually a major shopping highlight.
LVMH also owns spirits brands, like Hennessy cognac, and operates airport duty free shops, which have struggled.
The French company went ahead with its Tiffany deal during the pandemic, but ended up renegotiating the price tag slightly downwards. LVMH is now betting on growing its clout in jewellery, a resilient area of the luxury goods business.
LVMH overall group sales for the October to December period came in at €14.3 billion, in line with forecasts.
For 2020 as a whole, LVMH's revenues reached 44.65 billion euros, falling 16 per cent from a year earlier on a like-for-like basis.
LVMH's net profit reached €4.7 billion (US$5.71 billion), down 34 per cent on a year earlier, while profits from recurring operations - or earnings before interest and tax - fell 28 per cent but vastly exceeded analyst forecasts.
The group said it would propose a dividend payout against 2020 results of €6 per share, including a €2 per share interim dividend paid in December.
It had cut its dividend last year to €4.80 during the COVID-19 crisis.